Saranac Lake theater thrived in ’50s and ’60s

To the editor:

I enjoyed your editorial on community theater but thought it skipped over some relevant distinctions, names and historic contributions to the Saranac Lake theater scene.

For some years in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Saranac Lake enjoyed its very own in-town professional summer stock theater. First owned and operated by Broadway producer Dorothy Olim, the company boasted professional actors, staff and crew hired from New York City. These presented years of first-rate seasonal theater in the old Odd Fellows Temple next to the Hotel Saranac.

In 1960 the theater was sold to Joan Frank. She refurbished the building and the theater’s program, transforming and expanding our Summer Theater with an ambitious program that weekly alternated legit plays with elaborate musicals – many fresh from Broadway stages and newly licensed.

During my childhood years in town, I participated in local community theater productions, but I was actually living in New York City when I auditioned and won the role of Helen Keller in the Joan Frank’s stock production of “The Miracle Worker.” Hired out of the city, I then returned to live and work summers in Saranac Lake with Joan’s theater.

In Saranac Lake the line between professional theater and community theater seemed often blurred. Local professional residents often worked in community theater, and members of the community were sometimes drafted to fill in as needed at the Summer Theater. Our Joan Frank went on to found the Lake Placid Playhouse and North Country Center for the Arts, but later returned to Saranac Lake, creating community theater productions of Broadway shows with local children performing all the roles, inspiring new generations with the magic of theater.

Bibbe Hansen