It's Monday afternoon, and Mark Gamma
is on his
hands and knees putting the final painting touches on a piece of stage scenery.
A few minutes ago he
was fielding phone calls for ticket reservations.
In the next hour, he
will be running through his
character's lines for the play he
wrote, "Newburgh: The Sixth Borough.
It's unlikely that he
will sit still for quite a while.
After all, the 54-year-old, lifelong Newburgh resident is literally living his
Just over two years ago Gamma opened The Newburgh Actor's Studio
Complete with a self-made black box theater, the Studio has already featured four major productions along with an assortment of workshops.
Word is beginning to get around about the small, intimate acting locale on 784 Broadway.
The adage "If you build it, they will come," is ringing true for Gamma
, who took a chance to return to a passion he
just couldn't avoid.
"Acting is the truest art form there is out there," explains Gamma
, as he
continues to paint.
"It's holding up a mirror and seeing who we really are.
is undeniably a theater person.
It's been in his
blood since he
was a young child, singing at age three while acting at five.
Represented by Fox Talent Agency
regularly performed at the three big Newburgh theaters, the Ritz, Broadway and Cameo.
Each was a place at which such stars like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra would regularly perform "dry runs" or warm-ups on their way to New York City shows.
Then, in the 1960's, urban renewal reared its head and people quickly fled the cities for the suburbs.
early entertainment success declined.
Life took a new turn, and Gamma
went into the car sales business, while dabbling in construction and real estate on the side.
The occasional acting gig surfaced (an extra on a television show or a commercial spot).
However, life's responsibilities set in as he
got married and started a family.
Gamma, who continued to work in sales, slowly secured and renovated more real estate.
was also began to view life differently.
"Life is very short; you have to do what you love," said Gamma
A few years ago, while in Manhattan, Gamma
got the inspiration to do just that.
visited Studio Dante
, a small theater owned by Sopranos star, Michael Imperioli.
"I was just shocked by the simplicity of the place," recalls Gamma
eyes lighting up.
"I remember right then thinking I can do something like this too; it is possible.
saw a small, quaint building, situated behind Electrolux Vacuum Store on Route 17K in Newburgh
felt this could be the home of his
Already the owner of some surrounding buildings on that Broadway West End spot, Gamma
decided to take a gamble and purchase the building.
construction background, the handy Gamma was able to renovate the entire place.
After several months of hard labor, the Newburgh Actor's Studio
was born, along with the birth of Gamma's
"new" midlife career path.
"I was very lucky to be able to build this.
My wife was a teacher and we could use her
benefits," said Gamma
"It was a little scary at first.
Being able to work for myself, I felt like I was controlling my destiny and not having to depend on anyone else.
quickly learned how much responsibility owning a business entails.
A theater, in particular, requires constant attention.
"I'm basically a one-man show here," said Gamma, a member of the Screen Actor's Guild since 1999.
"I build my scenery, take care of the marketing, act in the productions, take the ticket sales.
t never ends.
But I'm doing what I love, so I don't mind the work at all.
sits on his
17-by-13-foot stage, lit up by lights he
Facing him are 50 neatly lined up chairs that compose the intimate black box theater spot.
Technically, a black box theater is a simple, undecorated theater thatï¿½ seats less than 100 and with black walls and ceiling.
Behind the chairs is a small sound studio, also constructed and frequently operated by Gamma
The studio's lobby is in sharp contrast to the simplicity of its theater.
Filled with a hodgepodge of colorful paraphernalia, it contains a wedding picture of Gamma's parents, an array of mime masks, a photograph of Gamma with Robert Deniro and several framed articles about the Studio and its owner, along with rave reviews on its productions.
Each document is a testament to Gamma's
"I grew up in Newburgh
I have seen the potential in its rich history which itï¿½ still can have with live theater," recalls Gamma.
is just starving for a place like this.
But for Gamma
, it's not just about having the theater.
can smell success.
Initially, the shows were slow in coming.
Now with a steady director, some regular actors, and rising support, Gamma
is ready for much more.
"I'm looking to bang out one successful show after another, never having a lapse in quality," says Gamma
, as he
surveys the Studio's lobby.
"Beyond that, I want the place to be here long after I'm here, when my family will be taking it over.
Two more shows are already slated for the early spring: "Four Dogs and a Bone" and "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.
is already trying to configure where he
will seat his
expected sold out crowds.
last production was sold out days ahead of time with ticketless playgoers still filling the lobby, hoping to grab a last-minute extra ticket.
"This is amazing," says an elated Gamma, referring to the steadily increasing interest with each production he
What advice he
would give to someone thinking of changing careers mid-life?
"It's okay to be afraid.
In fact, it's very normal," says Gamma
, who had to adjust to not going to the car dealership every Saturday.
"But it's important to know it's just never too late to follow your passion.
adds, "It's a lot of hard work and there are obstacles along the way, but when it works the way you want it to, nothing is better or more invigorating.
The Newburgh Actor's Studio
is located at 784 Broadway, Newburgh, NY.
entire youth reveling in the sights, sounds, smells and artistic offerings of the City of Newburgh.
hometown as being "absolutely beautiful - like a little Manhattan - back then.
There was just so much hope.
felt "lost at sea" during the city's decline in the 1960's.
But despite his
nostalgic feelings for the Newburgh
of old, Gamma
is now surrounded by traces of hope.
They are pieces he
is confident will continue to bloom, under the right conditions.
"Today seems different.
More people now see the importance of the buildings, along with the arts, and the whole 'city idea' seems to slowly be making its way back; people are recognizing its value, especially with more communication and education out there.
"What it really comes down to is we need more people to be doing rather than talking and really trying to make things better, not just envisioning them in their heads that way.
Few could argue, Gamma
has done his
Persevering through various ups and downs, this theater creator has turned his
vision into a reality.