PINE HILLS FIRE STATION TO BECOME ALBANY THEATER

Catherine Clabby Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B14

Date: Thursday, June 7, 1990

You'll find Ric


Chesser's "desk" - a couple of stage platforms piled atop one another - in the vicinity of a cement mixer and holding part of what was once a public address system, a calendar and a phone. It stands within a dramatic work in progress - renovation of the former Steamer 10 firehouse just across from a one-time New York Telephone Co. building on Western Avenue that is being transformed into a public library branch. Just call it part of the Pine Hills cultural district.


Since February, Chesser, executive director of the non-profit Kids' Fare, has been living the project, made possible with some public aid, donated cash, and a lot of free labor and materials from local businesses and labor unions. What now looks like a carpenter's cluttered workshop by later this year will be a theater with a seating capacity of up to 130.


"For a company to survive, it needs its own facility. Otherwise you spend too much of your time packing and unpacking," said Chesser, who has been involved in theater since his undergradute days at Goddard College in Vermont. He staged theater for children in borrowed spaces in Albany since 1983.


Chesser's wife, Paula Rosenberg, first suggested that he investigate leasing the firehouse after it was rejected as a new site for the Pine Hills library branch because of its size. Mayor Thomas M. Whalen III agreed to lease it to the theater group for $1 a year. The city's Community Development Agency provided $30,000, and the state Council of the Arts also provided some seed money.


Before Kids' Fare can call the Steamer No. 10 Theater home, much remains to be done.


A 3 1/2-story hose tower - where canvas fire hoses once were hung to dry in the 1891 building - will be converted into an entranceway and box office area. Outside, cement blocks - donated by a Rotterdam firm and installed by apprentice masons - stand ready to hold a portico that will serve as the theater's entrance and final destination for a wheelchair ramp.


Restrooms and a new stairway are taking shape on the ground floor of a building that initially housed a horse-drawn steam engine. Upstairs, what was firefighters' sleeping quarters stand ready to accommodate rehearsals.


In the absence of adequate funding - the project is valued at $750,000 but those supporting it expect to raise only $100,000 in cash - Chesser has had to depend on his imagination and enterprise - and the generosity of others.


When the Hellman Theater across from the uptown State University at Albany campus closed, Chesser got its 200 plush seats. He also got a movie screen, which he hopes to trim and use to show old movies.


The Morris Street resident remains on the lookout for all sorts of materials, including such unexotic items as an iron and ironing board, hot glue guns, mirrors and toilets.


Creative juices also have been flowing when it comes to fund- raising. The theater is offering people a chance, sort of, to pay for the right to write and draw on restroom walls. People can have their art transferred to 6- inch- square tiles that will be installed in the theater's restrooms.


While handling the day-to-day challenges, Chesser clearly also has his mind on what can be accomplished once construction is finished. The goal is to present children's entertainment of a caliber adults will appreciate, and some adult programming is expected.


"The only limiting factor is imagination of the people who put a show together," he said.