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Bob Pettee and Susan Neal, co-founders of Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake.  Photo: Mark Kurtz
Bob Pettee and Susan Neal, co-founders of Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake. Photo: Mark Kurtz

How Pendragon carved its niche in the world of regional theatres

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Even though the co-founders of Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, Susan Neal and Bob Pettee, have moved to Maine, the show goes on with new leadership and a full calendar of productions this summer. Pettee took his final bow on the Pendragon stage last December in a production of A Christmas Carol. Pettee and Neal founded Pendragon Theatre in 1981 and have handed it off to a new management team. We'll hear from executive/artistic director Karen Lordi-Kirkham and managing director David Zwierankin next week.

Earlier this year, Todd Moe sat down with Susan Neal and Bob Pettee at SUNY-Potsdam, as Susan was finishing her final semester of teaching drama. They talked about favorite memories at Pendragon and their plans for the future.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

They may have taken final bows locally, but don’t call it retirement. Susan and Bob say they plan to stay active in the arts and the community in their new home. As of right now, they are remaining open to what may happen. They hope to remain involved in the theatre, but they are open to new opportunities as well. Susan says that she has always wanted to write a children’s book, and that she would love to get involved with the visual arts again. Bob says that he may fall into some sort of tutoring or teaching work.

Bob says, “We both want to continue doing things and being active and working, because not working is sort of not an option really. But also we’re not interested in being idle. Busy is better.”

Susan and Bob met through at a mutual theatre friend at a small school in Long Lake in the late '70s, and became involved in a small theatre group in the area. They decided to leave the school in 1980 and explore their love for the theatre in New York City. However, after about two weeks, they both realized "This is not it.” They called Fran Yardley and asked her to put an ad in the paper for a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Soon after, they brought the show up to Long Lake.

Susan says, “We really thought that we did want to start our own theatre. We were somewhat narrow minded initially, but I think ultimately we both realized that that was a goal.”

In the '60s and '70s the regional theatre scene was a very big movement within American theatre. Bob and Susan say that they were attracted to the notion of a resident company. Since then, the Pendragon Theatre has turned into a valuable resource for the Saranac Lake and Tri Lakes community. However, “the final step in the process,” Bob says, “is if you feel like it’s been successful, the best thing for the founders to do is just to get out of the way.” They feel that now is a good time for them to move on and explore new opportunities.

Pendragon's new executive/artistic director Karen Lordi-Kirkham and managing director David Zwierankin. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Pendragon's new executive/artistic director Karen Lordi-Kirkham and managing director David Zwierankin. Photo: Mark Kurtz
Bob and Susan say that they have a great deal of confidence in their relatively new hires, executive/artistic director Karen Lordi-Kirkham and managing director David Zwierankin.

For Susan, Karen represents the historical aspects of Pendragon.  Karen grew up with the Pendragon Theatre. Susan says that over the years, she and Karen have become somewhat “artistic buddies” and have collaborated on ideas for the theatre.

However, Bob and Susan also wanted a newer addition to Pendragon. David knew of Pendragon: when he went to school at SUNY Potsdam.  Bob says that David is not afraid of the drudgery that managing directors sometimes get saddled with. They believe that both Karen and David are a good combination of the old and the new that will be a good launching point for the theatre.

Karen and David are already beginning to think of some new program ideas and are in the process of rebooting older ideas. Bob says, “There’s a certain frailty in the organization. Theatre’s are fragile institutions.” He says that the Pendragon Theatre has survived all of these years because it filled a need in the community and that the theatre has a lot of great supporters that want the theatre to survive. Overall, Bob and Susan say that they think the theatre will continue to flourish.

The Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play Doubt: A Parableopens tomorrow (Thursday) night at Pendragon at 8 pm. The production is directed by SUNY Potsdam drama professor Kim Bouchard. You can get tickets for Doubt by calling 518-891-1854. You can also get your tickets directly from the Pendragon website, www.pendragontheatre.org.

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