Neighborhood House introduces adult theater group

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It took just a single voice to revive the decades-long absence of the Riverdale Neighborhood House’s theater group. And that voice belonged to Terry Herbert.

The story is simple. Rob Adelman, director of health and harmony programs at Neighborhood House, solicited suggestions on how to expand programming at the 5521 Mosholu Ave., facility beyond fitness classes. When Herbert brought up the idea of bringing back the Neighborhood House’s theater program as a group for adults, the rest is a story that might someday be best told on-stage. 

Herbert remembers what it was like some 40 years ago when Neighborhood House had a theater program the last time. 

Directors and aspiring actors came to Riverdale from the depths of Manhattan. Herbert even directed a teen theater production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“It’s just a great, fun wonderful thing to bring people in the community together,” she said. “I was trying to revive the interest that had been shown many, many years ago.”

And back then, Herbert added, “it didn’t matter if 10 people came — you could still do a production.”

The new theater program kicks off Oct. 12 with an informal meeting for those interested in joining, or who might have a play idea, or some ideas on what direction the group can take. 

No prior acting experience or training is required, Herbert said, and anyone is welcome to join. 

Herbert will evaluate the demographics, and figure out the group’s next steps. Right now, she believes it’s too ambitious to put on any production, especially if people are only interested in committing to meeting once a week. But that’s all still up in the air.

“I think people are super busier, much busier than they were many years ago, and time is precious,” she said. “So maybe the only time people want to invest in this is an evening a week.”

Whether or not the group commits to more frequency, Adelman believes it fits right into the heart of Neighborhood House’s adult programs.

“The point of the health and harmony programs (is) to bring things to the community that can enrich the quality and the joy of people’s lives,” he said. “And theater is just one of those things.”

Herbert is excited to see what’s in store for the revived group. As someone who worked in the Westchester County community theater scene, seeing how people bloom from being very shy to relaxed and outgoing is uplifting for her and therapeutic for those who go through that transformation. And with winter coming, Herbert thinks it’s another great opportunity to encourage others to take part. 

“If we could get people involved to whatever extent, it’s a way of fighting isolation, loneliness, depression,” Herbert said. “It’s nice to think that we can offer something, which is so much fun, so enriching — if they want to avail themselves of it. We can’t drag the people in, but we can offer it.” 

But most of all, Herbert and Adelman want to bring something to Riverdale they think is lacking: a community theater place for adults. There are other adult community theater projects in the area, however, including a long-running one at The Riverdale Y.

“In my mind, (the arts are of) tremendous worth,” Herbert said. “They enrich the soul, the imagination. They teach you about people and how to relate to them. 

“I feel that without the arts, we’d be a very unhappy civilization, so this is a little bit of bringing that to this community. It’s not Brooklyn, it’s not Manhattan. But why not?”

CLARIFICATION: Although the Riverdale Neighborhood House is restarting its adult theater program, one has been ongoing at The Riverdale Y for many years. A story in the Oct. 12 edition did not make clear there were other adult theater programs in the area.

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