‘Now comes the fun part’

Pendragon, BluSeed artist residents begin displaying, creating public art

SARANAC LAKE — A new Pendragon Theatre and BluSeed Studios artist residency program is now underway. The first free performance through the program is scheduled next month and work on a crowdsourced mural project will kick off in January.

New York City-based artist Sam Balzac, a former resident of the Adirondacks, will present his adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Wrong Box” on Dec. 9 at the Saranac Lake Public Library. Then, in early 2024, ceramic artists Jazen Reuss and Brooke Armstrong, of Saranac Lake and Texas, respectively, will start work on their community collaborative ceramic bead mural.

A dozen artists in visual and performing arts, including six from the North Country, are part of this artist residency program. The work is funded by $75,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Our Town” program and $75,000 from Pendragon Theatre and BluSeed Studios.

Pendragon Managing Director Michael Aguirre said the theater and BluSeed Studios applied for this $75,000 grant two years ago, and after a long process he’s excited to see it starting to come to fruition.

“Now comes the fun part,” he said.

All the art produced with this grant will be free for the public, and he hopes this will be the start of an annual program in Saranac Lake, as part of the grant is seed money for future years.

“The Wrong Box”

Balzac, a performer, composer/lyricist and musician originally hailing from Jay, will be debuting his musical, an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Wrong Box,” Dec. 9 at the Saranac Lake Public Library

“I’m pleased as punch about the residency program,” Balzac said.

Things fit together perfectly for him. He previously got a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts Support for Artists through the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts to write the show. But this grant did not pay for a performance. Being accepted for the residency in Saranac Lake allows him to do that.

Balzac said he’s wanted to adapt something of Stevenson’s for a while because of the famous author’s connection to the area.

While visiting the cottage Stevenson in Saranac Lake, he learned that the author revised “The Wrong Box” with his son, Lloyd Osbourne, here. His parents mentioned there was a movie of it and he watched it straightaway.

“I was like ‘This is hilarious,'” Balzac said. “It’s really right up my alley in terms of humor and absurdity.”

The movie is notably different than the book, he said. His stage adaptation is closer to the book, but blends in aspects of the movie. Balzac said he’s also embellished and added his own mark to the story.

Balzac started in the theater from a very young age, playing “various small children” in Christmas carols his mom would put on in Upper Jay. From there, got involved in community theater, school theater and eventually professional theater at the Depot and Pendragon. His mom taught him how to write lyrics and compose songs in high school.

Balzac said the performance will be put on with collaborators from New York City and professional local actors. He’s bringing up a couple friends from college and Pendragon is providing housing for them.

“We Are Mountain”

Beginning in January 2024, Reuss and Armstrong will bring the public in to work on their mural, “We Are Mountain,” a ceramic bead mural made of hundreds of ceramic beads to be installed at BluSeed Studios.

This will involve a series of public workshops where locals and visitors to town can create their own bead to become part of the larger three-dimensional mural.

“A mountain, made of many layers of sediment, symbolizes the people and parts that make it what it is: strong, solid and lush,” they wrote in a statement.

Reuss said the goal is to illustrate the human composition of the Saranac Lake area, which has a small local population but is a place many people come in to visit.

She’s dyed porcelain clay in seven colors. Each person who creates a bead will get a color corresponding to their connection to the area.

For example, someone born and raised here, which she plans to be the center of the piece, will be blue. Someone visiting from out of state will get another color. Someone visiting for out of the country will get another.

These beads can be carved in many ways — animals, traditional round beads or long “fang”-like beads Armstrong uses in her work — which Reuss and Armstrong said makes the project versatile and challenging.

Reuss said this is an opportunity for people to take part in art for free.

Reuss will hold free community bead making workshops at BluSeed Studios throughout 2024. She also hopes to have workshops at other locations around town.

Armstrong, originally from Long Lake, said it was “an honor” to be selected for this artist residency.

“To be able to go back to the area where I’m from and make art and share with the community, I’m really excited about it,” she said.

The two have been friends since college and are cousins by marriage.

Armstrong learned about the opportunity through Reuss, and they agreed to do a combined residency. Reuss will lead workshops on making the beads. Armstrong will lead workshops on assembling the mural.

“The way I work, I make lots of small parts,” Armstrong said.

She first experimented with this community collaboration on a public mural in Missoula, Montana, and Reuss thought it would be a good fit for Saranac Lake.

Armstrong will hold a workshop on how to assemble the mural as well as have open artist hours for the community to see the construction of the mural in June 2024.

The grant

Pendragon Theatre and BluSeed Studios were awarded a $75,000 matching grant from the NEA’s Our Town program and collectively came up with another $75,000.

The money will go to pay artists a commission; house them; and pay for transportation, supplies, administrative costs and marketing.

The organizations are not taking any “box office cut” — the art produced in Saranac Lake will be viewed by the public for free in Saranac Lake, with the goal of contributing to the community and speaking to issues and life here.

Each artist will receive a commission fee, which can range between $100 and $5,000, but Aguirre hopes most are between $1,000 and $3,000. The length of engagement for each artist will vary depending on their project and specialty.

More art coming

BluSeed Studios will also host artists David Woodward and Britt Sternberg.

Pendragon Theatre will also host writers, composers and performers Glen McClure and Karen Lewis.

Woodward hopes to produce a 10-foot-tall iron sculpture in front of the Saranac Lake Free Library. This iron sculpture would be of a child reading a book with various book themes and characters flying out of the book towards the sky.

Sternberg plans to create a mural to reflect this community back to itself, while fostering a sense of inclusion, welcoming and belonging. She plans to include community input into the design, which will be created in small sections at discussion dates to be announced.

McClure will use the residency to develop music to discuss social issues, including disability in relation to the Adirondacks. McClure will create a 20- to 30-minute musical conversation between disability and the wilderness. One singer will voice disability and four singers — soprano, alto, tenor and bass — will play the role of the forest. Three instrumentalists — fiddle, guitar, banjo, hammer dulcimer, flute and percussion — will provide a folk and classical music setting.

Lewis will focus on the creation of a new play with the working title “The Pathless Woods.”


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