Director, choreographer, theatre-maker

Age: 36

Current hometown: Hoosick Falls

Current project: Preparing the next phase for Fort Salem Theater

Collaborative Media’s Maker of the Week is made possible by KeyBank.

By Tony Pallone

Kyle Christopher West is a newcomer to the Capital Region, having recently taken the helm as executive and artistic director at Fort Salem Theater in Salem, New York. Known for its intimate cabaret performances, the theater has been closed for the past couple years; West brings a new vision for the space that includes musicals and large-scale productions. An accomplished dancer and performer, he has also worked in marketing and public relations for touring Broadway shows, and serves as an editor of Broadway World.  

If I were to ask you to describe yourself as an artist, what would come to mind first?

Like a lot of people, I grew up thinking I wanted to perform for my whole life. I grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where there’s a really thriving theatre scene, and of course moved to New York City. I had some success doing different projects in New York, but I quickly realized two things: one, I had no interest in auditioning the rest of my life; and two, that it wasn’t just being in front of an audience that I enjoyed, but the entire experience. As I started directing and choreographing and working on the other side of the table, I realized that it really was creating the environment and being in a room full of artists that I enjoyed. Whether my job was planning rehearsals, or sharpening pencils, or setting up chairs for a read-through, it was the entire picture for me — not just the applause at the end of the day.

How did you get to where you are now at Fort Salem?

Both my husband and I had lost our jobs at the beginning of this year, through the pandemic. We were living in Dallas before this, and I had actually been looking at spaces for about two years that I could potentially turn into a theater. While we were both looking for new careers, I stumbled upon Fort Salem Theater online.

We had actually been really conservative through the pandemic; we had barely left the house for groceries in months. Our first time leaving for a nonessential task was to travel to New York to see the theater; I was terrified that if we didn’t look at it, it would be gone before we had the opportunity. I think we found it on a Monday, we got here on a Wednesday and by Friday we had made an offer to purchase. You can’t say I’m not impulsive.

What’s the plan for the theater? Obviously, the pandemic is going to influence the timing, but what do you see as the vision?

We were hopeful that we’d be able to do a soft open — some sort of holiday concert-type event, where we could show off some local talent, kind of introduce ourselves and reintroduce people to the building. I’m not sure, given the state of the world right now, if that is going to be the responsible thing to do. We’re on hold with that, but we are still hopeful that we can start a traditional theatre season somewhere around April — again, COVID-pending. We want to make sure we’re safe and responsible.

Once we are able to start, we’re looking at a full season of mostly well-known musicals and some literary classic plays. I want to make sure that I’m inviting people back with shows that they’re interested in, things that they have been asking for. I want to get as many people in the door as I can, to find out what they like, what they’re interested in seeing, what stories they’re interested in having told and what stories they’re interested in telling.

Will you be operating as a professional theater, a community theater or somewhere in between?

What I can say right now is that we’re looking to utilize local talent as best we can. Will there be some guest artist contracts? Most likely there will. Could there be more of those down the line? Sure. But at least for our initial shows, we’re looking to see what local talent we can pull from and kind of go from there.

A couple weeks ago, through our Facebook page, I’d invited people to send in videos, headshots and/or resumes to help us select our season based on knowing what talent was local… I will tell you I have been shocked (about) how many people have reached out to me, and how much enthusiasm there is locally for us to reopen the doors. It was just really overwhelming, and just really wonderful how excited people were.

Shifting gears for a moment, tell me a little bit more about how you become who you are.

I performed all of my early years growing up. I was a dance student and a musical theatre performer. I was very lucky: When I was young, a theater on Cape Cod gave me some great opportunities to choreograph some of their professional shows… (that) really forced me to learn my craft as I was working.

You know, when you’re young, you just take any opportunity you can. I would go anywhere. I remember doing shows back to back — really eating, sleeping and breathing theatre. I’m still a nerd like that. I’m the person that listens to show tunes in my car on the way to and from rehearsals. I need no escape from theatre!

If I were to say to you, “I don’t think the arts are very important,” how might you respond?

Well, first of all, I might cry, because this has been a very challenging time for the arts. But I think (that) looking at where we are right now, although we aren’t able to perform and be together live in a room, people are turning to the arts more than ever.

There are different ways that everybody values the arts — whether they can identify it or not. Seeing how people are either turning to TV and film and music, or people are reinventing the way they share their art through different technology, there’s more art than ever and more people finding different ways to either give art or receive it. I just think we couldn’t live without it. 

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