Every local business has a story worth sharing with the community. And that’s the belief behind this exciting series — to shine the spotlight on all our favorite local businesses, and to learn a little about the ones we may not know that well.
Business: Axial Theatre/Howard Meyer’s Acting Program (non-profit)
Founder: Howard Meyer, Founder, President
Website: www.axialtheatre.org, www, hmacting.org
Address: 8 Sunnyside Avenue, Pleasantville, NY 10570
How did you come up with the name?
Theatre has always been an incredibly sacred and magical place for me where I have experienced transformative experiences both in the acting classes I have taken and in performances I have seen. So I wanted to find a name that captured and honored the mystery and power that drew me to a life in the theatre and the impact that I hoped it would have on others. I have also been a spiritual searcher and one day a dear friend stumbled upon the term “Axial Age” in Karen Armstrong’s The History of God. The Axial Age is the period in history that joins the birth of the Buddha with the birth of Christ. I had formerly stumbled upon a term called “axis mundi,” coined by seminal mythologist Mircea Eliade, which signifies places and objects (alters, thrones, crosses, etc.) where the power of the sacred is captured and brought down for us to experience in every day. Theatre had always held that sacred power for me. Since axial refers to an axis of rotation, I thought the name would honor and capture the spirit of both these terms. One point of clarification: we are not a religious theatre. We are a theatre that recognizes the power and mystery contained in theatre and acting.
Why start a business in this town?
With the success of the Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville has become an important cultural destination for Westchester. They specialize in independent and cutting edge film and we do the same in theatre, so we thought the audiences coming to Pleasantville would be attracted to a similar theatrical alternative. Pleasantville is also filled with terrific restaurants that are within walking distance from our theatre which gives audiences the opportunity for a very enjoyable full night out. Also, the train station and highways are so close, making us very easy to get to from anywhere in the county.
What business are you in?
We present original and classic plays and offering acting classes for all levels of experience, ages 10 through adult. Although we have trained many gifted and committed teenagers who have gone on to the leading colleges and conservatories in the country, the majority of our students are adults.
What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve faced as a business owner?
I would say that opening a business with very little start-up capital was the biggest challenge for me. It meant paying my teachers and all the bills before I was able to pay myself anything for a while. Living on savings was stressful even with my strong belief in and commitment to the value of the service we were providing. Happily, in our 22nd year, I haven’t lived on savings in a very long time!
What’s been your proudest achievement since opening?
My proudest achievement is the tremendous impact our training and our shows have had on our students and audiences. There are a number of students who now have successful professional acting careers, but so many more have reported transformational experiences that have had important impact on their lives. We have many emails from students expressing this impact and their gratitude. This makes what we do the most worthwhile. A few years ago I attended a wedding of one of my first students who had just turned 34. He started with me when he was 12 years old. That was incredible. Maintaining connections with students young and old is a real confirmation of the value of what they received.
How does your business give back to the community?
I think my previous answer addresses the most important aspect of what we give back. We do also vist old age homes and senior centers to do readings of plays. We have had generous donors underwrite free tickets for students. But I do think the most important impact on the community is what happens inside those weekly classes and on our stage.