Ancram Center for the Arts: Connecting Community Through Storytelling & Theater

By Deirdre McKenna / February 21, 2024

Serving the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires and Litchfield County Conn., Ancram Center for the Arts, located in Ancram, N.Y., brings innovative contemporary performances and vital community programs to the region. Formerly known as the historic Ancram Opera House founded in 1972, this intimate performance hall has been newly renamed and is expanding its footprint under the leadership of Jeffrey Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi, proprietors of the center since 2016.

In 2023, Ancram Center produced 90 events, including productions, concerts, and workshops for approximately 1,700 individuals. Half of all events were free. They partnered with organizations such as the Roe Jan Library, North East Community Center, The Boys and Girls Club, and local schools to increase access to the arts.

School Storytelling Program Builds Confidence & Writing Skills for Youth in Columbia County

“Writing on Your Feet: How to Tell a Story and Then Write it Down!” is a program designed to build confidence and writing skills for students in grades 4-6 at Taconic Hills Elementary school in Columbia County, N.Y. The program, created by Ancram Center co-founder Paul Ricciardi, is in its fifth year, and has been supported by grants from BTCF’s Fund for Columbia County since its inception. This year’s grant made it possible to hire three additional teaching artists to work with students.

Students are guided to spontaneously convey an experience in their own authentic, natural speaking style before writing anything down, which gives them a new way to organize their thoughts. Verbal storytelling gives cues as to how and when a story connects with listeners. Students who found the act of writing intimidating could be successful with spoken narratives. Those who tended to be quieter could find a new way to share more about themselves. Confident writers now had a new tool to develop their stories. Teachers report that participants become more confident writers and move on to craft detailed, complex stories after these workshops.

Starting the program in grade four is a strategic choice aimed at creating building blocks of confidence to propel further learning, crucial for all students, especially in a school population partially comprised of students whose first language is not English. "Writing on Your Feet" culminates in a storytelling performance with a subset of students. Mousseau says that seeing kids tell their own stories is a rewarding, fulfilling experience. It also provides opportunities for families to connect through their children’s educational accomplishments.

Taconic Hills students on stage and in workshop with Paul Ricciardi for “Writing on Your Feet: How to Tell a Story and Then Write it Down!”

Expanding Into the Future

Now that Mousseau and Riccardi are in their ninth season leading Ancram Center for the Arts, they continue to seek ways to further their reach. A 2022 technical assistance grant from BTCF supported a critical phase of assessments and strategic planning that has helped them define the path ahead. Creating more opportunities for artists and audiences to connect through shared experiences is at the core of their artistic vision. In October 2023, acclaimed theatre artists David Cale, Dael Orlandersmith, Matthew Dean Marsh and director Robert Falls brought a staged workshop production of “You Don’t Know the Lonely One,” to the Ancram Center. The expanding campus will provide housing to facilitate artist collaborations from a wider geographic pool, and new space for additional interactive events and workshops.

Rendering of new Ancram Center arts building by Ackert Architecture.
Rendering of new Ancram Center arts building by Ackert Architecture.

Ancram Center also offers artist residencies for established and emerging artists. This summer, artist Martha Redbone will develop a project based on interviews with Native American elders. Applications are open until March 22 for the 2024 Summer Play Lab Artist Residency.

More About Ancram Center for the Arts

Ancram Center's Capital Campaign for the Expanding Theater Complex

Learn More About the Fund for Columbia County