Play Makers of The Hudson Valley: Penguin Artistic Director Joe Brancato

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BY GEORGE J. DACRE

Joe Brancato, Penguin Rep artistic director, with actress Barbara Feldon in 2014
Joe Brancato, Penguin Rep artistic director, with actress Barbara Feldon in 2014

The Hudson Valley is blessed with several professional and community theatres and among them is the Gutsiest Little Theatre off Broadway, PenguinRep of Stony Point now in its 39th season.

Penguin Rep has as its artistic director Joe Brancato, who is currently in rehearsal of the next show “Daniel’s Husband,” a story of marriage in the gay community. Brancato got started in show business at the early age of 10 putting on shows in the alleyways between tenements in the Bronx, where he was born. Neighborhood kids, under young Joe’s direction, would put on Passion plays from the Bible and other shows, with a small admission charge.

Brancato told the Rockland County Times he still hears from some of those kids who have followed his career. That career blossomed, in the North Rockland School District, where he originated the Arts Department and worked as a teacher after getting a degree from Iona College, New Rochelle. Brancato also served in the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1970s where, guess what, he put on and directed many shows.

Then, one day, more than 39 years ago, Brancato discovered an out of use red barn on the grounds of the Stony Point Conference Center on Crickettown Road and got the idea of, hey kids, let’s find a barn and put on many shows. And that they did leasing the red barn right up to this day and forming Rockland’s only professional theatre.

Penguin Rep has the reputation of gutsy productions, including recently “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” all about the outspoken Dr. Ruth who appeared at the show selling her books. Penguin’s current production “Dancing Lessons” is a story about an autistic man who wants to pay more than $2,000 for over an hour of dancing lessons from a Broadway dancer who injured her leg.

Where did the name Penguin Rep come from? Brancato says they named it after the penguin, a very friendly bird that takes care of their own because that’s what Brancato’s goal was. He says the community and sponsors have done just that and with grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and from the Rockland Council on the arts, Penguin Rep has grown through the years and their productions are almost always sold out.

Patrons and the business community give solid support to Penguin Rep as the latest playbill demonstrates with many ads and a list of the benefactors. Joe Brancato along with Penguin executive director Andrew Horn are looking forward to their 40th season as are the rest of us.

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