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“Passages”: The Lights that Tell a Story of Time

By Max Weissman | May 19, 2021

Photo Credit: The New York State Writers Institute

The waves of red and blue lights emitted from two towering projectors, bounced off the walls of the science library as viewers with lawn chairs and on the twenty-foot-long bus bench watched the monumental light show to celebrate the proud history of Albany.

Put on by the NYS Writers Institute, the premiering show had bipolar rain and winds that made simple actions such as smiling in awe difficult. However that did not discourage audience, staffers, special guest or the Writers Institute director Paul Grondahl. Rather the opposite “The 3D immersive light show ‘Passages’ accomplished everything we hoped for, and more,” stated Grondahl.

The show, lasting no more than 15 minutes, was a brief escape from the somber conditions and brought viewers to place of wonder and amazement. One would think that the 45-foot high, 195-foot-wide projection on the western side of the Science Library with windows in horizontal rows three stories high would be adequate at best. It was anything but that. It would have made any sober mind drunk with excitement and a child's curiosity on the feasibility of it all.

The history of Albany started with dinosaurs and had a T-Rex that appeared as if it were running inside the building with its feet on the second floor and the rest of its body on the third only to be as if a shadow from inside. Speakers blasting sounds of its great roar made it feel as though Ben Stiller had a night shift as a security guard inside.

As the dinosaurs disappeared into the night, they were replaced by two shadows dancing from window to window to Disneyesque music as if they were John Brascia and Vera-Ellen in “White Christmas.”

Photo Credit: The New York State Writers Institute

From there the lightshow conveyed Hudson Velley’s rich history that portrayed wooden ships sailing in choppy seas toward the crowds before transitioning into another aspect of local history. Later on, it paid homage to such luminaries as the founder of the Writers Institute, William Kennedy. But this show was not one without meaning. “It brought a dazzling and sophisticated illumination technology popular in the world’s major cities to the UAlbany campus. It celebrated the region’s cultural, literary and cinematic history and brought the wow factor to the Writers Institute’s inaugural Albany Film Festival,” Grondahl said.

Although the magic of the night was something that seemed to be almost spontaneous, the original idea to bring it to Albany occurred ten years before by Chet and Karen Opalka who co- founded Albany Molecular Research, Inc. And has deep roots in the Hudson Valley.

They saw a show with projector technology while on a two-night trip to a city in France on the side of a cathedral located in the city’s square.

Photo Credit: The New York State Writers Institute

“We went back the second night. The whole square was totally packed!” Mr. Opalka said. “And I said now, wait a minute. This cathedral is not unlike a lot of buildings that we have around the Albany area, the D and H building, the cathedral in Albany and many other places. And I said I've never heard of this. We should be able to do this sort of thing in Albany, so I came back, and I started talking with people about it. I thought that it would add some vibrancy to what we have around here. In addition to all the other things that we have.”

It took ten years for that vision to become a reality, but it was most definitely worth the wait and Mr. Opalka hopes to do more kind of stuff like this. Especially in places where people normally don’t go like downtown Albany. Mr. Opalka talked about some other ideas like this one to have in Albany with clear admiration for Albany and it’s dense history.

The show was put on from Friday, April 30 through Monday, April 3, with showings every half hour from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. It was in collaboration with Colonie film company MagicWig Productions, Inc. and composer Joe Kraemer, an Albany native.

“We are grateful to the hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members who came and enjoyed the show over four nights despite heavy rains and high winds. Finally, I want to thank our generous sponsors and Magic Wig Production’s creative team who made it such a great success,” Grondahl commented after all the shows were completed.


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