GRAVEDIGGER’S TALE: Gravedigging Colatown, SC by Louis Butelli

Originally published April 28, 2016 by Louis Butelli.

Hello, friend! Thank you so, so much for popping by for this, our latest dispatch from Gravedigging across the nation.


So far, my one-man show Gravedigger’s Tale has traveled to Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina. In the morning, I hop on a plane to play the show in Hawaii. There will be plenty to say about that, but, for now, I want to focus on the South Carolina gig. And even more particularly, I want to focus on my dear friend and closest collaborator, Robert Richmond.

It’s hard to know even where to begin about Robert.

I’ll start with where he’s at right now. Rob is the Associate Chair, Co-Artistic Director and Professor of Theatre at University of South Carolina in the enchanted city of Columbia, SC. He also directs plays all over the place, most notably at Folger Theatre in Washington, DC. He is Dad to two beautiful kids, both of whom I’ve had the great pleasure to know since they drew their first breaths. He is a mentor, a teacher, a friend and a confidant to a huge number of people, many of whom now dance alongside us in this ridiculous business. He is a nurturer of talent, a brilliant editor and advisor, and is the person I would call first if I was taken to prison. Admittedly, he’d probably let that call go to voicemail. But he’d be there for my court appearance in the morning, and would have acting and wardrobe notes.

We have worked side by side in a wide variety of venues since 1998, and I hear his voice in my head every time I am required to make an artistic choice: even when I’m working on a project that Rob is not working on, we are still collaborating. As an actor, I think, “what would make Rob laugh?” As a director, I think, “how would Rob solve this problem?” As a teacher, I think, “how would Rob articulate this?” To be fair, sometimes I think that and then do exactly the opposite. But, to be even more fair, most often I outright steal from him, or just do what I imagine he might do.

All of this is to say that there wouldn’t be such a thing as Gravedigger’s Tale without Robert. It was his pitch and his concept and, a year ago, Folger locked he and I in a room with instructions “not to come out” until we “had a show.” I’ve been in that kind of situation before and, believe me: there is nobody else with whom I’d rather be locked in a room – you know, like that crazy “escape puzzle” kind of room – than Robert.


Rob in a handsome suit.

If I had to put it into words, I would say that the reason for the statement is that we both sort of live for “the room.” We love the problem-solving nature of it. We love the challenge of it. We love the gallows humor that comes from it. We love the heightened emotions that come from it, and how they reflect the work, just by being there with a task at hand. I won’t presume to speak for Robert here, but I also love some of the shittier parts of the room. The too-much coffee. The tired limbs. The eye-wobbling frustration of pounding away at an expired idea. The 11th hour burst of energy, leaping to one’s middle-aged feet when a new idea seems like it just might work.

Additionally, I love how, when I make something with Robert, we find two (or more) ways to the same destination. More than that, I love how, once we’ve made the thing, it takes on a life of its own when it’s unleashed on an audience.

Which brings me to part deux of this blogggg post.

Our Gravedigger show is billed as “interactive.” Now, that means lots of different things to lots of different people. And please believe that I am just as horrified by being asked to “participate” in an evening’s entertainment as the next person. (Please disregard at this point the fact that I currently perform in the amazingly kick-ass Sleep No More. That’s fodder for a whole other post).

In this show, it’s all very gentle. I pull a female audience-member onstage to help me with Ophelia and, more pertinently to this post, I pull a male audience-member onstage to stand in for Hamlet’s father. In the bit, I explain how Hamlet’s uncle poured poison into his father’s ear, and what the effects were. I then “coach” the audience-member in the finer points of dying by poison.

At one of our shows at USC, I spotted a very rapt and eager boy, probably 8 or 9 years old, in the audience with his parents. I couldn’t help myself: I simply had to pull him up and poison him. I won’t waste too many more words on it, but this boy was…perfect. He was open, he was game, he was brave, he was funny, he gave the audience a big “thumbs up,” and he was all anybody could talk about at the reception afterwards.

I’ll close this post with a sequence of pictures of this excellent young man in action:


Found him!


Placed him, produced poison!


He begins to “die…”


He “dies” simply and elegantly.


I take his example.


He does it better than I ever could.

I wish I knew that kid’s name. I wish that he could’ve been in the room with Robert and I when we created the show, because I feel like that kid every time Rob and I get to work together. I hope that kid keeps coming to the theater, regardless of where his life takes him. I just can’t thank him enough. Not to sound like an absolute sap, but I get a little bit misty thinking about our moment on-stage together.

Oh! Just by the way, all of these photos are courtesy of the most excellent Jason Ayer and the University of South Carolina’s Department of Theatre and Dance.


Thanks for reading! Next stop: HAWAII!!!!!

Come back and see us, y’all!

GRAVEDIGGER’S TALE comes to HVSF October 26 – 31, 2016 inside the Boscobel Mansion!



Theater Comes to The Public: Bringing Our Town(s) Together

Originally published by The Thornton Wilder Family.

This past summer, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival produced Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN with a company of 3 professional actors and 36 citizen actors from towns dotted around the theater’s performance-space home in Garrison, NY.

They performed the play 4 times in 3 different locations for a total audience of over 1,300 people. All tickets were free of charge. The Wilder Family spoke with the director of the production, John Christian Plummer, HVSF Managing Director, Kate Liberman, and Associate Producer, Emily Sophia Knapp, about how they managed to make this ambitious idea a reality.

Has HVSF ever worked on a project of this scope and scale in the past? How did you dream up this project?

Kate: This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. The genesis of the idea came from our Artistic Director Davis McCallum as we planned the 30th Anniversary celebration of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. We were trying to figure out how to celebrate the anniversary in a way that would thank our community for supporting the theater and reflect back to the community the kind of beauty that we see in the place where we live and make theater.


About a year ago, Davis came back from seeing a performance of Public Works at the Public Theater. He was so jazzed by what they were able to do by merging community and professional talent, and it seemed like a great way to celebrate our community here in the Hudson Valley as part of the 30th anniversary. Replicating that program would not have worked, but we found a way to create a version that would serve a less urban, very diverse and disparate area.

And why OUR TOWN?

Emily: Well, Philipstown feels like Grover’s Corners. Everyone knows everyone. We all know our village trustees. We know who goes to what church and what time somebody hung their laundry out to dry. It felt really meaningful to produce that play.

In addition to involving the community on stage, we also wanted it to be completely free. The tickets “flew off the shelves”– they were completely “sold out” within 45 minutes of being available online.

John, how did you cast the play? Was it difficult to strike a balance between amateur and professional actors, so that it felt like everyone was in the same production?

John: Well, we started with Sean McNall, an HVSF company member who we knew we wanted to play the Stage Manger. It seemed to make sense to all of us to have a professional actor play that role—someone who could command an audience and had played under the tent before. [HVSF’s primary home is a spectacular open-air theater tent at Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, NY.]

Ryan Quinn is another company member we wanted to involve. Ryan was only available for the last 2 weeks of rehearsal, so we cast him as Sam Craig, the Grover’s Corners boy who goes out West. And that seemed to make sense because he was coming in late, just like Sam comes in late. The third professional actress was an amazing woman named Antoinette Robinson who played Emily.

In order to find our “Citizen Actors” we started by offering workshops in 4 different communities: Philipstown, Newburgh, Beacon and Peekskill. We did 2 workshops in each place. And during the workshops, we never even touched the text. They were workshops in fundamental theater exercises, just to get people to stop thinking and start moving together from the heart. At the end of that, we talked about the play and we talked about the process. We had 230 people come to these eight workshops, aged anywhere between 10 and late 70’s. The people who came were ethnically diverse, socio-economically diverse, and diverse in terms of gender identification. It was phenomenal.

We invited everyone to come back for two more workshops at which we would begin to work with the text in a very rudimentary way. Then we did “auditions.” People were not allowed to audition for a particular part and we read the same scene for everybody (the scene between Doc and Mrs. Gibbs, when Mrs. Gibbs returns home from choir practice.)

You see, my whole feeling about theater in general, but certainly about Mr. Wilder’s play is that it’s about community and therefore, it’s about unity. So to achieve unity as an ensemble, you have to suppress the ego. It can’t be about “me first.” It has to be about surrendering your courage, your compassion and your creativity to your fellows. That’s the way the auditions were conducted, and in that way, we were able to separate the “truth-tellers” from the “hambones.”

For example, we found a guy called Tim Harbolic to play George who had some improv-comedy experience. He’s a young John Goodman or James Gandolfini. He’s built like a football player, so not necessarily a casting director’s first choice for George in terms of “type”. But like those two actors, he has so much heart and so much sincerity. Tim and Antoinette had great chemistry together on stage, as did the actors who played Doc Gibbs and Mrs. Gibbs, and Mrs. Webb and Editor Webb. I had so many audience members come up to me afterwards asking which of the actors were the professionals. They couldn’t tell.

This company blew me away. I would put these guys up against anyone. If there were an OUR TOWN Olympics with different companies entering, I would enter this one and expect to win the gold!


How did you rehearse this behemoth?

John: Ultimately we did not have very much time.

We took about a month off between the workshops and starting rehearsals, and we asked everyone to just read the play out loud as often as they could in preparation. It was clear when they came to that first rehearsal that people had been reading the play a lot, because they were so connected with each other and the play.

We started rehearsing regularly in July, 2 or 3 evenings a week for 4 hours a night, and one day on the weekend. Then in August we rehearsed 3-4 nights a week and 2 days on the weekend.

At the start of every rehearsal we’d begin with a few exercises. We’d meet in a circle, make eye contact and go from there. Sometimes we’d do an hour of excises, just wacky, crazy stuff. In fact, this one guy who had been in the military was in the cast and on closing night he came up to me and said, “I couldn’t figure out what any of this stuff had to do with doing the play! But eventually, I realized, this is just like basic training! You’re breaking us down! You’re trying to break all of our bad habits in order to unify us. Because that’s what it was like in basic—we had to become a unit.” And said, yes. That’s exactly what we’re doing. But for peace instead of war.

What was your biggest take away, for you personally and for the theater?

Emily: At the end of process, we asked people to write about their experience and one of the questions we asked was, “What will you remember 1000 days from now about OUR TOWN?” Three people wrote about one specific moment at the very end of the play. John had the dead seated on stage with Emily. The lights came up very dimly, right at the end of the stage as the Stage Manager walked out toward the bluff, and all of a sudden you saw that the entire rest of the cast was also seated at the back of the stage, extending the graveyard off into the horizon. People wrote that their favorite moment was sitting in their chair, waiting in the dark, looking up at the stars about the venue.

I thought that was such a beautiful metaphor for that intangible thing you can never explain to someone about what it feels like to be in a play, to know that you are part a team and a small part of a something much larger than yourself. And because of this interesting mix of community members and professional actors, talking about Grover’s Corners, but describing things that are exactly what we see in our town, people were having real experiences. They were looking up at real stars, not just pretending.


How do you plan to maintain the connections you’ve created with the community going forward?

Kate: Well, this project happened at the same time as Davis and I were working on a strategic plan for Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. And as Davis described it, the OUR TOWN project was kind of like sticking our fingers in a socket and realizing that we’d hit on something big. …Though I’m not sure that’s exactly the right metaphor! In the last five weeks, community engagement has made its way into all levels of this strategic plan. That’s become a bit of a buzzword in the theater, but for each community, it means something different. We’ve been able to see what the Public Theater does in a place where there’s public transportation and a subway that connects all five boroughs. But here in the Hudson Valley, we’re working with five disparate communities where transportation and communication is so fundamentally different. Despite those challenges, Emily and John made this production work so seamlessly; we want to see how we can continue to do this in different ways and what that means for us. While we can’t innumerate the 10 ways in which we will achieve this, we certainly want to find ways in the coming years to continue to involve our community on stage. We want to continue to find ways to run on the energy that OUR TOWN built.


Emily: This play is about dissolving borders—borders between life and death, between men and women, between communities. The towns around where we live also feel very separate, so we saw this play as an opportunity to bring together lots of different kinds of people across borders.

John: So much of this play is about the porousness of borders. I tried to demonstrate that through the cast, by having amateurs and professionals perform together. The origin of the word amateur is amare, or “to love” and professional originally meant “ “a spiritual person” or “one who professes” and it wasn’t until the 19th century that it came to mean “people who got paid for doing their job.” Those two things are really connected—one who loves and one who professes. They profess based on their faith, which is love. There’s really no difference.

If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?

Emily: If we had to this to do again, we’d do more shows. We had a huge problem with scarcity of tickets. In a way, our ability to be really welcoming to the whole community would have been greater if we’d had more performances and more tickets to give.


Kate: And that was compounded by the fact that we had a cast of 40 individuals who, of course, all want their family and friends to see the show so that’s 200 tickets right there. Our home theater is an outdoor theater, under a tent on this beautiful bluff that overlooks the Hudson River. We did two of our performances in our home venue, but then we also took the show for one night only to venues in Peekskill and Newburgh. Each of those performances were so unique, in terms of who came out to see the shows, the way that the actors engaged with the community, and how the spaces worked differently with the show. Transportation is a big issue here, and this production provided access to so many more people. As much as it would have exhausted our company to do another week, it would have been wonderful for the community to be able to perform in one or two more venues in other neighboring towns.

John: If this program were to be successful again, you’d have to start with the play. This play is an absolute a masterpiece, on the level of Shakespeare. There are layers of meaning and intent and interconnectedness in the dialogue, the things that are so seemingly mundane, yet so profound. Like in the first act, when the Stage Manager says, “The morning star always shines brightest just before it has to go. Doesn’t it?” It’s a reference, of course, to Emily, the brightest girl in class. That’s what I mean by a masterpiece. And as a result, a company will rise to the level of the play.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Names Three New Members to the Board of Directors

Robin Arditi, President of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Board of Directors has announced the appointment of three new members, following the organization’s September 14th Board Meeting. Joining the board are Steven Holley, Jim Kilman, and Lauri Sawyer.

Steven Holley is a member of the Litigation Group at Sullivan & Cromwell. His practice focuses on antitrust counseling and litigation, and also includes bankruptcy, securities and tax litigation, as well as complex commercial disputes. Holley has been recognized by: Euromoney’s Benchmark Litigation – Litigation Star (2008-2016) and Top 100 Trial Lawyers in the United States (2016); Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business – recognized as a leader for Antitrust Litigation (2007-2016); The Best Lawyers in America – recognized for Antitrust Litigation (2013-2016); New York Super Lawyers – recognized for Antitrust Litigation (2013-2015); and The International Who’s Who of Competition Lawyers – recognized for Antitrust Litigation (2007-2015). A graduate of Indiana University, Holley received his J.D. from New York University School of Law. Mr. Holley lives in Brooklyn and Garrison, NY.

Jim Kilman is Chief Executive Officer of KielStrand Capital, a family office merchant bank based in Scarborough, New York that makes and manages investments, provides advice and engages in philanthropic activities. Prior to forming KielStrand Capital in 2016, he retired as Vice Chairman of Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley. Kilman currently serves on the Boards of Modular Space Corporation, a privately-held provider of modular buildings in Berwyn, PA and Lebenthal Holdings, a privately-held broker-dealer and asset manager in New York, NY. His community involvement includes serving on the Finance and Investments Committee of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY and as Treasurer of his Yale College Class. He holds an M.A. and a B.A. in Economics from Yale University. Mr. Kilman lives in Scarborough, NY.

Lauri Sawyer is a partner at Jones Day where she has a broad-based federal and state commercial litigation and arbitration practice. Sawyer is strongly committed to pro bono service, especially for clients with domestic relations and immigration issues. She is involved in several pro bono organizations and was recognized for her service in 2001 with the inMotion Commitment to Justice Award. In addition, she serves on several advisory and nonprofit boards. She received a B.A. in International Studies cum laude from the University of Denver, and M.A. in Russian Studies from the University of Washington, and she received her J.D. magna cum laude from Mercer University. Ms. Sawyer lives in Garrison, NY.


2016: Your Top Ten Favorite Moments

Kurt Rhoads in drag. Contemporary context for a ‘problem play.’ Costume snafus. Unruly weather and a little magic. We take a quick look back at some of your favorite moments from the 2016 Summer Season…

1. Ewan, New Audience Member: Curiosity & Cadences

LeRoy McClain as Claudio, Annie Purcell as Isabella in MEASURE FOR MEASURE

“We attended and were swept away by Measure for Measure. Sure, we had to listen carefully to the language, but that kept me on the edge of my seat. The phenomenon of the language, with its cadences, inflections, stresses, and nuances, drew me right in – and although I didn’t understand everything because of my unfamiliarity with the mother tongue – I was drawn toward an understanding of what was happening before me. What a curious feeling.”

2. Laura, HVSF’s Company Manager: AS YOU LIKE IT’s First Preview

Mark Bedard as Touchstone, Nance Williamson as Audrey in AS YOU LIKE IT

“The truly magical first preview of As You Like It (and first preview of the whole summer!), when somehow – and very unexpectedly – Nance-as-Audrey’s red velvet glove went flying and Mark-as-Touchstone’s hand shot out and caught it mid-air. The shock and laughter of the audience and especially the actors was so genuine and true. It was so special – like magic was just breathed into the tent on that first night.”

3. Stephen, Audience Member: A Hyper-Local Work of Art

Jim Cairl, Joseph Merriam, Timothy Harbolic in OUR TOWN

“I can’t remember a work of art that has stayed with me, and moved me, in a thoroughly modern sense, to wake up to the precious life that is all around me every day. It sounds like a cliché, but in the hands of that dramatist, and that production, the call to wake up and live in the moment could not have been more beautifully conveyed.”

4. Anne, Audience Member & HVSF Supporter: Literally Everything.

The Sun Sets before OUR TOWN, Photo by Anne

“Sunset before Our Town! Rosalind in As You Like It! Everything in So Please You! Lucio in Measure For Measure! Boscobel every time! The conservatory company! But the very very best: the Our Town Bake-Off playwriting workshop and HVSF2 reading!”

5. Elena, Audience Member: “The Seven Stages of Man”

Maria-Christina Oliveras as Jacques in AS YOU LIKE IT

“I saw As You Like It with a friend and our sons. It was delightful — a very special evening. As we often find, the actors interactions with the audience are such an enhancement to the experience. We always buy front row so we feel right in the action, and this evening exceeded our hopes. The nuance, energy, expressiveness, creativity…it was a most memorable night. Our ‘schoolboys’, who were given a nod during the famous soliloquy, are sure to never forget it. The play came to life and was completely accessible.”

6. Nora, HVSF’s Associate Director of Education: A Hilarious Snafu

Conservatory Company Members Plead for “The Play” in SO PLEASE YOU

“During the So Please You dress rehearsal, the moment came when the book was supposed to fall from the sky but the rig wasn’t working and it wouldn’t fall. In the spirit of the production, the actors accepted the challenge and spiraled into a couple minutes of complete hilarity while crying, begging, pleading and praying that the book would fall. And once it did…the show went on!”

7. Emma, HVSF’s Director of Marketing & Communications: The Traveling Box Office

An OUR TOWN Traveling Box Office Ticket Voucher

“I loved being on the road with the Our Town Traveling Box Office at the end of August. It was such a pleasure meeting new audience members on their home turf and learning about what this hyper-local production meant to them. Plus, any day spent bouncing around the Hudson Valley is a good day in my book!”

8. Kate, HVSF’s Managing Director: Conjuring Gale-Force Winds

“Enter Macduff” During Our All-Female MACBETH

“My favorite moment was the first preview of Macbeth, which was a wildly windy and eerie night with just the craziest gusts and cold temps. And the wind continued to blow at just the right moment. When the three women said in unison “enter Macduff” The gale made the whole tent shudder and it felt like our three witches were truly conjuring something magical.”

9. Kim, Audience Member: Independence Day on the River

Independence Day Fireworks Over AS YOU LIKE IT

“Seeing the July 4th fireworks at West Point during As You Like It‘s intermission!”

10. Regina, HVSF’s Business Manager: Painting Cold Spring Red

Zachary Fine as MEASURE FOR MEASURE’s Lucio

“My favorite moment of the season was when Kurt Rhoads, Zack Fine and Sean McNall came bursting into the office in full costume for Measure for Measure on their way to a video shoot. It is unforgettable! Kurt’s dramatic sashay in leggings and high heels was particularly hilarious! They all caused a stir on Main Street here in Cold Spring that day.”



Fall Comes to HVSF: Hamlet Retold and The Classics

As our 30th Anniversary Summer Season comes to a close, all of us at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival would like to offer a hearty THANK YOU to our audience, actors, crew, community, spouses, kids, friends, and other folks who shared in the magic of The Tent this year. It was one for the books – a no-problem play, an all-new clown show, gender-bending antics, all-new music, a forty-person 1930’s classic, a three-woman MACBETH, new faces, and more – and we’re sad to see it go!

So, what happens when The Tent isn’t The Tent anymore? Do we all head home to hibernate until an exciting 2017 summer season drops itself in our lap? No way!

Join us this fall for one of two productions in and around the tri-state:

October 17 – December 2, 2016

Bring HVSF to your own community! Each year we take two small-cast productions on the road to stages, community centers, and schools beyond The Tent: one in the fall and one in the spring. This season’s tour melds two classic stories, THE TEMPEST and THE SWORD IN THE STONE, in an exciting introduction to theater, storytelling and Shakespeare aimed at young audiences (grades K-5). Booking is easy!


October 26 – 31, 2016
GRAVEDIGGER’S TALE in the Boscobel Mansion

Produced by Folger Theatre at Folger Shakespeare Library
Conceived and Directed by Robert Richmond with Louis Butelli
GRAVEDIGGER’S TALE comes to us this fall from Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. Our Gravedigger, appearing briefly in Act V of Hamlet, arrives onstage at the Boscobel Mansion with a trunk and a book, using Shakespeare’s moving words, traditional music, and help from the audience to bring this enduring story to life. Catch one of seven Halloween Weekend performances for under $40!



Beauty On the Other Side of Fear: Antoinette Robinson on OUR TOWN

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If– by Rudyard Kipling

The process of creating Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s 30th Anniversary Season production of OUR TOWN – from the workshops to the auditions to the rehearsals – was a first for me. I was used to coming into a rehearsal room and being ‘skilled’ enough, if you will, to either be open or, at the very least, fake it ’til I make it. From the very first workshop: being asked to connect with strangers from all walks of life, to trust, to give in… it was something I thought I knew how to do.

There is no ‘faking’ when you are asked to look into someone’s eyes for an undisclosed amount of time. Or when you are asked to delicately cup someone’s face. Your presence, your full self, is required–on both ends. These acts insist on bravery/courage/patience/love and a pure belief in yourself and those around you to be willing to share in them. And every day, when you think you can’t… and every day that you want to hide, and your own insecurity takes over… Any moment I thought I wasn’t brave enough, the acceptance in my cast-mates’ eyes with who I am – what I brought to that moment – filled me with a kind of peace: where I was that day was enough.

This is the essence of community. I wish every process were like this, started like this. Before scripts are involved and the breaking down of a scene or figuring out what the story is… I wish there was a moment in the room to just see one another. To experience one another.

“Let’s really look at one another!” -Emily Webb

How many times have you been to work or class or rehearsal and there are people you’ve worked CLOSELY with, and yet, you never go pass the all-too-familiar “how are you?”/”good”  construct?

Go beyond your comfort zone. Step out. Risk something. There’s beauty on the other side of that fear.

Are we all meant to be soul mates? No. That’s not reality. But can I take the time to truly engage and care for my fellow brother/sister, artist/collaborator, milkman/postman? YES.

I can honestly say there isn’t a person in the cast of OUR TOWN that I don’t feel some connection with – beyond being in the same show. It’s palpable. What we’ve created here is magical.

And it is an honor to get to share that with each and every one of you. To You!

Antoinette Robinson, a member of HVSF’s 2016 Acting Company, joins the cast of OUR TOWN as Emily Webb this weekend.

OUR TOWN, Directed by John Christian Plummer, runs through September 5, 2016.

OUR TOWN Tickets Now Available!

“Let’s really look at one another!”

Today’s the day! FREE tickets* to HVSF’s 30th Anniversary, hyper-local production of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN are now available. Secure your seats by clicking on one of the dates below, or by calling (845) 265-9575 for the September 2/4/5 performances or (914) 739-0039 for the September 3 performance at Paramount.





“Choose the least important day of your life. It will be important enough.”

Can’t commit to a date now? On Saturday, August 27 we’ll host a pop-up Box Office in four (4) locations throughout the Hudson Valley! Be the first in line in Newburgh, Beacon, Cold Spring, or Peekskill to score ticket vouchers for the show of your choosing on a first-come, first-served basis. Mark your calendar, details to follow!


HVSF Welcomes Drama Desk and Drama League Award Nominee Julia Coffey!

ActingCo_2016_CoffeyCoffey will take over the roles of Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT and Mariana/Mistress Overdone in MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

Artistic Director Davis McCallum has announced that Drama League and Drama Desk Award nominee Julia Coffey will join the company this week, first appearing in AS YOU LIKE IT on Sunday, July 31.

Coffey was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance as Mrs. Janus in Mint Theater Company’s production of London Wall, directed by McCallum. She received a Drama League nomination for her performance of Mrs. Holroyd in The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, also at the Mint.

Though this will be Coffey’s debut at HVSF, she is no stranger to the character of Rosalind! This will be her third production of AS YOU LIKE IT following those at Santa Cruz Shakespeare, and Baltimore’s Center Stage. Of her performance in Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Julia Coffey is an ever-more delightful Rosalind, infectiously confused, then irresistibly slipping more deeply in love. Her banter with Celia sets the play’s tone, and her cross-dressed wooing of Orlando leavens affecting romance with sharp comic second thoughts.” Among her other New York credits are The Trip To Bountiful at Signature Theater and Perfect Arrangements at Primary Stages. Most recently, Coffey appeared as Hedda in Studio Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler. Other reginal credits include: Arcadia (Lady Croom) at A.C.T., Tales from Hollywood (Helen) at the Guthrie Theater, The Merchant of Venice (Portia) at Shakespeare Theatre, Importance of Being Earnest (Gwendolyn) at PlayMakers Rep, Romeo and Juliet (Juliet) at Chicago Shakespeare, and Macbeth (Lady Macbeth) at A Noise Within.

Jessica Love, currently playing Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT and Mariana and Mistress Overdone in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, will depart from HVSF’s acting company on August 1 to take up a role in the world premiere of Aubergine by Julio Cho at Playwrights Horizons.

Of the transition, McCallum says, “Julia is one of the most gifted actors I know, and I loved working with her on London Wall, so her name immediately came to mind when this vacancy became known. We look forward to welcoming Julia to the HVSF family, and can’t wait to share her work with our audiences at the Tent. It was a pleasure having Jessica Love with us this season, and we wish her well at Playwrights Horizons.”


AS YOU LIKE IT and MEASURE FOR MEASURE run in repertory with MACBETH through August 28, 2016.

The Hubble-Bubble Ruckus of SO PLEASE YOU

In celebration of Shakespeare’s 400 year legacy, HVSF’s family-friendly comedy SO PLEASE YOU tells the story of a servant named Denis who appears only once in Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT, to announce that, “so please you,” there is a wrestler at the door! This tragical-comical, comical-tragical tale turns the story of Denis inside out, shaking out all the funny stuff between its ears for a rollicking, clownish romp alongside one of Shakespeare’s (almost) silent heroes. Featuring a mosaic of Shakespearean history and language, SO PLEASE YOU offers something for everyone to honor this momentous legacy year.

SO PLEASE YOU dreamer and director Zachary Fine offered up the following to introduce the show. Will you join him under the tent?

Originally published May 4, 2016. SO PLEASE YOU runs August 15 – August 29, 2016.

160710_Img_ZackNEW2Hello! Hi. Hola. HELLO!

Would you do me a favor? You may think I’m crazy, but indulge me for a second. Would you mind just whispering back at me, “Hello”?

Go ahead, try it. Whisper it softly. Wait! First, just look look around and make sure nobody sees you talking to your program.

Did you check? Double check? Now, try it. Pleeeeeaaaaase. Just whisper “Hello.”

YES! Thank you. If you didn’t do it, you can still go back and try it.

So, how’s it going? …Come on, you can do it. You can tell me. You can even bring me closer to your face and hide the fact that you are talking to me, but please just give it a try. Trust me, it’s gonna feel good once you do it.

So, how’s it going?

Really? I hear you. I get it.

So, next question: What did you have for breakfast?

160712_FB_GIF_SoPleaseYouIf you are still reading this and not whispering back at me, you just might be missing out on all the fun. This would be so boring to read if you didn’t play along. Also, I’m not going to write anything about what you are about to see (since I have no clue; we haven’t made it yet).

We’ve come this far. YOU CAN DO IT! Trust me.

So, what did you have for breakfast?

Oh, that sounds scrumptious. I had some toast and scrambled eggs with a little bit of cheddar. It was delicious. And coffee… I think I mentioned coffee. Oh, how I love coffee on a cold May morning! …May?!

Yeah, it’s May 4th, right? No it’s not, it’s today, you say. Yeah, I know, it’s today. No, silly, my today, not your today.

Well, what’s the difference? One’s now and the other is then, you say. But my now is now and your now is then. No, silly. Your now is then and my now is now. You mean your now? Yes, MY NOW! It’s both, right? I think I may have had too much coffee.

Let’s just agree, then, that my now and your now are both now and both then.

As you sit in your now (my then) under the tent, wondering, perhaps even dreaming, about what you are about to see in SO PLEASE YOU, I sit in my now (and your then) drinking my delicious coffee, wondering, perhaps even dreaming, about the same thing. So, are we both together in our dreaming? I think yes.

So, did anyone see you talking to your program? They did?! Did you laugh? Did they laugh? I hope so. I mean, you are having a conversation with a device! Tell the truth, it’s fun to be ridiculous sometimes, right? To let our imaginations run and enter into the world of play?

Welcome to the world of the clown – that part of us that dreams big, that loves to pretend, that loves to play the game, that doesn’t know how it all ends and sometimes like to talk to pieces of paper. The clown embodies for us the rambunctious hope and baffling chaos of our humanity. Ridiculous and sublime, brilliant and idiotic, courageous and terrified – full of curiosity and trepidation, and yet somehow amidst the hubble-bubble ruckus of it all the clown has the terrible/wonderful idea to bring it all out on stage for us to see. The clown dares herself to stand directly in the present moment, the place where the stage and the world meet, and in that place the clown allows us to see, to look, to feel. She stands there for our delight and for our pleasure and for something even greater – the pleasure of our togetherness, the tender magic of our collective imagination.

With that in mind, I invite you into the world of SO PLEASE YOU. What is it about? I have no idea. Remember, it’s May 4th right now, so we haven’t even started rehearsing it yet. But right NOW we are are dreaming together, remember? And our dream is happening NOW. Your now and my then and my now and your then…and we are together, and we are not alone.


SO PLEASE YOU, Conceived and Directed by Zachary Fine, runs August 15 – August 29, 2016.

Now I Was a Different Piece to the Puzzle: An Understudy Reflection by Jessica-Brittany Smith

ActingCo_201620I woke up to two missed calls the morning of June 8th. One was from my best friend who was apologizing for attending Beyonce’s concert without me. (Clearly unacceptable.) And the other was a call from Marci Skolnick (Stage Manager) to inform me that I would need to perform Stacey Yen’s track as her understudy for the second preview of AS YOU LIKE IT.

A surge of exhilaration ran through my body. I called my friend and jokingly scolded her for cheating. As we were wrapping our convo, I told her I had to get ready mentally to go on and then we hung up the phone. Then it sunk in: I’m going on. And I’m terrified.

I was mostly off-book for Stacey’s track at this point and had an idea of her blocking, but the actuality of doing it made me panic. What if I messed up? What if I went up on a line? What if I ran into someone because I messed up her blocking? What if I couldn’t drive the golf cart?! All these questions raced through me at once and I froze. But then, I took a breath. I realized that if something goes wrong it does not make me the worst actor or artist. The show will go on, just as life itself goes on.

I also think a spirit of gratitude helped me in full preparation. An actor and dear company member of mine had to leave for a family emergency and needed support. I suddenly became grateful for the ability to support and carry the spirit of her character in this wonderful story. I became grateful for a company whose main focus is to share the best story they can. I became grateful to be surrounded by artists with such heart and a giving spirit.

(On top of this, seeing the amazing Kimberly Chatterjee take on Stacey Yen’s track in MACBETH like a champ was inspiring in a way that kicked my butt into gear, for sure!)

Repetition is important for me. I ran lines like a crazy person, aiming to repeat them at the least 30 times a day. Especially in a situation like this, muscle memory is very important for me. Once again, the spirit of ensemble was alive and well. Everyone was so willing to help! Almost everyone in the cast at one point came up and offered to run lines, blocking, or answer any questions I had. They were extremely supportive and that made a world of a difference.

When it was time to go on I was still afraid, but more than that fear was the exhilaration, the excitement to play with my fellow ensemble! We do this already, but now I was a different piece to the puzzle and it was fun to change shape!

It was so great to be supported by all of the HVSF company members. I think the fact that both performances were previews [a set of public performances that precede the official opening of a production, allowing the director, designers, and players a chance to refine their work] gave way to an uncertain energy that any show has when it first opens in front of an audience for the first time.

So, old or new, everyone was on their toes.

I will say though, there was a moment when I jumped in on Kurt Rhoads’s line. Now, as an actor of such success and high caliber, he easily could have scolded me, made me feel bad, or stupid. But the first thing he did – the second we walked off stage – was to pull me aside and tell me about a time where something similar happened to him with a very well known actor. It was so comforting, in a moment when I was mortified, to have Kurt comfort me as if to say, “hey, it happens to the best of us.”

The weather faired well for my two performances. It was hot, but there was no crazy wind (as in Kimberly’s spooky MACBETH appearance). I messed up, the show went on, and I pressed on.

Ultimately, this experience taught me a lot; lessons that I am far from mastering but am just now beginning to incorporate into my daily life as an artist: Preparation. The importance of an ensemble. And love of play. HVSF has validated those things I hold dear as an artist and I am excited to see what the rest of this summer brings and teaches me.


AS YOU LIKE IT, Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, runs through August 27, 2016.