Revolutionary & Hopped Up on Language: Davis McCallum on THE BOOK OF WILL

Blog-BOOK Davis HeadshotI never refer to Shakespeare as “The Bard.”

Here’s why: “The Bard” conjures for me an image of Shakespeare, a long time ago and
far far away, gazing out a gothic window at the Warwickshire countryside. As he strokes his mustache, his quill is ready to deliver his genius to the page. He’s untouchable, remote, more a literary demi-god than a man. This person is a stranger to me. And I’m not sure I like him.

At Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, our Will Shakespeare is a man of the theater — himself an actor and shareholder in The King’s Men, the theater company he founded with his friends and colleagues, and for whom he wrote every single one of his plays. This Shakespeare is unapologetically Elizabethan and yet utterly our contemporary — weird, bawdy, passionate, poetic, revolutionary, humane, hopped up on language, and bursting with the confidence that anything is possible in the theater when the power of the human imagination is unlocked by the right words in the care of a great actor. This Shakespeare belongs to everyone, and it’s his ability to capture our shared humanity that makes his plays resonate today.


“Our Will Shakespeare is utterly our contemporary – weird, bawdy, passionate, poetic, revolutionary, humane, hopped up on language, and bursting with the confidence that anything is possible…”


When I first read THE BOOK OF WILL, I found this same Shakespeare on every page of Lauren’s play. And I was so excited by the discovery that I called her that same day and
asked if we could produce the world premiere at HVSF.

Although the plot of the play concerns the making of the First Folio — one of the single most important and influential events in the history of publishing — it’s not a play about a book. It’s a play about a theater company. At the heart of the play is the friendship between two actors in the company, John Heminges and Henry Condell, who take upon themselves the task of saving their friend’s words from near-certain oblivion. And now, four hundred years later, those words have not only survived: they have given so many people so much joy, and solace, and courage. The simple fact that we are all together under this magnificent test is a testament to the life-force contained within them.

So, in the spirit of the play, I’d like to propose a toast…

Not “To The Bard,” but: “To Will!”

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THE BOOK OF WILL
By Lauren Gunderson | Directed by Davis McCallum
Previews June 9 – June 21, 2017
Running June 22 – July 28, 2017
Rolling World Premiere

this production is supported in part by
THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS

HVSF Welcomes Drama League Directing Fellow

The Drama League recently announced its 2017 Classical Directing Fellowships for Artists of Color. One of three theaters participating in the program, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is thrilled to announce that Damascus native Kholoud Sawaf will join the company in July to assist directors Penny Metropoulos on THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA and Ian Belknap on LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. Sawaf will also direct the Festival’s two-day Community Bakeoff, part of the HVSF2 new play reading series at the Philipstown Depot Theatre.

HVSF Artistic Director Davis McCallum was part of a distinguished panel that selected this year’s fellows: “I was blown away by Kholoud when I met her in the interview process,” McCallum noted, “and I am delighted that she will be joining HVSF as our 2017 Drama League Fellow.”

Sawaf-Kholoud_Headshot

Kholoud Sawaf

Sawaf has worked as a theatre and documentary maker in Lebanon, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. In collaboration with TheatreSquared, she’s adapting and directing R&J Damascus, a recipient of a $250,000 grant through Doris Duke Foundation’s Building Bridges Program. Some of her directing work includes The Chairs (U of A), Merci Maurer (devised) with ArkansasStaged and Vietgone (TheatreSquared, 2018). Sawaf’s assistant directing credits include Vietgone (Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Manhattan Theatre Club). She received a BA in Mass Communication from American University of Shajrah and a MFA in Directing from University of Arkansas.

The Classical Directing Fellowship for Artists of Color immerses a director in the productions and institutional life of a company working in the classical canon. In addition to their work with each respective theater, Fellows participate in Professionals Week, an intensive week of professional theater immersion including performances, seminars, workshops with industry professional, and field-focused discussions. Past Drama League Fellows at HVSF include Emily Lyon (2015) and Noa Egozi (2016).

Welcome to HVSF, Kholoud! We can’t wait to meet you this summer!

First Look: 2017 Rehearsals Begin

Long before the Theater Tent is erected on the edge of the Hudson, our acting company gathers in New York City to begin the rehearsal process — memorizing lines, developing their characters, reviewing sets and costumes with designers, meeting staff and supporters, and more. Go behind the scenes with our 2017 company! Photos by Ashley Garrett.

HVSF Meet & Greet 2017-21

Longtime fan favorites Jason O’Connell and Kurt Rhoads

HVSF Meet & Greet 2017-29

THE BOOK OF WILL Playwright Lauren Gunderson joins in from the West Coast

HVSF Meet & Greet 2017-3

Company members Kimberly Chatterjee and Sean McNall with HVSF supporter Siew Thye Stinson

Previews of TWELFTH NIGHT, THE BOOK OF WILL, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE begin June 8. Meet the cast under the Theater Tent this summer!

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Kate Hamill’s Top 7 ‘Musts’ for an Ideal Mr. Darcy

When considering Jane Austen’s aloof, hard-headed Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, which devilishly handsome leading man comes to mind? If you’re like anyone with access to BBC or A&E in the mid-’90s, Colin Firth may be your go-to embodiment of this unlikely romantic hero, having appeared in 1995’s made-for-television Pride & Prejudice directed by Simon Langton.

“Women being attracted to [Mr. Darcy] took me by surprise,” Firth recently told The Daily Mail. “When I took on the role it seemed to me that he was imperious and stiff and forbidding, and I didn’t know what there was to play apart from him scowling all the time. I thought it would be quite fun and liberating to play someone who was completely and utterly dislikeable, unsympathetic, judgmental and snobbish.”

Darcy may find a foe in Firth, but a friend in playwright Kate Hamill. Hamill’s playful adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE makes its debut under the HVSF Theater Tent this summer, and not without the weirdo women (and men) who’ve become signature players in a Hamill adaptation.

“I’m so disinterested in beautiful, perfect people,” beamed Hamill. “Lizzy Bennet’s a total weirdo and should be treated as such. She and Darcy are both odd ducks… odd ducks that swim together.”

So how will Hamill’s Odd Duck Darcy shape up this summer? Here are her top seven must-haves in an ideal leading man:

  1. Righteous: “He tries to do the right thing all the time”
  2. Smart: “He’s capable of being quite nerdy.”
  3. Stubborn: “That’s a big one!”
  4. Principled: “He has to be someone with a lot of integrity.”
  5. Funny: “Intentionally and unintentionally, for sure.”
  6. Magnetic: “Someone you feel a deep connection with.”
  7. But, above all: “HUMAN! There’s just no other way to put it.”

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is in previews June 10 – June 23, 2017 and runs June 24 – September 4, 2017. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.

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Love is a Devil: Director Ian Belknap on LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

“Masculine desire… what is it? What is love when you’re young?”

If LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST Director Ian Belknap had answers to his questions, he probably wouldn’t be exploring them onstage with us this summer.

This classic tale of eight unwitting young lovers follows a familiar trajectory: Boys make a pact. Attractive girls arrive. Love blossoms, and the pact is no more. It’s an age-old story told and retold in Tennyson’s The Princess, Gilbert & Sullivan’s Princess Ida, and even – to some extent – in Dennis Dugan’s block-buster film Saving Silverman.


“I would forget her; but a fever she
Reigns in my blood and will remember’d be.”

Dumain, LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST


O, the weight of young love!

Still, layers of self-discovery, emotional curiosity, and forbidden romance within LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST continue to resonate onstage. Belknap finds that first piece – self-discovery – particularly worthy of reexamination this year, as LOVE’S cast, the HVSF Conservatory Company, embark on a unique journey of their own. Following the Conservatory Company’s appearance under the theater tent this summer, these eight young actors will bring the show on tour to schools with The Acting Company (for which Belknap serves as Artistic Director) leading finally to their acceptance into Actors’ Equity, a key milestone in the life of a professional actor.

“These are eight actors depicting eight lovers, and so much more,” noted Belknap. “Our cut is fast-paced with players moving fluidly between roles and there’s something powerful about these emerging actors playing similarly-aged students and their educated instructors. Student becomes teacher, just as the princess becomes the queen in the final notes of Act 5.”


“Masculine desire… what is it? What is love when you’re young?”

– Ian Belknap


One might say this play, in particular, is itself a labor of love: “LOVE’S offers some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful, but densely written, language. It’s tough for any actor, but once you’ve done it… you’ve done it.”

“And only a writer of Shakespeare’s caliber would have the courage to craft that final scene,” admitted Belknap. “‘The news I bring is heavy in my tongue. The king, your father’ is dead. Seriously?! It’s devastating because Shakespeare waits until the absolute last second to bring the news of the King’s death. It’s shocking because there has been little to no foreshadowing and then, at the 23rd hour, BOOM. Childhood ends. These characters – these actors – take up the mantle of adulthood.”

But let’s get back to that youthful romance…

“As is the case with ROMEO & JULIET, my hope is that students can easily see themselves in LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST because they’ve been here before,” admitted Belknap. “They’ve known young love, forbidden love. They’ve made the same jokes about the teachers and adults in their lives. They know what trying to maintain one’s honor means. To them, it means an awful lot.”

 

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST runs August 14 – August 29, 2017 under the tent (including free family matinees on August 15, 22, and 29), and tours with The Acting Company this fall. Season tickets go on sale to the public March 15, but members of our Saints & Poets Society (March 8) and Festival Circles (March 1) have early access. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.

Our American Identity: Director Penny Metropulos on THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA

“What’s going on outside is enormous,” offered Director Penny Metropulos, delving into the cultural context of this season’s THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA by Richard Nelson. “Protests, battles, meetings of congress, the war raging on – still, the interactions between characters are so personal, so intimate.”

THE GENERAL, first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1996, follows the treasonous plot of Benedict Arnold as he plans his defection and flight from a fledgling United States. Long reviled by most Americans and world historians as a traitor, Arnold’s 1779 struggle with our newborn nation is revisited in this powerful text, exposing “the puritanical hypocrisy and corruption that marched beside the heralded courage of our national beginnings.” (The Village Voice)

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Royal Shakespeare Company’s premiere production of THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA. Photo by Zuleika Henry.

“What I love about this play is its humanism,” Metropulos revealed. “Nelson gives us an intimate, crystalline, personal look at these characters who, for so long, have been larger than life in our minds.” Revolutionary War-era staples such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the malefactor himself, Benedict Arnold, move fluidly between scenes, currying favor of leadership, chiding one another, bemoaning personal circumstance, exposing their own fragility.

Unique to this summer’s production is something HVSF doesn’t usually get to explore with Shakespeare’s works: site specificity. Arnold’s own command at West Point, now known as the United States Military Academy, can be seen from the Theater Tent on the opposite bank of the Hudson. Many of Arnold’s key stops along his escape path lie on HVSF’s side of the river, with historical markers noticeable along local paths and roadways.


“This play is part and parcel of our identity as Americans.”

– Penny Metropulos


“I’m always interested in anything that makes me study harder and it seems like a good time to brush up on American history,” admitted Metropulos.

“This play is part and parcel of our identity as Americans and all the contradictions and complexities therein: our ideas about loyalty to country versus loyalty to our neighbors, feelings of personal dishonor, the fear that our stories and opinions may not be heard, the disillusionment we sometimes feel about our country, and our never ending search for the true meaning of freedom… it’s all here.”


“Good plays and good actors tell stories.”

– Penny Metropulos


Still, Metropulos is quick to assert that she’s not aiming to make a personal statement on stage, but to put on a great show: “I don’t think it’s my place to make assumptions for or about our audience or their politics. Good plays and good actors tell stories. Seeing historical figures in this new light, we very well may question our assumptions about our shared American history.

THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA is in previews August 4 – 7, 2017 and runs August 8 – September 3, 2017. Season tickets go on sale to the public March 15, but members of our Saints & Poets Society (March 8) and Festival Circles (March 1) have early access. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.

His Fantastical Allegory: Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel talks TWELFTH NIGHT

A young woman in disguise. A lost twin brother. A powerful nobleman. A beautiful, grief-stricken noble lady. An enlightened, musical fool. Beguiling letters, boisterous drunks, and reveling pranksters. TWELFTH NIGHT, often considered one of Shakespeare’s finest comedies, is – unsurprisingly – one of our resident playwright’s most profound.

“What I really love about this play,” noted TWELFTH NIGHT Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, “is in a world where people find themselves upended by their own circumstance – shipwrecked, saddled with unrequited feelings or the death of a loved one – they’re still able to find the love and redemption they seek. These are real people finding language for human situations.”


“These are real people finding language for human situations.”

– Moritz von Stuelpnagel


Von Stuelpnagel, the Tony-nominated talent behind Broadway’s Hand to God and upcoming Present Laughter starring Kevin Kline, seeks a sort of redemption of his own from stage to stage: “We all curate a kind of facade, a public face,” he recently told Playbill, “but when the laughs and the parties end, I think we’re left with something darker and deeply human: ourselves, private, true.”

And what’s more deeply human than the figure of the clown (in TWELFTH NIGHT’s case, a fellow named Feste) embodying wisdom far beyond his peers? As clowning extraordinaire/SO PLEASE YOU Director Zachary Fine recently explained, the clown represents many human qualities – those we acknowledge, and those we often keep hidden: rambunctious hope, baffling chaos, ridiculousness, sublimity, brilliance, courage, curiosity, trepidation…


“Comedy gives us enough perspective to laugh at our own absurdity.”

– Moritz von Stuelpnagel


“My sense of humor comes from the need to laugh at suffering,” allowed Von Stuelpnagel. “Comedy gives us enough perspective to laugh at our own absurdity. I believe laughter is a healing force, allowing us to unite and reminding us how similar our experiences are.”

And unite we will this summer, as TWELFTH NIGHT’s vibrant musical universe expands along the Hudson, populated with a colorful slate of characters. But Von Stuelpnagel isn’t giving anything away. “I hope our production will exemplify a new kind of light, raucous spirit. Shakespeare, in my mind, reads like fantastical allegories… grotesque fairy tales. All I’ll say is that we’re telling a magical tale in a magical space. Expect a rollicking midsummer romp.”

We like the sound of that.

TWELFTH NIGHT is in previews June 8 – June 15, 2017 and runs June 16 – August 27, 2017. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.

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Cold Reading: Tech to the Future

The following is part of our ongoing series
Cold Reading: Winter insights on the upcoming season from Artistic Director Davis McCallum


Hi, Friends.

We’re about to start tech rehearsal for Lauren Gunderson’s THE BOOK OF WILL here at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on Friday. This is the part of the production process when the show’s team of Designers (Scenic, Lighting, Sound, Costume, and Props) appears together in the rehearsal room. Of course, the Denver Center’s brilliant Stage Managers have been keeping them looped in on the many day-to-day decisions we’ve been making, but once we’re able to have our creative team in the room in person, all sorts of new ideas surface and new possibilities emerge.


tech rehearsal, noun /tek/rəˈhərsəl/

A rehearsal that focuses more on the technological aspects of the performance, such as lighting and sound cues, than on acting.


We’ve been working on a production that includes some cheeky moments of anachronism, with elements of our theater culture today sprinkled in with what we imagine it might have been like for Shakespeare’s company in the early 17th century. We can all imagine what it might feel like for a group of actors to go out to the bar after a performance – in fact, you may have even spotted HVSF’s own company members patronizing the watering holes on Cold Spring’s Main Street during the summer months – but how would the actors in Shakespeare’s company take their drinks? In pewter steins? Bottles? Ceramic jugs? Would their post-show haunt include a tap? Might there even be a dart board in the corner?

Would a Stage Manager in Shakespeare’s time use a clipboard? Of course not. But in the world that we’re creating onstage, perhaps he could. How about a stopwatch? Is it possible there’s a ghost light on the empty stage at the Globe in this play, even though electricity won’t truly be harnessed for several centuries?


ghost light, noun /ɡōst/līt/

An electric light that is left energized on the stage of a theater when the theater is unoccupied (‘dark’), for improved safety – and superstition.


This, of course, relates to the vocabulary of the music and the clothes and the set. Our goal with THE BOOK OF WILL is to create a world that’s not at all concerned with historical authenticity, but somehow still feels realer than real, and captures the playful spirit of Lauren’s writing. The play has been exhaustively researched and has woven into it a significant amount of detail from what we know about the printing of the First Folio, but the show’s spirit is irreverent. I keep thinking that the creation of ‘the book’ in the Jaggard Print House in THE BOOK OF WILL should be about as authentic as Doc. Brown’s DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future. In other words, we’re making the play with more emphasis on engaging the audience’s imagination, than on conforming to what we think we know about the past.

I look forward to heading into tech with Lauren and this remarkable team and figuring out how all of these pieces fit together. See you on the other side!

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THE BOOK OF WILL is in previews June 9 – June 21, 2017 and runs June 22 – July 28, 2017. Season tickets go on sale to the public in March, but members of our Saints & Poets Society and Festival Circles have early access. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.

Rosalind Flees to the Folger of Arden

HVSF’s 2016 production of AS YOU LIKE IT directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch will experience something of a rebirth next month, when it moves to Washington DC’s masterful Folger Theatre.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with The Folger Theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library on this production,” said HVSF Managing Director Kate Liberman. “Like HVSF, they, too are deeply committed to producing plays that explore the essence of Shakespeare’s work for a wide and engaged audience. It is so exciting that a play that originated under our Theater Tent this past summer will be performed for new Shakespeare admirers in our nation’s capital.”

This isn’t the first time an HVSF production has migrated indoors. The Festival’s critically acclaimed, small-cast production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – directed by Eric Tucker – transferred to New York City’s The Pearl Theatre Company and was nominated for a Drama League award in 2015. And in 2017, the Festival will mount a production of LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST – directed by Ian Belknap and featuring the HVSF Conservatory Company – which will tour city schools in the fall with New York’s The Acting Company.

Still, AS YOU LIKE IT’s move to Washington is proving to be one for the record books: ten overflowing boxes of costumes and props will make their way to the Folger, as will 2016 Conservatory Company members Kimberly Chatterjee (Audrey) and Cody Wilson (Denis/William), 2015 Conservatory Company member Brian Reisman (Silvius), 2016 Acting Company member Antoinette Robinson (reprising her role of Celia), and much of the original creative team (Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch, Scenic Designer John McDermott, Costume Designer Charlotte Palmer-Lane, Lighting Designer Eric Southern, Sound Designer Leon Rothenberg, and Choreographer Alexandra Beller).

Much of the remaining cast has been assembled locally, as the Folger maintains a strong commitment to hiring DC talent. Among them are Tom Story taking on the role of Jacques, a “caustic and cynical sort… with a coat that a dusty Willie Nelson might wear” (The New York Times) originally played by HVSF’s Maria-Christina Oliveras. Musicianship certainly played a role in the design of both Ms. Oliveras’ Jacques and Mr. Story’s. “Maria-Christina’s costume was inspired by rock legend Patti Smith,” said HVSF’s Resident Costume Designer Charlotte Palmer-Lane, “so I took inspiration from another icon for Tom’s: Tom Waits.”

Rosalind, Orlando, and AS YOU LIKE IT’s cast of characters land at the Folger on January 24, 2017, running through March 5. If you make the trip, tickets run $35-$75 and the Theatre offers a number of pre- and post-show events to help you get reacquainted with the world of Arden.

“I’m honored that the ideas which energized our production will have another life at the Folger,” added HVSF Artistic Director Davis McCallum. “We’re grateful to Janet Alexander Griffin (the Folger’s Director of Public Programs and Artistic Producer) and the entire Folger Theatre team for making this HVSF-associated production a reality.”

Cold Reading: Davis Goes to Denver

The following is the first in our ongoing series
Cold Reading: Winter insights on the upcoming season from Artistic Director Davis McCallum


Dear Friends,

I’m writing you from Denver, where I’m at the end of the first week of rehearsal for THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson. We’ll be mounting the show here at the Denver Center Theater Company at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in January, then again at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Theater Tent this summer. The play tells the unlikely story of two actors in Shakespeare’s company, who take it upon themselves to ensure the survival of his plays by collecting and publishing them as the First Folio (The Collected Works of William Shakespeare) in 1623 [read more]. It’s funny and heartbreaking and full of lip-smackingly juicy parts for actors. I love it and am having loads of fun rehearsing it. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how it changes and grows over two productions, in two very different spaces.

We started on Tuesday with a big meet and greet and design presentation. It was very inspiring to hear Lauren talk about how and why she started writing the play. We share a strong conviction that Shakespeare belongs to everyone, and the 36 plays contained in the First Folio reflect the full range of what it means to be human. The more I work on the play, the more I am convinced that it’s really a story of a theater company more than it is the story of the creation of a famous book. And that’s something that I relate very strongly to HVSF.

We have a brilliant dramaturge on the show here in Denver, Doug Langworthy. He’s an old friend of mine from Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and he’s been at the Denver Center for the last decade or so. His role is to be an advocate for the play, and to help the playwright and director in making a show that expresses as fully as possible the play’s potential. In this context, he’s provided myself and the cast with an exhaustively researched packet full of information about the First Folio, Shakespeare’s theater company, Jacobean society, clothes, manners, money, publishing, copyright, etcetera… anything that might have bearing on the events of the play. It’s great fun to have him in rehearsal because he knows so much about the world of the play, and can be a great resource to the rest of the team as we make all the different choices that go into a production.

We’ve had six days of rehearsal, and we spent the first few around the table reading the play to each other. And then for the last couple of days, we’ve been up on our feet, making the first feeble stabs at staging the various scenes. The company here is wonderful and we’re all excited about the direction that it’s going.

Denver is lovely, but I miss my family and the Hudson Highlands. Wishing everyone there a great start to the holiday season!

More next week…

Warmly,

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THE BOOK OF WILL is in previews June 9 – June 21, 2017 and runs June 22 – July 28, 2017. Season tickets go on sale to the public in March, but members of our Saints & Poets Society and Festival Circles have early access. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.