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

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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The Birthright of All Americans

When the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was first established by President Johnson over five decades ago, it was built upon many of the same principles that guide our work at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival – the celebration of a rich and diverse cultural heritage, the support of arts learning, and a commitment to equal access to the arts for all Americans.

The Hudson Valley has been a home to art and artists since before the founding of the Republic, and it continues to be a major creative hub. We are lucky to have such cultural richness at our doorstep. And yet, as the largest performing arts organization in the region, HVSF serves a wide geographic radius, including many communities with limited access to the transformational experience that truly great art can provide.

The NEA has long been a key supporter of HVSF’s mission to reach the widest possible audience. An NEA grant helped establish HVSF’s Revelers program, which brings many young people to the theater for the first time. The NEA also supports our in-school education tours and residencies through its Shakespeare in American Communities program, reaching over 50,000 students and educators every year. Additionally, the NEA funds state agencies like the New York State Council on the Arts, which makes possible our annual summer season under the tent at Boscobel.

As you may know, the President’s 2018 budget proposal includes the elimination of the NEA. This is deeply concerning, not only for the future of HVSF and our impact on the cultural life of the Hudson Valley, but also for the broader implications about the place of art and culture in our society. As President Kennedy famously said, “this country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”


“This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”
– President John F. Kennedy


At HVSF, we believe that access to great art is the birthright of all Americans. Art teaches us the skills that make us good parents, neighbors, friends, and citizens: empathy, generosity, courage, and imagination. Great art reminds us of what we have in common, and binds us together as a community. At HVSF, we see this happen every summer under our tent, and all year round in the classrooms served by our Teaching Artists.

And so this week, on the heels of National Arts Advocacy Day, we are adding our voices to those of our friends and colleagues in support of the NEA. And we are asking YOU to join us.

If you value the role of the Arts in our society, and the role of HVSF in your community, now is the time to speak out. The budgeting process is long, and the public has a key role to play. Please contact your elected officials and let your voice be heard regarding these proposed cuts. You can also visit the Americans for the Arts website for more information about how to join the national movement in support of the simple but powerful idea that a great nation deserves great art.

Yours,

Davis McCallum, Artistic Director
Kate Liberman, Managing Director

#SAVEtheNEA #LOVEtheNEA #ArtsAdvocacy #NEAmatters #NEHmatters #NYSCAsupported #ShakespeareInAmericanCommunities #NEA

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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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.

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,

election_davissig

 

 

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.

Our Lady of Will: Playwright Lauren Gunderson on THE BOOK OF WILL

“When I came across the story of the First Folio printing, I was struck by the many rich characters involved and the myriad ways they could’ve not succeeded,” said THE BOOK OF WILL playwright Lauren Gunderson on a recent November phone call. “It spoke to so many themes — lineage, mortality, legacy, family, friendship — and I was excited to write a new play about a timeless subject: how art lasts beyond the humans who make it.”


First Folio, noun \ˈfərst\ˈfō-lē-ˌō\
The 1623 published collection of 36 of William Shakespeare’s plays, otherwise known as Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.

THE BOOK OF WILL, a rolling world premiere set for the HVSF Theater Tent June 9 – July 28, 2017, follows the lives of two actors in Shakespeare’s own company, Henry Condell and John Heminges, as they navigate the preservation and printing of Shakespeare’s work in the early 1600s. With no money, no easy way of authenticating Shakespeare’s catalogue of plays, and a deep desire to get everything right, the pair enlist the help of their wives and colleagues to bring the iconic stories of Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, and so many more to the world.

Gunderson, an Atlanta native recently named the most produced living playwright in America by American Theatre Magazine, often writes historical dramas. “I fancy theater as a kind of time travel. We’re not just seeing a world but actively visiting it.” Many of her dramatis personae are respected women in the sciences: astronomers, mathematicians… so what of the women supporting Shakespeare’s all-male company?

“Even though women tended not to be acknowledged onstage or in historical record during Shakespeare’s day, Condell and Heminges both named their wives as executors of their wills,” said Gunderson. “This is a big deal because it meant that they respected them enough to, essentially, hand over their legacies. It was a natural jumping off point for me.”

As the noise and color of Elizabethan London begin to unfold onstage, so, too, do the desires, doubts, and egos of a diverse band of relatable friends. “Shakespeare doesn’t need our help in idolizing him, but humanizing him,” said Gunderson. “Stories of him at the bar with friends, of him being heartbroken or frustrated, of those he left behind in death… they resonate.”


“History walks again here. Love is lived again. Loss is met and survived and wept for and understood here and not the first time but every time.”
– THE BOOK OF WILL

One particularly affecting scene finds Condell and Heminges on a darkened Globe stage in the middle of the night, united in mourning. Gunderson admits that it dragged her into the phenomenon of storytelling itself: “The scene came out all in one big rush and spun me off into… why? Why do we do this together? We still go see Romeo & Juliet. We still go see Richard II. Why? It became the heart of the entire story.”

Gunderson and the show’s director, HVSF Artistic Director Davis McCallum, will get the chance to further investigate that heart in the new year, as the play experiences its first staged performances by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (January 13 – February 26, 2017). A number of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival favorites – including powerhouse couple Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson – will perform in Denver’s production before the show is reimagined for HVSF’s Theater Tent by McCallum.

Not a ‘Shakespeare person’? Not a problem for Gunderson. “Ultimately, it’s an underdog tale. I hope our audiences will see it as a powerful story of friendship and legacy.”

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THE BOOK OF WILL is in previews June 9 – June 21, 2017 and runs June 22 – July 28, 2017. Are you between the ages of 16 and 35? Consider joining our Revelers or Teen Revelers program for exclusive discounts, events, and more.