You’ve Probably Never Heard of America’s Most Popular Playwright

Originally Published in The New Yorker
By Daniel Pollack-Pelzner | October 16, 2017

Lauren Gunderson, at thirty-five, has had more than twenty works produced, and is currently the most produced playwright in the U.S.

Pollack-Pelzner-Youve-Probably-Never-Heard-Americas-Most-Popular-Playright

Photograph: Mark Lyons / NYT via Redux

On a six-hour drive from San Francisco to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a few years ago, the playwright Lauren Gunderson raised a question: What does American theatre need? “It was ridiculously presumptuous,” Gunderson told me recently, over the phone, “but it’s the conversation everyone is having.” Gunderson was travelling with her friend Margot Melcon, a former literary manager, who reminded her that every theatre needs a holiday show: something clever, heartwarming, and family-friendly enough to entice an audience inured to “A Christmas Carol.” Gunderson recalled their idea: “You know what people love? Jane Austen. You know what people really love? Christmas and Jane Austen.” By the time they finished the drive, they had outlined a script on Starbucks napkins: a holiday reunion for the Bennet sisters, from “Pride and Prejudice,” with a courtship plot for Mary, the pedantic middle sister, who emerges as a surprising feminist heroine. (Mary and her beau spark over a copy of Lamarck’s “Zoological Philosophy”; Gunderson calls Mary an emblem of “geek chic.”) “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is now a regional-theatre hit.

Increasingly, theatres are banking on Gunderson, who, at thirty-five, has already had more than twenty of her works produced: among them witty historical dramas about women in science (“Emilie,” “Silent Sky,” “Ada and the Engine”), giddy political comedies (“Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” “The Taming,” “The Revolutionists”), and wildly theatrical explorations of death and legacy (“I and You,” THE BOOK OF WILL). According to American Theatre magazine’s annual survey, released last month, Gunderson will be the most produced playwright in the country for the 2017–18 season. Her plays are staged almost twice as often as anyone else’s on the list, far ahead of venerated figures like Eugene O’Neill and August Wilson, who edged her for the top spot last year. (The survey excludes Shakespeare, America’s perennial favorite.) Although men still write three-quarters of the plays that get produced, Gunderson has built a national reputation with works that center on women’s stories. And, though most playwrights also teach or work in television, she has managed to make a living, in San Francisco, by writing for the stage.

A typical Gunderson protagonist resembles her author: smart, funny, collaborative, optimistic—a woman striving to expand the ranks of a male-dominated profession. She has revived Émilie du Châtelet, an Enlightenment genius who revised Newton’s laws of motion; Olympe de Gouges, a playwright who fought for women’s equality in the French Revolution; and Henrietta Leavitt, a twentieth-century Harvard astronomer who figured out how to measure the distance between Earth and the stars. Gunderson grew up in Georgia, and “desperately wanted” to be a physics major, but she tired of plodding through “the normal stuff” before she could get to “the cool stuff.” She went to Emory and majored in English; one of her first scripts, written when she was eighteen, centered on a cosmologist. “Moments of scientific discovery are inherently dramatic,” Gunderson told me. She is now married to a Stanford biologist whom she met when her agent suggested that she interview him to research a potential story. Relationships form a part of her characters’ arcs, but it’s their intellectual desires, their yearning to transform themselves and their world, that Gunderson foregrounds. Her plays are less likely to end in a kiss than in a beautiful explosion of computer data.

That’s what happens at the climax of “Ada and the Engine,” which dramatizes the life of Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, a Victorian math whiz who worked on the first computer algorithm. In a swirl of light, sound, poetry, and music, Gunderson stages the aftershocks of Ada’s discovery: that the iambic heartbeat of her father’s verse contains the alternating pulse of binary code, and that the beauty that Ada found in math now programs our own digital age. The final stage direction calls for Ada to appear with “ones and zeroes echoing around her” until “a strange new light and a strange new sound take over. . . . It’s the blue light of modern computer screens—laptops, iPhones, iPads—all giving off their ghostly light on her. All playing her song.”

Gunderson calls such passages in her work “transcendental ‘holy crap!’ moments.” Several years ago, she wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal on the importance of endings, in which she called a play’s concluding image “the final meaning, the consummation, the last held breath before the unscripted world courses back in.” Her breakthrough ending came in “I and You,” probably her best-known work, which won the American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play Award in 2014. It starts in a girl’s bedroom, where two high schoolers are doing a homework assignment about pronouns in Walt Whitman’s poetry, trading study-buddy banter. (“Back away from the craft project.” “I’m agnostic on glitter.”) By the close, Gunderson has guided us toward a sublime transfiguration that encompasses “Leaves of Grass,” John Coltrane, Jerry Lee Lewis, space and time, bodies and spirits, death and rebirth.

One of Gunderson’s playwright heroes, Sarah Ruhl, has argued that modern American theatre derives from two medieval genres: morality plays, evident in the sturdy architecture of an Arthur Miller fable, and mystery plays, which suffuse the spiritual poetry of Tennessee Williams. Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” is the perfect American play, Ruhl proposes, because it interweaves morality and mystery strands: an aids drama of national shame and redemption that hinges on theatrical fantasy. (Part 1 ends with an angel crashing through the ceiling.) You could see Gunderson as an inheritor of these twin legacies, too, composing dramas where attention must be paid and creating a transcendent form that invites us to pay it willingly. Her father was the reverend at a progressive Southern church, and, just as science often serves as substitute religion for her characters, theatre seems to provide her own religious surrogate. “Theatre is the place I go to ask the biggest questions I can think of and hash them out in human scale,” she told me. “I and You” begins with a teen-ager quoting Whitman: “I and this mystery here we stand”; over the next ninety minutes, the play manages to unfold the mystery without diminishing it, forging communion through the language of poetry.

HVSF-BookOfWill-FINAL_CreditsDespite all this metaphysical weight, Gunderson’s plays are fleetly comic. (She’s more a Lizzie Bennet than a Mary.) Her latest play, THE BOOK OF WILL, takes an unlikely subject—the efforts of the surviving members of Shakespeare’s theatre company to collect his unpublished scripts in the First Folio, of 1623—and turns it into a nimble caper, replete with “Pericles” gags, eleventh-hour reversals, and good lines for the women who revered Shakespeare but knew him as a mortal, too. Juggling printers, editors, compositors, actors, and patrons, Gunderson crafts a lively backstage drama that opens into a moving meditation on theatre as the space of shared memory and resurrection. And the ending is, of course, transcendent. Shakespeare’s pals present a copy of the First Folio to his widow; when they open the volume, the stage erupts into the future enabled by those scripts: “a beautiful cacophony of actors’ voices performing Shakespeare’s tempests, and time warps around us—the speeches swirl—different accents, different languages . . . all the world’s a stage and it’s funneled into Anne Hathaway’s living room at this moment.”

Gunderson is currently writing a follow-up to “I and You,” as well as another Austen comedy with Margot Melcon that spotlights the servants at Pemberley, and a collaboration with the actor Reggie D. White about institutional racism in the private prison system. She’s also been commissioned by Marin Theatre Company, where she’s a resident playwright, to try a play that she is scared to write: a “huge intersectional feminist epic” covering five hundred years of American history. It sounds daunting, but she took a 2013 trial run in “The Taming,” a farcical all-female response to Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” In it, a Southern beauty-pageant contestant locks a conservative Senate staffer and a left-wing blogger in a hotel room and leads them on a dream journey to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. After last fall’s Presidential election, she thought that producing it might rally people feeling despair at Donald Trump’s victory, so she licensed “The Taming” for free staged readings on Inauguration Day. (There was a hashtag: #TameTrump.) More than forty readings took place around the country, many of them raising money for Planned Parenthood. “It is a powerful thing to come together and laugh in a scary time,” Gunderson said, especially with “a feminist farce that is insane and wild and irreverent.” She went on, “I’m not saying that those readings are going to change public policy or get us a new Supreme Court Justice anytime soon, but there is the important work of creating and sustaining community that theatre can do because it’s congregational. It’s a real-time interaction, with real people saying those words, with breath and resonance in real space. That’s not something you can get from watching TV.”

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner teaches English at Linfield College, in Oregon.

 

Advertisements

And they’ve never heard of love.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Director Amanda Dehnert reflects on the “ineffable something in the dance that develops between two people” and the ‘love songs’ that don’t serve love at all:

Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage…

So say Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, in their 1955 ode to love’s natural
conclusion. But, is it true? Has it ever been? And now that we are far past our horse and
carriage days, as a society — do we still believe that marriage and love are inextricably
intertwined, just like chickens and eggs? Which comes first — the marriage, or the love?
And why do we find ourselves using these familiar words — chase, catch, aim, hit, lost,
won — to describe coupling?

The purpose of a man is to love a woman
And the purpose of a woman is to love a man…

So say the Mindbenders (1965, with an assist from Carl Ballard, Jr.), when they sing of
‘The Game Of Love’. It’s slightly jarring (and awfully binary), to think of there being no other purpose behind one’s gender or identity than ‘to love’. Of course, even when we extend this idea to modern society — men certainly don’t have to love only women, and vice versa — still, must we all play? Must we all find some person, any person, to serve as our partner/competitor in a game that isn’t necessarily very fun, or even particularly winnable?

They say we’re crazy but I just don’t care
And if they keep on talking still they get nowhere
So I don’t mind if they don’t understand
When I look at you and you hold my hand
’Cos they don’t know about us
And they’ve never heard of love…

So says Kirsty Maccoll, in 1979, with her song, ‘They Don’t Know’. And, she’s right. Whether there’s marriage (or not), whether there’s a reason that anyone else can see (or not), there is an ineffable something in the dance that develops between two people. It’s not made up of public moments. It doesn’t require exchanges of volleys, or virtues, or vows. Best of all: nobody else need understand the why or wherefore. After all, what do they know, anyway?

They don’t know about us.

And they’ve never heard of love.

 

160410_Button_BuyTickets

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
By Kate Hamill | Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Running June 10 – Sept 4, 2017
Rolling World Premiere
A Co-Production with Primary Stages

 

WSJ: A Shakespeare Festival for the 21st Century

Originally Published in The Wall Street Journal
By Terry Teachout | July 6, 2017

With ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘The Book of Will’ the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival broadens its once-sacrosanct repertory.

What does it mean to be a “Shakespeare festival” in the second decade of the 21st century? Like many such enterprises, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is in the process of broadening its once-sacrosanct repertory, so much so that two of its three current mainstage productions are premieres. One, however, is a play about Shakespeare, while the other is a new adaptation of a novel as classic—and familiar—as anything the Bard ever wrote. The biggest and best news, though, is that both plays are the stuff hits are made of, and Hudson Valley has brought off a first-class coup by launching them in the same season.

Kate Hamill, whose stage versions of “Sense and Sensibility” and “Vanity Fair” were deservedly successful, has now turned her hand to a second Jane Austen novel, “Pride and Prejudice.” You wouldn’t think she’d have anything fresh to say about a book that to date has been filmed a half-dozen times (not counting “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) and put on the stage at least as often. You’d be wrong, though, for the ever-ingenious Ms. Hamill has given us something completely and delightfully different, a smallish-cast period-dress “Pride and Prejudice” that she’s done over in the revved-up manner of a Hollywood screwball comedy. The language is traditional but the approach is thoroughly modern, with six of the eight actors playing multiple roles, several of them in drag. Cleverly compressed—one of the five Bennet sisters has vanished into the memory hole—and adapted with fizzy, festive freedom, Ms. Hamill’s “P&P” is full of “Bringing Up Baby”-style slapstick and the kind of barely controlled chaos that you’d expect to see in a five-door Feydeau farce.

Such a show demands worthy staging, and Amanda Dehnert, a prodigally gifted director whose work is not yet widely known on the East Coast, delivers the goods with gusto. Having previously seen her Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions of “Julius Caesar” and “My Fair Lady,” I wouldn’t have guessed that Ms. Dehnert also has a knack for pratfalls and spit takes, but her way with “P&P” is so adroit as to make me wonder what she’d do with a full-fledged farce like “Loot” or “Noises Off.” At the same time, she also makes sure to darken the mood just before intermission, reminding us that in the 19th century the finding of a husband was no laughing matter for unmonied women like the Bennet sisters.

Pride and Prejudice HVSF 6-17 142_by T. Charles Erickson

The cast of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival PHOTO: T CHARLES ERICKSON

In addition to having written the script, Ms. Hamill plays Lizzy Bennet with winning impishness, and Jason O’Connell, a well-known Hudson Valley face, is wonderfully, almost incapacitatingly shy as Mr. Darcy. Top comic honors, though, go to Mark Bedard, who doubles as the fathomlessly snooty Miss Bingley and the disgustingly obsequious Mr. Collins. Either one of his performances would have been noteworthy, but that the same person should be playing both parts (as well as that of Mr. Wickham) is a truly stupendous piece of quick-change clownery.

If you can’t make it to Hudson Valley, Ms. Dehnert’s production will be transferring to New York’s Primary Stages in November. I can’t imagine that it will stop there: Like “Vanity Fair” before it, Ms. Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice” is the kind of show that would flourish in a small Broadway house. Should “P&P” fail to receive the commercial production it deserves, you can bet that it’ll be the toast of the regional-theater circuit.

The Book Of Will HVSF 6-17 219_Maryn Shaw, Sean McNall, Kurt Rhoads_by T. Charles Erickson

Maryn Shaw, Sean McNall, and Kurt Rhoads PHOTO: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

THE BOOK OF WILL

Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will,” Hudson Valley’s second premiere, is a different sort of period piece, a play about the posthumous publication in 1623 of the First Folio, in which fully authentic texts of most of Shakespeare’s plays saw print for the very first time. If that sounds like dry-as-dust pedantry to you, fear not: Ms. Gunderson, whose plays are hugely popular outside New York but has yet to receive a major production in Manhattan, has given us a serious comedy, by turns charming and darkly poignant, in which a history lesson is embedded so gracefully that you’ll scarcely know you’ve been schooled.

Davis McCallum, Hudson Valley’s artistic director, has given “The Book of Will” a lively staging that’s as close to ideal as it’s possible to get, but the play is so soundly made that it would come off as well in a less deft production. “The Book of Will” is a cinch to be taken up by Shakespeare festivals all over America—as well it should be.

 

160410_Button_BuyTickets

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
By Kate Hamill
Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
A co-production with Primary Stages
Running June 10 – September 4, 2017

THE BOOK OF WILL
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Davis McCallum
Running June 9 – July 28, 2017

What They’re Saying: THE BOOK OF WILL

Longtime HVSF fans and dedicated Shakespeare lovers Fred and Sallyann were skeptical about our rolling world premiere of THE BOOK OF WILL, but they gave it a shot. Below, Fred reflects on an unforgettable evening under the Theater Tent: 

Fred & SallyannI don’t know if you read these things, but this one—I hope you do. We’ve bought tickets to all of HVSF’s shows every year for over five years, and it’s an ongoing sure bet. But last night’s performance of THE BOOK OF WILL was, maybe, the best experience ever. 

Two main characters so unalike and so closely connected. (The grieving scene was so moving!)

A mission that was daunting, perhaps impossible. And, yes, at times impossible.

A dramatis personae with neither white nor black hats but who were rather strugglers in a world of strugglers.

A crooked and winding path to the eventual, mostly successful outcome, a book rendered imperfect—a temporarily flawed success.

And, in the end, after all the struggle… the genius of an Elizabethan playwright is preserved—published, not vanished—for millions to enjoy forever. Playbills drifting from the rafters, ghosts of his players appearing in the background…

Thank you, Will!

Thank you, HVSF!

…Wanna put it on again next year?

Our strictly limited run of Lauren Gunderson’s THE BOOK OF WILL Directed by Davis McCallum ends July 28. Come see the show that has audiences abuzz!

160410_Button_BuyTickets

NYT’s Outdoor Stages: A Madcap ‘Pride & Prejudice’ in the Hudson Valley

Originally Published in The New York Times
By Mary Jo Murphy | June 29, 2017

Lizzy Bennet lives with Mr. Darcy in Queens.

This summer, however, the prickliest pair in fiction can be found most nights in their own D.I.Y. Pemberley, a tent in Garrison, N.Y., overlooking the Hudson River — and reminding audiences that the finest china in their beloved Jane Austen is as likely to be a chamber pot as a teacup.

Lizzy is Kate Hamill. Her stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” had its premiere last Saturday at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival there, where it will play in repertory until September before shifting to Primary Stages Off Broadway in November. And yes, Ms. Hamill acts opposite her nonfictional boyfriend, Jason O’Connell. It’s a first for the couple, although he played the future brother-in-law, Edward, to her Marianne Dashwood in Ms. Hamill’s previous Austen adaptation, “Sense & Sensibility,” a rollicking muslins-on-wheels affair (by the appropriately named theater company Bedlam) that had an acclaimed run Off Broadway last year.

Ms. Hamill, 33, says she plans to adapt all six Austen novels for the stage — probably in the order of their writing, the better to chart her own progress against Austen’s. “Northanger Abbey” may be next. (“There’s something I love about teenage vernacular,” she said in an interview last week.) Starting with “Sense & Sensibility” was perhaps wise: She could gauge the appetite for yet another Austen adaptation before adapting the most adapted — and cherished — of them all, “Pride & Prejudice.” “It’s the one everyone knows,” she said. “People have a serious attachment to it.”

“Sense” was such a hit that even a committed Janeite’s attachment might well withstand an irreverent “Pride.”

30JPHAMILL-master675

Jason O’Connell and Kate Hamill, center, in “Pride & Prejudice” at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Credit Nicole Fara Silver for The New York Times

And it is irreverent. Think men cast as Mary, the plain and prudish Bennet sister, and as the snobbish Miss Bingley. A lot of “intentional water spillage.” Mr. Bingley as near to being a puppy as a man can be without being on all fours.

“People might feel I have desecrated their idols, but, you know, at least I’ve tried to do something interesting,” she said, noting that she had not put zombies in it, and that “I haven’t set it on Mars.” She has discovered, however, that “Janeites” — and she counts herself as one — “are pretty open-minded people; they’re exceptionally generous. Because sometimes I’m taking liberties.”

Ms. Hamill doesn’t see the purpose in adapting a classic unless there is a clear point of view. She found hers for “Pride & Prejudice” in the exaggerated notion of courtship and marriage as a game with winners, losers, referees and exceptionally bad coaches. She applied her own “historical ambivalence about marriage” just as she was arriving at the age when her friends were pairing off around her. She concluded that matches happen between people “whose weirdnesses fit together.”

She looked to the Shakespeare canon for a model. “It’s a romantic comedy, and I was thinking, what romantic comedies do I not hate?” The answer was “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“I thought the big challenge going into it was, everyone knows who gets together,” she said. “I wanted to make a certain story uncertain. How do you make a ‘Much Ado’ where you’re really not sure if Benedick and Beatrice get together?”

She was not afraid to go broad and go silly. There are games galore in her production. (In researching games of the period, she said, she discovered one in which participants simply slap one another in the face. It’s not in her production.)

30JPHAMIL2-master675

Kate Hamill in her Elizabeth Bennet best for “Pride & Prejudice.” Credit Nicole Fara Silver for The New York Times

Bells ring throughout her play: wedding bells; alarm bells; the kind of bells that signal rounds in a prizefight; a chime that sounds, if only in your head, when you connect with your imperfect perfect match. (“It kind of annoys me when both Lizzy and Darcy are supermodels,” she said.)

The clanging insistence of bells became a critical device to her retelling of this classic story about the game of games: the marriage game.

Ms. Hamill grew up in a farmhouse in rural Lansing, N.Y., the fifth of six siblings. She knows how to milk a cow and collect eggs from hens, but she spent much of her time reading (“My parents didn’t believe in TV”), and she joined the theater program in her very small high school. That’s where she gained some sage advice. She was studying to be an actress, but the drama teacher told the girls that if they wanted work, they had to create it.

When she moved to New York, one of her jobs involved writing copy for catalogs. Hundreds of descriptions of jewelry. “You start to just amuse yourself: What else can I say about this pendant?” Early on, she said, “in my mind a serious writer was someone different from me,” and she remained committed to acting. But she wearied of auditions for “silent suffering girlfriend” and “girl in bikini.” That’s when she recalled her old instructor’s counsel. Three-quarters of all plays are written by men, and an overwhelming majority of parts are for men, she said, reeling off statistics she seemed to have learned the hard way. She began to think about creating “new classics.”

In addition to the two Austen novels, she has adapted Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair,” and is at work on Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” and — why not? — “The Odyssey,” for which she wrote a scene, she said, featuring a Cyclops singing to his sheep.

In the meantime, she is vastly amused to be doing a show with Mr. O’Connell in which they get to “bicker and hate each other for hours” — and nightly he must recite a proposal that was written by her.

 

160410_Button_BuyTickets

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
By Kate Hamill
Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
A co-production with Primary Stages
Running June 10 – September 4, 2017

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!”

160410_Button_BuyTickets

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!

160410_Button_BuyTickets

 

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.

160410_Button_BuyTickets

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!

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.