WSJ’s ‘Twelfth Night’ Review: Silly Succor for Modern Malaise

Originally Published in The Wall Street Journal
By Terry Teachout | July 20, 2017

Moritz von Stuelpnagel, known for directing comedies but not the classics, turns out a fun and bawdy Shakespeare production.

With two Broadway successes, “Hand to God” and “Present Laughter,” under his belt, Moritz von Stuelpnagel is now looking like the most talented director of stage comedy to come along since John Rando. So it’s happy news that he’s upped his personal ante by staging “Twelfth Night” for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. It is, after all, a big leap from Noël Coward to Shakespearean comedy, one that many similarly talented directors never attempt. Funny though “Twelfth Night” is, most of the laughs don’t come of their own accord: They need careful, knowing tending in order to explode on schedule. But Mr. Von Stuelpnagel knows his comic stuff, and he’s given us a show that’s every bit as enjoyable as its predecessors.

Unlike most modern-day Shakespeare directors, Mr. Von Stuelpnagel has chosen not to overlay his “Twelfth Night” with a high concept: It’s a colorfully stylized semi-modern-dress staging, but otherwise the show keeps to the center of the theatrical road. The cast is mostly young, and the actors themselves perform Palmer Hefferan’s incidental music in a cheerfully rough-and-ready manner. The results are as festive as their setting, a huge tent pitched on the great lawn of the Boscobel House and Gardens, a handsomely restored 1808 estate situated on a wooded bluff perched high above the Hudson River. Even when the weather is less than inviting, I can’t think of a prettier place to see an outdoor show.

Hudson Valley always has fine clowns on tap, and Kurt Rhoads and Sean McNall, who play Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, set the tone for the show, with the emphasis placed squarely on broad, bawdy comedy. (Without getting too graphic for the readers of a family paper, suffice it to say that Sir Toby appears to be suffering from a fairly severe case of prostate trouble.) Anyone seeking temporary surcease from the rigors of the present moment will find it in abundance here.

The only thing missing is the hard nub of dramatic seriousness that issues from the climactic humiliation of Malvolio. Stephen Paul Johnson, dressed in the pompous manner of an 18th-century lawyer, is a bit too quick to shift into full-tilt comic mode when he receives the forged letter intended to fool him into thinking that Olivia ( Krystel Lucas ), his employer, has fallen in love with him. It strikes me that Mr. Von Stuelpnagel has in this case erred on the side of broadness, in much the same way that he erred by treating Roland Maule as a figure of too-obvious buffoonery in his production of “Present Laughter.” Malvolio is a grotesque, not a clown, and “Twelfth Night,” at least for me, works best when he’s played perfectly, even rigidly straight, succumbing to unrequited love and exploding with justifiable rage at play’s end when he discovers that Sirs Andrew and Toby—who are, lest we forget, his social superiors, vulgar and loutish though they are—have made heartless sport of him.

Twelfth Night HVSF 5-17 154_Stephen Paul Johnson as Malvolio, Krystel Lucas as Olivia, Mary Bacon as Maria_by T. Charles Erickson

Stephen Paul Johnson, Krystel Lucas and Mary Bacon PHOTO: T. CHARLES ERICKSON

This is, however, both a matter of taste and a counsel of perfection: “Twelfth Night” is above all things a buoyantly light comedy, and Mr. Von Stuelpnagel and his excellent cast never fail to make you smile. I rejoice that Davis McCallum, who has racked up an impressive track record since becoming Hudson Valley’s artistic director in 2015, has dared to entrust a Shakespeare play to an artist not previously known for his stagings of the classics. It’s a gamble that has paid off, and one that I hope will be repeated in seasons to come.

 

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TWELFTH NIGHT
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Running June 8 – August 26, 2017

Kurt and Nance

After 63 shows and 33 years together, the grand couple of HVSF is back for another season

Originally published in the July 7, 2017 issue of The Highlands Current
By Alison Rooney

It never grows stale for Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson. They’ve performed in productions together at least 63 times, by their own count, the majority at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF), where they unofficially reign as king and queen of the players. Back again this season (which is Rhoads’ 20th and Williamson’s 17th), the audience favorites appear in four productions between them and overlap in one.

By now they’ve played many Shakespearian roles more than once but say each time reveals something new.

“Every time you go in and do it, you think you know it, but it’s a whole new lens,” says Rhoads. “It can be hard, at times, if you loved the first production of it you were in, but inevitably something starts to grow and you wind up seeing it in a whole new light; the writing holds you in a whole new way.”

Williamson says she associates plays she has done multiple times to periods in her life. “There are a lot of moving parts in terms of getting to know the role, deepening your interpretation,” she says. “It doesn’t get stale, it gets richer and there’s an increased ability to speak the speech more generously. It’s a gift to try it again; your point of view broadens along with your life experiences.”

Naturally, the two met doing Shakespeare, As You Like It, a comedy in which the typical course of true love doesn’t run smoothly, until it kind of does. That was echoed by their first interaction, which took place at the Dallas Theater Center. Rhoads, who had just earned an MFA from the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago (his bachelor’s degree was in English, from the University of Chicago) was excited to become a member of a young classics company. Williamson — who grew up in rural Wisconsin as one of three daughters of a veterinarian, and is a theater graduate of St. Olaf’s College and Trinity University at the Dallas Theater Center (MFA) — was there already.

After the funding for the company was pulled on the day Rhoads arrived, the program head gave him a job teaching movement. The only problem was, Williamson already had the job. Like a true Shakespearian heroine, she was miffed. Nevertheless, six months later, after playing opposite each other in a school-tour production of As You Like It, the pair was wed. Seven years later, they again performed in As You Like It, and they’ve done the play together three more times, including last summer at HVSF [see Nance and Kurt in the 2016 teaser for As You Like It below]. “It’s our love play,” Williamson says.

The pair spent the ensuing decade working frequently for the Dallas Theater Center and Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, which performed in an open-air band shell not dissimilar to the HVSF tent at Boscobel. There were also similarities in the style of DTC director Adrian Hall and the presentations by HVSF. “Hall liked to do the works using clothing, not costumes,” says Williamson. “Storytelling was the goal.” Hall also pushed to develop regional theater, which he called “art where we are.”

After a decade in Dallas, the couple in 1992 moved to New York City, where they acquired agents and found steady employment. During most years they mix lead roles in regional productions with commercials, TV work and the occasional Broadway outing. (Williamson’s most recent was in Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom, while Rhoads appeared in Julius Caesar starring Denzel Washington.)

“Our plan was never to stay in New York City but rather hunt around for another company where we could hang our hats,” Williamson recalls. “We didn’t realize that most companies had been done away with by that point,” and did not know “that in a way the [entire] country would become our ‘company.’”

Their theatrical agent attempts to find work for them together but, if he can’t, they have a “six-week” rule. If separated for that long, one hops on a plane.

They’re great fans of each other as actors. “Kurt has a kind of bravery that’s pretty bold, in different ways,” Williamson says. “It can be funny or dangerous. There are these moments: In Othello, as Iago he rubbed Desdemona’s back, kept his hand on her — the guy that’s supposed to help you recover oversteps his boundaries, with his wife in the room. It’s not in the script, but so bold. Kurt lifts things off the page that aren’t there. Makes them really unique. He brings his vivid imagination to the text.”

Rhoads assesses his wife: “Nance has a warmth of presence; she puts the audience at ease and makes them comfortable. Nance lets people in, in a good way. And, if she makes a mistake, she forgives herself and the audience goes with it. In An Iliad one night I messed up about seven times and ugh — I kept thinking about it —she rides with it.”

Despite the amount of Shakespeare they have performed, they have not acted in all of his plays. Rhoads prepared to do Timon of Athens but the production was cancelled. “When you taste a part, it’s hard to let go of it,” he says. They both have gaps in some of the history plays.

After spending summers in Garrison, Rhoads and Williamson decided, in 2002, to move here. “I wanted to have a place where I could read outside,” says Rhoads. “There’s a kind of desperation that actors start to feel, living in the city. Your work becomes your only measure. I’m from a small town in Illinois, about 5,000 people; my parents ran a Sears Catalogue store. I like the kind of balance of living in a manageable community with a connection to nature.”

Williamson agrees. “There was a constant nervousness about paying rent, whereas now instead I can focus on having a garden to take care of,” she says. “Moving up here has been a gift, largely because we’ve gotten to know so many people, meeting them in the grocery store, saying hi, having conversations. For actors to have a home base is healthy.”

Both say they will be more than content to continue taking the stage in Shakespeare. “In Shakespeare you say what you mean; you’re speaking the truth,” says Williamson. “With many other playwrights, like O’Neill, what characters say is more ambiguous. But all of them benefit from revisiting: they need ripening, need to be in the barrel in the basement.”

They volley this idea between them. Rhoads: “You can let some of the preciousness go, have a lighter touch, not hit it so hard.” Williamson: “It’s like you’re playing jazz. You know it so well you can let it breathe.”

This season, Kurt Rhoads takes the stage in TWELFTH NIGHT, THE BOOK OF WILL, and THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA; Nance Williamson in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA.

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.

 

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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!

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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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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.

Once a Teacher, Always a Student: Poughkeepsie Educator Reflects on Methods

Students to the north in Poughkeepsie, NY – a historic, sprawling city on the Hudson River – have found a literary champion in middle school English teacher Elizabeth Morehead. Morehead, an educator at Orville A. Todd Middle School, participated in HVSF’s Teachers’ Shakespeare Institute nearly a decade ago. Ten years later, she’s still sharing the energy, methods, and impact she discovered there with her own students:

When I reflect upon my twelve years in teaching English Language Arts on the secondary level, there is one defining moment that changed my approach to teaching literature overall. It was in the summer of 2007 that I attended the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s (HVSF) Teachers’ Institute and suddenly there was a distinctive ”before and after” in my educational methodology.

Over a career in the classroom, a teacher is offered a myriad of professional development opportunities, some more worthwhile than others. During a summer, ten years ago, I was being trained in: using a Smartboard in the classroom, implementing a new online grading system, and tracking students’ achievement in reading using another online program. It was serendipitous that I was then introduced to HVSF. In pursuit of solid techniques to teach Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to eighth grade students, I discovered this organization. What I did not know then was that attending this professional development opportunity with HVSF would not only fortify me with sound educational procedures to teach Shakespeare’s dramas, but it would also impact my approach to teaching literature. I am markedly more confident in my delivery of instruction when tackling Shakespeare and have been asked to teach students and teachers at colleges in the Hudson Valley who are looking for ways to learn or enhance their approach. All of this success I owe to my training with HVSF.


“…it would also impact my approach to teaching literature.”

– Elizabeth Morehead, educator


In both the seventh and eighth grade classroom, I continue to employ methods learned from that very first HVSF Teachers’ Institute and from the close to ten institutes I have attended subsequently. In fact, many of the techniques I use with students are all methods used with the literature we read and analyze prior to diving into Shakespeare. Students are schooled in the methods of working with the text to validate their ideas, choices and stances with poems, short stories, novels and autobiographical works we read. Well before we begin reading and performing Shakespeare, students are accustomed to approaching literature in this manner and that allows us to be able to focus on the rigor of Shakespeare’s writing which very often feels antique and lofty to today’s student.

Because of my work with HVSF’s Teachers’ Institute and the organization at large, I have been able to add Macbeth to our seventh grade curriculum and, in turn, have been given the opportunity of exposing students to Shakespeare at a younger age when they are less hesitant and free from the fear people generally associate with reading, performing, and even watching Shakespeare’s works. I have taken on the responsibility of making most, if not all, of my students’ first experience with Shakespeare positive and highly engaging. I would not be able to do so without the invaluable approaches I have learned with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.


“I have been given the opportunity of exposing students to Shakespeare at a younger age, when they are less hesitant and free from the fear people generally associate with reading…”

– Elizabeth Morehead, educator


Former students who come back to visit after high school and college continue to reminisce about their Shakespeare experience in middle school. Some students say it sparked a love for his work. Others say, “I wish teachers presented Shakespeare’s plays the way you did,” and many just want to laugh at the memories we made exploring the play through performance. These compliments I owe to HSVF and the methods they have given me over the last ten years in making Shakespeare not just accessible, but memorable to students with a wide variety of abilities.

 

Thanks, Elizabeth! Learn more about HVSF’s Teachers’ Shakespeare Institute here

 

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)

thegeneral_rsc_by

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.