2018 Casting Announced

Fan favorites Wesley Mann, Mark Bedard, Julia Coffey, Sean McNall, Kurt Rhoads, Triney Sandoval, Chris Thorn, and Nance Williamson return to the Theater Tent.

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is proud to announce complete casting for the 2018 summer season! The previously announced season will include two Shakespeare classics, RICHARD II and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, alongside David Farr’s adaptation of THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD, and the world premiere of Seth Bockley’s RIP VAN WINKLE; or, CUT THE OLD MOON INTO STARS, the first-ever mainstage commission by HVSF, featuring 40-plus members of the Hudson Valley community alongside a cast of 4 professional actors. The season will also feature the HVSF Conservatory Company in an original clown piece, THE SEA-MAID’S MUSIC, devised and directed by Zachary Fine.

HVSF artistic director Davis McCallum will direct William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II, the company’s first production of this title in its 32-year history. Previews begin on June 9, 2018 in advance of a June 22 opening. Performances will run through August 26.

Julia Coffey* (London Wall, Drama Desk Nomination) returns to HVSF, following her 2016 appearance as “Rosalind” in AS YOU LIKE IT, to lead the cast as “Richard II.” Audience favorite Mark Bedard*, co-starring as “Henry Bolingbroke”, returns, as do Wesley Mann* (“Lucifer,” “That’s So Raven,” Back to the Future II), Kurt Rhoads*, Triney Sandoval*, Chris Thorn*, and Nance Williamson*. The cast will also feature appearances from Benjamin Bonenfant*, Ralph Adriel Johnson*, Biko Eisen Martin*, Britney Simpson*, and Liz Wisan*. RICHARD II will feature costume design by Charlotte Palmer-Lane, lighting design by Eric Southern, sound design by Stowe Nelson, and sets by Sandra Goldmark.

 

William Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, directed by Shana Cooper (Woolly Mammoth’s The Nether) will feature Liz Wisan* in the role of “Kate” and Biko Eisen Martin* as “Petruchio”, as well as performances from Mark Bedard*, Ralph Adriel Johnson*, Kurt Rhoads*, Triney Sandoval*, Britney Simpson*, and Nance Williamson*. Performances begin on June 7 with an official opening set for June 24, and run through August 24. THE TAMING OF THE SHREW will feature choreography by Erika Chong Shuch, costume design by Ásta Hostetter, lighting design by Ji Young Chan, and set design by Sandra Goldmark.

THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD, written by David Farr (Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) and directed by Suzanne Agins (Jailbait) will begin previews on June 8 and open on June 16, with performances scheduled through August 25. Suzanne Agins replaces previously announced director Tyne Rafaeli, who has withdrawn from the production. The cast will include Benjamin Bonenfant*, Julia Coffey*, Liam Craig*, Robyn Kerr*, Sean McNall*, Chris Thorn*, and Wesley Mann*. Local Hudson Valley child actors Samuel Bates and Adam Caro will alternate in the role of “Jethro,” and Phoebe Bokhour and Talia Hird will alternate in the role of “Sarah.”

THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD features fight choreography by Ryan Borque, costume design by Cait O’Connor, lighting design by Ji Young Chan, sound design by Stowe Nelson, and set design by Sandra Goldmark.

HVSF’s first original mainstage commission, RIP VAN WINKLE; or, CUT THE OLD MOON INTO STARS was written and will be directed by Seth Bockley (Long Wharf’s February House) and is freely adapted from the story by Washington Irving. RIP VAN WINKLE will feature Liam Craig*, Robyn Kerr*, Maribel Martinez and Sean McNall*, alongside a cast of 40+ community performers. The production marks the formal launch of HVSF’s FULL CIRCLE programming initiative, established to build and sustain community through free workshops, gatherings, and performance opportunities for Hudson Valley locals.

Four free performances of RIP VAN WINKLE will take place over Labor Day Weekend. RIP VAN WINKLE will feature costume design by Charlotte Palmer-Lane, lighting design by Eric Southern, and set design from Sandra Goldmark.

The season will conclude with THE SEA-MAID’S MUSIC, devised and directed by Zachary Fine. The cast will feature the HVSF Conservatory Company, including Tora Alexander, Justin Choi, Jose Gamo, Colleen Litchfield, Trace Pope, Susana Montoya Quinchia, and Nome Sidone (Ehinomen Okojie). The production will feature costume design by Jessica Wegener Shay. Three performances will be staged at the HVSF Theater Tent, including one evening show on August 13 and two free family matinees on August 14 and August 21. The production will also tour to regional venues as part of the HVSF On the Road program.

Season tickets for RICHARD II, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD, and THE SEA-MAID’S MUSIC will be available for purchase on March 19. Early access to tickets is available for members of HVSF’s Saints & Poets Society and Festival Circles Program. Free tickets for RIP VAN WINKLE will be available beginning August 1.

*denotes members of Actors’ Equity Association.
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Calling All Kids! Open Casting for THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD

HVSF welcomes the young actors in our community to join us on stage this summer! On Saturday, February 10 we’ll host an open call for non-Equity child actors to fill two roles in the Festival’s 2018 production of THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD:

Jethro Summers (Lead): Male, 10-15
Playing age 12. Son of a persecuted townsman, taken prisoner by Prince John. A brave young man. Should have some acrobatic skills.

Sarah Summers (Lead): Female, 9-12
Jethro’s younger sister. Musical ability, especially proficiency in one instrument will be given special consideration.


About the Commitment

First Rehearsal: April 9th, 2018 (in New York City)
First Preview: June 8th, 2018
Closing Performance: August 24th, 2018

Please note that the only NYC rehearsals that these child actors will be required to attend would be on some (but not all) Saturdays in April and May, between 10AM and 6PM. Once the HVSF acting company makes the move from NYC to Garrison on May 21st, actors can expect to be called several days or evenings a week in Cold Spring and at Boscobel House and Gardens until the production opens on June 24th.

Because HVSF is a repertory theater, THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD will only play every third night, and the parts of the children will be shared between two actors, so the performance commitment during the summertime would be roughly one evening a week for each child actor.

Please note that children will be double-cast to make it possible for this commitment to fit in with the rest of the lives of the young actors and their families.

About the Audition

Auditions will be held on Saturday, February 10 from 12:00pm to 5:00pm at The Old VFW Hall, 34 Kemble Ave, Cold Spring, NY 10516. Personnel in attendance will be HVSF Artistic Director Davis McCallum and the production’s director, Tyne Rafaeli. To schedule an appointment, please contact Sean McNall, Associate Artistic Director: smcnall@hvshakespeare.org.

Actors will read from sides that will be made available when the appointment is confirmed. Please note that British accents will be required. Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival believes in diversity in casting and encourages actors of all ethnicities to audition for all roles. Participants are welcome to bring headshots and resumes along with them, though this is not required.

About the Production

THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD
By David Farr
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli

To escape her impending marriage to the villainous Prince John, Marion flees to the forest seeking a new life with the rogue hero Robin Hood and his merry band of do-gooding men. Instead, Marion finds a group of common crooks, stealing from the rich and giving to… their own pockets. As the Prince schemes to betray the King and endanger all of England, Marion must find the cunning and courage to take him down, save her people, and inspire the aloof Robin to find his own heart. Commissioned in 2011 by the Royal Shakespeare Company, an iconic folktale over 700 years in the making is completely reimagined in David Farr’s adaptation for audiences of all ages.

Learn more about HVSF’s 2018 summer season here.

About Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Celebrating its 32nd summer season in 2018, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) is a critically ac-claimed (The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal), professional, non-profit theater company based in Garrison, NY, one-hour north of Manhattan. The Festival has established a reputation for lucid, engaging, and highly inventive productions staged under an iconic, open-air Theater Tent overlooking the Hudson River at historic Boscobel House and Gardens. In recent years, the Festival has also ventured beyond the Tent, touring its work to other venues throughout the Hudson Valley as part of its HVSF On the Road series, transferring productions to other theaters, engaging its community through radically participatory art-making, and reaching over 60,000 students and educators annually through its year-round Education programs.

HVSF’s mission is to engage the widest possible audience in a fresh conversation about what is essential in Shakespeare’s plays. The company’s theater lives in the here and now, at the intersection of the virtuosity of the actor, the imagination of the audience, and the inspiration of the text. For more information, visit hvshakespeare.org.

 

The Brains Behind Our Haunting HAMLET

We’re bringing Shakespeare’s haunting classic to regional schools and venues in 2018 with a diverse cast, world class direction, and support from a National Endowment for the Arts’ Shakespeare in American Communities grant.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) has announced its 2018 Education Tour, a haunting, 90-minute production of HAMLET directed by Devin Brain, Associate Artistic Director of New York’s The Acting Company (TAC). Shakespeare’s iconic story of murder and madness will make initial stops at middle and high schools throughout the tri-state region between March 19 and May 4 and will be remounted in July for a brief HVSF On the Road tour of area venues and community spaces.

A young Hamlet_Photo by T. Charles Erickson from HVSFs 2017 production of The Book Of Will HVSF 6-17 013

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.” A young Hamlet examines the iconic skull in HVSF’s 2017 production of THE BOOK OF WILL. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Brain – whose work with TAC has focused on bringing classical productions to audiences around the country, including 90-minute adaptations of Macbeth and Julius Caesar, and working with students and teachers to mine the works of William Shakespeare for contemporary relevance – offers a unique vision for this most iconic of classics:

“For any of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and HAMLET more than most, the production must grapple with a simple and terrifying question: how do we represent death? This text is about death, about humanity’s complex reactions to the most universal of experiences, and includes a doubly fatal sword fight, a poisoning, two murders, a suicide, two executions, and a ghost… In crafting each of these moments, we attempt not to revel in the visceral excitement of realistic action, but with contemplation of the horror and loss that each represents.”


“Any of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and HAMLET more than most, must grapple with a simple and terrifying question: how do we represent death?”


Supported by a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Shakespeare in American Communities grant, Prince Hamlet’s solemn station is brought to life by a diverse cast of seven. The grant, one of 40 awarded to nonprofit, professional theater companies throughout the country, is a national program of the NEA in partnership with Arts Midwest and directly supports HVSF’s work in 11 underserved schools.

Fresh off his run with HVSF’s three-person Fall 2017 Tour of Shakespeare’s THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, Jarrod Bates will take a turn for the dramatic in HAMLET’s title role. Bonnie Antosh returns to HVSF in the role of Horatio, following her 2014 appearance in HVSF’s Education Tour of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. They are joined by Festival newcomers Russell Carpenter (Laertes), Jo’Lisa Jones (Polonius), Anamari Mesa (Ophelia), James Parenti (Claudius, Ghost), and Simone Stadler (Gertrude).

Streamlined for clarity of both plot and language, the forthcoming tour will bring an intimacy and immediacy to the audience’s experience while maintaining the core of Shakespeare’s beloved text. Performances will be followed by a talkback with the actors, and educators participating in the Spring leg of the tour will be provided with a corresponding in-depth study guide.

TO BOOK THE TOUR: Please contact Associate Director of Education Nora Wilcox at nora@hvshakespeare.org or (845) 809-5750 ext. 13.

HVSF_Button_LearnMore


About the Artists

DEVIN BRAIN, Director: Devin Brain is currently the Associate Artistic Director for The Acting Company, a touring repertory company that focuses on classical texts for production in national tours. He has worked for the company for the past five years, directing both MACBETH and JULIUS CAESAR as well as developing and implementing a wide variety of educational programs across our national consortium. These include workshops like: From Page to Stage, Acting Clues in Shakespeare, Stage Combat, Devising Shakespeare, Audition and Monologue preparation, and more. These workshops were developed in partnership with institutions like The Guthrie Theatre, UMKC, SUNY Oswego, Hamilton College, Ohio University, Towson University, and many more. Devin is also a working freelance director, who has worked extensively in both Chicago and NYC. He holds an MFA in Directing from the Yale School of Drama, where he was the Artistic Director of both the Yale Cabaret and Yale Summer Cabaret. Before school he was a company member of the Chicago based Hypocrites Theatre Company, working with them on over 19 productions. Since graduating he has been working in NYC, staging both new and classical works in a wide variety of venues. Favorite credits include: All’s Well That Ends Well and Middletown at SUNY Purchase; The Fourth Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide at 59e59; Commedia Dell’Artichoke with Frances Black Productions; Bones in the Basket: An Evening of Russian Fairy Tales with the Araca Project; The Serpent Woman with Tantalus Theatre; Rose Mark’d Queen (an adaptation of Henry V; Henry VI parts one, two, and three; and Richard III) at the Yale Summer Cabaret.

Antosh-Bonnie_HeadshotBONNIE ANTOSH, Horatio: Bonnie is delighted to return to HVSF, where past credits include the Educational Tour of Much Ado About Nothing. Off-Broadway and Regional: As You Like It and Othello (Nebraska Shakespeare); Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare on the Sound); Hamlet, R&J, Midsummer, Macbeth, and Imogen in Cymbeline (Adirondack Shakespeare); RETREAT (Two Headed Rep); Les Misérables and Sweeney Todd (WPPAC). Ads for Squarespace, Blue Apron, Audible, and Adobe. BA from Yale, originally from South Carolina. @Bonnie_Antosh

Bates-Jarrod_HeadshotJARROD BATES, Hamlet: Jarrod found his way to HVSF in the fall, touring a three-person adaptation of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS directed by Zachary Michael Fine. He trains in clown and commedia through the Funny School of Good Acting with Christopher Bayes, as well as Spymonkey’s Aitor Basauri. Favorite performances in Bryant Park with The Drilling Company include The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, and The Taming of the Shrew. Most recently his new commedia show Jarrod Bates: Out of the Box and Onto Your Face created with Virginia Scott has begun to spread mayhem across the country. Jarrod is a graduate of The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, i.O. Chicago, and the Annoyance Theatre NYC. jarrodbates.com

Carpenter-Russell_HeadshotRUSSELL CARPENTER, Laertes: Originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, Russell moved to New York to pursue his passion for acting. Since graduating from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he continues to work on projects that inspire him. Russell is thankful for all the opportunities and people he has met along the way. He would like to thank his family and friends for their support, especially his Mom for continuously believing in his dreams.

 

Jones-Jo'Lisa_HeadshotJO’LISA JONES, Polonius: As a graduate of SUNY New Paltz in 2011, B.A. in Theatre Arts, Jo’Lisa was introduced to the magic of HVSF and is very happy to now be a part of this talented cast! She’s also excited to exploring Shakespeare’s dramatic text after recent credits of “Food Plays,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Reconfigured” and “Twelfth Night.” Jo’Lisa also spends her time freelancing as an Art Model and working as an Artistic Director for EMIT, an educational accessible immersive theatre company for learners of all ages!

Mesa-Anamari_HeadshotANAMARI MESA, Ophelia: Anamari is a New York based actor originally from Miami, Fl. She studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she received her BFA in Acting. Film credits include Superior, by Erin Vassilopoulos, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and screened in several festivals around the world including the Berlinale, and the Hong Kong Film Festival. She has originated several theater roles, including Sue in Jake Shore’s Holy Moly at The Flea Theater, and Kel Tomas in Crystal Skillman’s Pulp Vérité.

Parenti-James_HeadshotJAMES PARENTI, Claudius: James is thrilled to be joining the HVSF team for the first time! Some stage credits include Angels in America and The Importance of Being Earnest (Playhouse on Park), The Tempest and Love’s Labour’s Lost (Hip to Hip), POPTART! (Girl Just Died), and Cupid & Psyche (Turn to Flesh.) Film/TV: Threeway, Adapting, Emergency Contacts. As a playwright, James has had his play May Violets Spring produced twice in NYC: by Dare Lab in 2014, and by Turn to Flesh Theatre in 2016. BFA, Marymount Manhattan College. JParenti.com. Love to K.

Stadler-Simone_HeadshotSIMONE STADLER, Gertrude: Simone is delighted to be making her HVSF debut. Past roles include Portia in Julius Caesar (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival), the titular bloody Thane in Macbeth, Laertes in Hamlet, Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost (all with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company), Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (EMIT Theater), Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Brooklyn One), and Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Simone is also a film producer and recently finished post-production on the independent feature film, When We Grow Up, which was shot with an entirely female-identifying crew. http://www.simonestadler.com.

 

 

Logo_NEA_ShakespeareInAmericanCommunities

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of HAMLET
is part of Shakespeare in American Communities,
a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest

 

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Receives Prestigious New York State REDC Grant to Support 2018 “Generation Next” Programming

The Festival will receive $75,000 for comprehensive job training programs for early-career actors, designers, technicians, and managers as part of the Regional Economic Development Council awards.

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) has been awarded a $75,000 New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Workforce Readiness Program grant to support HVSF Generation Next: Training Tomorrow’s Theater Professionals, a comprehensive job training program for up to 20 early-career actors, designers, technicians, and managers in 2018. The funding, distributed by the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) and announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, was one of three awards given to organizations in Putnam County and among 113 awards distributed to the Mid-Hudson Region broadly. The region was named a top performer by the REDC this year, garnering $84.4 Million for projects across seven counties in the Hudson Valley.

Generation Next is the second HVSF initiative to receive REDC funding in recent years. The program will play an essential role in preparing aspiring actors, production professionals, and administrators – including college interns and recent graduates – for careers in theater, creating a secure pathway to future employment. While most theater training programs are unpaid or charge tuition, HVSF’s training program pays an educational stipend and provides local housing, reducing barriers to employment in the arts for people in financial need.

“We are honored to be recognized by New York State and NYSCA as a part of the REDC CFA awards,” said HVSF Managing Director Kate Liberman. “This funding will allow the Festival to continue our ongoing commitment to supporting and developing the next generation of theater professionals in the Hudson Valley and beyond. We see this program as a pipeline for theater professionals across the nation.”

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell praised the job training initiative: “Programs like this make me really enjoy the opportunity to serve my county.”

Generation Next encompasses two parts: HVSF’s Conservatory Company, a five-month immersive program for early-career actors combining classes and rehearsal with physical, vocal, and imaginative exploration of Shakespeare’s text, and its Intern Company for rising designers, technicians, and managers. Intern Company members apprentice a specialized department based on their interests and skills, including stage, production, or company management, sound, lighting, costumes, marketing, education, or development. Together, Conservatory and Intern Company participants create their own production, which debuts under the HVSF Theater Tent in Garrison, NY and then tours to regional venues such as Storm King Art Center (New Windsor), SPACE on Ryder Farm (Brewster), Bannerman’s Island (Beacon), Safe Harbors (Newburgh), and the Hudson River Museum (Yonkers).

Participants are selected through a rigorous application process. To learn more about and apply for the 2018 Conservatory Company, click here. Submissions must be postmarked by December 31, 2017 and preliminary auditions will be scheduled for the week of January 22, 2018. To learn more about and apply for the 2018 Intern Company, click here. Production Intern submissions must be postmarked by January 31, 2018 and Administrative Intern submissions must be postmarked by February 28, 2018.

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.

 

Our Three-Actor COMEDY OF ERRORS is Coming to an Elementary School Near You!

We’re bringing Shakespeare’s slapstick comedy of love, family, and mistaken identity to regional elementary schools this fall.

Our 2017 Fall Education Tour, a fast-paced COMEDY OF ERRORS adapted by local playwright Mona Z. Smith and directed by clown extraordinaire Zachary Fine, hits the road in just a few short weeks! The production is expected to visit over 20 schools throughout the tri-state region between October 30 and December 8, 2017.

Shakespeare’s hilarious tale of twos – often staged with an ensemble cast of ten or more – receives a judicious, high-energy cut this season, as just three actors bring the worlds of Syracuse and Ephesus to life in a 60-minute production suited for young audiences. The signature clowning sensibility of Fine, a 2015 Helen Hayes Award winner and dreamer/director of our 2016 production SO PLEASE YOU, will be on full display as the cast offers a healthy serving of puppetry and physical comedy in this serendipitous story of two sons, two servants, and two cities.

Fresh off his run as the tomfoolish Feste in HVSF’s 2017 summer season production of TWELFTH NIGHT (and ensemble roles in several of the Festival’s 2016 and 2017 productions), COMEDY OF ERRORS cast member Michael Broadhurst has established himself as one of HVSF’s most versatile new clowns. He is joined by the vibrant Melissa Mahoney, who appeared in HVSF’s 2016 Fall Education Tour of THE TEMPEST & THE SWORD IN THE STONE. Broadhurst and Mahoney completed the Festival’s 2016 Conservatory Company training program for early career actors together and both appeared in SO PLEASE YOU, directed by Fine. HVSF newcomer Jarrod Bates (The Drilling Company, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot) rounds out this trio of comic force.

Tackling themes of love, family, resilience, and forgiveness, COMEDY will allow K-5 audiences to connect with Shakespeare’s original language through self-discovery and personal reflection. Actor-driven storytelling and minimal props/set pieces will encourage a deeper understanding of the characters, themes, and plot points in this classic comedy, and will support an array of classroom skills, including active listening, close reading, and speaking and listening. Performances will be followed by a talkback with the actors, and educators will be provided with a corresponding, in-depth study guide.

TO BOOK THE TOUR: Please contact Associate Director of Education Nora Rosoff at nrosoff@hvshakespeare.org or (845) 809-5750 ext. 13. For more information and to view the COMEDY OF ERRORS curriculum sheet for educators and administrators, visit hvshakespeare.org/education.

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About the Artists

Smith-Mona_HeadshotMONA Z. SMITH, Playwright: Mona Z. Smith is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, published author, and former newspaper reporter. Comedy of Errors marks her third commission from Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) to adapt Shakespearean plays and other literary classics for young audiences. Smith’s play Fire in a Dark House, about hate crimes set in WWI, will be seen in Los Angeles in fall 2018 during WWI centenary events. Her play Borderlands, about women refugees in wartime, was staged last year in Amsterdam; Borderlands was previously awarded the national Berilla Kerr Prize. Her other plays include All That Remains, a ghost story about Japanese-American soldiers who fought in WWII (winner, Po’okela Award, Hawai’i Theater Association), and Northern Lights, inspired by the short stories of Hans Christian Andersen and commissioned by HVSF. Smith has also written a play, book and screenplay based on a decade of research on the life of Canada Lee, a groundbreaking black actor and civil rights activist of the 1930’s and ’40’s who was erased from public memory after he was named as a Communist and traitor during the Red Scare. Smith’s biography of Lee is titled Becoming Something (Faber & Faber). A native of Nebraska, Smith earned an MFA in Theater from Columbia University and now lives and writes in the Hudson Valley. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild and Writers Guild.

fine-zachary_headshot.jpgZACHARY FINE, Director: Zachary Fine is an actor, writer, director and teacher. He has taught Clown, Games and Shakespeare in actor training programs throughout the country and is currently on faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. His original comedy shows Walled In and Manifest Destiny both premiered at the IRT Theater in New York City. All of Zack’s original work has been produced by Frances Black Projects. Zachary is the recipient of the 2015 Helen Hayes Award for his work in Fiasco Theater Company’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. Broadway credits include China Doll with Al Pacino. Off-Broadway credits include The Pearl Theater, The Acting Company, The Mint Theater, Theater For A New Audience, New York Classical Theater. Regionally, his credits include work at the Guthrie, Folger, Playmakers Rep, Asolo Rep, Fulton Theater, Colorado Shakespeare Festival and two seasons at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. As a Director: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Key West Theater; Thin Air Shakespeare Festival, The Performing Arts Project, Tony nominee Bryce Pinkham’s solo show Between The Moon and Me, NYU. TV / Film / Commercial / Voice-Over credits include: Person of Interest, BlackBox, One Life to Live, Z-Rock, Grand Theft Auto 5 and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (New Book Press). His writing has been supported by the Lark, EAT Festival’s One Man Talking, Space on Ryder Farm, IRT Theater, Off-Square Theater and The Acting Company’s Write-On! New Play Series. Zachary apprenticed with Christopher Bayes and trained at Ecole du Phillipe Gaulier, MFA from the University of Tennessee and B.A. (Summa Cum Laude) Oberlin College.

bates-jarrod_headshot.jpgJARROD BATES, Actor: The Drilling Company (Bryant Park): The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: All’s Well That Ends Well, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other NYC credits: Clown Bar (Pipeline Theatre Co.), Major Barbara (Helluva Theatre Co.), King John (Hudson Warehouse), Writopia Lab’s Worldwide Plays Festival. Training: The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, The Funny School of Good Acting. jarrodbates.com

Broadhurst-Michael_HeadshotMICHAEL BROADHURST, Actor: With HVSF: Feste in Twelfth Night, Isaac Jaggard in The Book of Will, Ensemble in The General From America, Silvius in As You Like It, Elbow in Measure for Measure, and Peaseblossom in So Please You, as a member of the HVSF Conservatory Company. Other selected theatre credits include: Easy Laughter (Dirt Theatre Co., NYC), Men of Tortuga (E.A.T., NYC), The Cherry Orchard, Exit The King, and The Seagull (all for The Living Room Theatre Company, VT, of which he is a founding member). You might recognize him from his extensive commercial work which includes spots for ESPN, Nickelodeon, Cumberland Farms, TiVo, and Optimum, among many others. Love to his wife, Rocky!

Mahoney-Melissa_HeadshotMELISSA MAHONEY, Actor: Recent credits include: Henry V and The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare in the Square), Big Green Theater Festival (The Bushwick Starr), The Tempest & The Sword in the Stone (HVSF Fall Education Tour), As You Like It, Measure for Measure, So Please You (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival), The Pirate La Dee Da (Atlantic Theater Company/NYT Critics’ Pick/OBAA Best Family Show). BFA NYU/Atlantic Acting School. melissamahoney.me

OUR TOWN Cast Members Make Weekly Dinner a Priority

When Beacon resident and transit director Bernadette “Bunny” Humphrey-Nicol first learned about HVSF’s community-driven production of OUR TOWN in the spring of 2016, she was hesitant. “My wife found an ad for an HVSF workshop in Beacon and one of her clients said, “Bunny should try!” But… OUR TOWN? A lily-white play about a lily-white town? I thought, what kind of role could there possibly be for me?”

Anne Provet, a fellow Beaconite and psychologist, saw opportunity in those initial theater workshops. By that time, Provet’s twins had grown and moved off to college. “I essentially had an empty house and I’d been desperately looking to get back into the arts. So I thought, why not? What’s there to lose?

Prior to the early gatherings held in libraries, community centers, and churches throughout the Hudson Valley, Bunny and Anne had never met. Most of the OUR TOWN workshop participants hadn’t. But soon, these two citizen actors would develop something rarely found and rarely kept after settling down, developing careers, and growing families: a brand new friendship. And, they’d begin a weekly ritual of Tuesday night dinner (pictured here: enjoying pasta and a glass of wine at Cold Spring’s Riverview Restaurant in August).

The two first met when the entire cast, crew, and staff gathered together under the HVSF Theater Tent at Boscobel House and Gardens. “We stood next to each other and had one of those random ‘what role do you play?’ sorts of exchanges, nothing all that consequential,” Anne recalls. But in the weeks to come, their director would push them to create as one company, to act as one company, and to grow as one company.

“Our connection really began when we started developing music for the show in rehearsal,” says Bunny, “John [Christian Plummer, the director] basically said, “bring your instruments,” and that was that. We all came together to weave our talents into the show. I played the drums while Anne was on the guitar and we both got into the swing of looking to each other to keep tempo. Even when we were on stage, in performances, I’d look at her.”

After months of workshops and rehearsals and a handful of performances over the Labor Day weekend, some cast members took up the mantle and began gathering for workshops in Peekskill led by fellow cast member and HVSF Associate Artistic Director/Director of Education Sean McNall. The workshops centered around verbatim theatre, in which plays are developed from the exact words spoken by people interviewed about a particular subject or event.

Seven or so OUR TOWN cast members signed up, the majority from Beacon. Bunny, Anne, and several others began carpooling each Tuesday. “That’s how we ended up with Tuesdays!” Bunny exclaims. “Even after the workshops had ended, we tried to keep gathering – at restaurants in Cold Spring and Beacon, even at a Trivia Night at the local brewery. In the end, Anne and I stayed in contact.”


“There’s always more to know about how someone else experiences the world.”


Then came the election. “I think the turbulence of the last election really brought us closer. Since then, we’ve been through a lot together: we’ve protested together, traveled together, spent time with each other’s family, shared health news, personal news…” Anne trails off. “It’s rare to find a friendship like this at my age.”

“I had some very low points after the election,” says Bunny, “we both needed the other to pull us out and build us back up.”

Blog-AnneBernadette_DSC_5146-editAnne likes that Bunny and her wife, Michelle, maintain their sense of independence. Bunny appreciates Anne’s sense of adventure… sort of.

“She hates to be uncomfortable!” chides Anne. “We just got back from traveling in Maine together. We stayed in a cabin but I didn’t really tell her it was a cabin. She didn’t even think to ask if there was a shower!” (There wasn’t.)

Have the two friends learned from each other? “I’ve definitely seen my horizons expand since meeting Bunny,” says Anne. “We certainly share similar views on race and civil rights, but there’s always much more to learn. There’s always more to know about how someone else experiences the world. And, of course, I’m heterosexual, divorced…”

“I’m not!” Bunny laughs.

“We help each other understand the world. Together.” Anne notes, as she welcomes a large plate of linguini and passes Bunny the bread.

Like Anne and Bernadette, the cast, crew, and helping hands of 2016’s OUR TOWN brought with them a diversity of experiences, expectations, inspirations, and desires. In future seasons, HVSF will offer more first-hand access to art-making for our Hudson Valley community through Full Circle, HVSF’s community engagement wing. Learn more here.

Photos by Ashley Garrett and HVSF Staff.

“As the introductory workshops [for 2016’s community-driven production of OUR TOWN] continued, these adventurous Hudson Valley community members came back for more. And they began to write to me. People explained what this process meant to them; they talked about loneliness, about the joy of connecting with their kids, about rediscovering themselves. One said in an email: “People need to come together in this country…we don’t farm together, we don’t build homes together, we don’t make music together. We don’t even walk past each other’s homes and tip our hats.” These aspiring artists all seemed to be searching, and not just for a part in a play.”

– program excerpt by Emily Sophia Knapp, Associate Producer, OUR TOWN

 

2017: Our Top Ten Favorite Moments

An improvised “I Do.” An evening of wild, Hamilton-infused energy. We take a quick look back at some of our favorite moments from the 2017 Summer Season with the folks who keep the lights on, the HVSF Administrative Staff…

1. A Top-Secret Proposal

“About a month into the season, my Assistant Company Manager’s boyfriend messaged me on Facebook: I want to propose to Kristin. Can I do this onstage? The conspiracy grew slowly: me, then our Stage Manager (Marci), Production Manager (Chris), Artistic Director (Davis), Managing Director (Kate), my intern (Mary Caitlyn), and finally our actor playing Feste, Michael Broadhurst, who would serve as the MC. On the fateful night, Kristin and her boyfriend’s families were in the audience watching TWELFTH NIGHT. At intermission, Marci and I told the entire cast, and during curtain call Feste selected two “volunteers” to come onstage. With the cast watching onstage and production staff watching offstage, Kristin said yes(!) and the audience gave them a standing ovation.”
Katie Meade, Company Manager

2. “Benedict’s” Supporters

“I loved when Chris Thorn (the actor who played Benedict Arnold in this season’s THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA) and his family stopped in the HVSF office on Main Street in Cold Spring. They were standing around outside and noticed the large poster hanging in our window, which was a picture of Chris. There were a lot of oohs and aahs and excitement from his family. They were very proud of him – as we all were!”
– Linda Patterson, Finance Director

3. Nance’s Belvedere Dash

“After I had seen the audience settle into the Tent for the evening, I would wait for Nance to come up over the hill as Mrs. Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Her loud hallooing for Mr. Bennet, complete with the silly bonnet and the bell was a brilliant beginning to the play. I would watch, as like clockwork, half-way between the belvedere and the Tent where she would pause, putting one finger up and doubling over for breath. This got a big laugh every night and after that laugh, I knew the audience was connected to the story and on their journey for the evening.”
– Catherine Taylor-Williams, Director of Development

4. Opening Night of THE BOOK OF WILL, Closing Scene

“When those pages began to fall… I was just weeping in the audience at the beauty of the play.”
– Kate Liberman, Managing Director

“I loved the moment, after the curtain call, when there were spontaneous calls of “Author, Author!” I watched Lauren Gunderson’s (playwright, THE BOOK OF WILL) mom watch as her daughter modestly acknowledged the ovation.”
– Davis McCallum, Artistic Director

5. Live-Action Revolution

“Big ups to the Week of Revolution 21+ Trivia Night. It was a surprisingly cold August night, but a hardy and sizeable bunch of trivia buffs hung out after THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA to take part. Our friends at The Middle Company put together a great batch of questions, loosely tied to the American Revolution (“Paul Revere” by the Beastie Boys featured). My team – strangers at the outset – showed great group cohesion as we created a tableau of Washington Crossing the Delaware. And took full points. Amazing.”
– Jena Hershkowitz, Development Associate

6. Ready For Their Closeup

“I have the pleasure of devising photo and video shoots each season to help tell the story of what’s on stage. Sometimes, these shoots are quick and painless, with actors in minimal costumes playing around inside a studio. And sometimes, as was the case with this season’s LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, these shoots involve over-sized, insulated animal masks worn by exhausted actors as they gallivant about in mid-90-degree Hudson Valley heat. Of course, our Conservatory Company rose to the challenge like the champions they are, and it reminded me how incredibly generous and dedicated our actors have to be to bring their best selves to the Theater Tent. I wish we were able to use all the images we captured that day!”
– Emma, Director of Marketing & Communications 

7. HAMILTUNES on the Hudson

” The Hamilton Community Sing-Along! A night in which the tent was filled with electricity and joy supplied by our community members joining on stage and singing their hearts out – a night I will never forget. I loved watching Nathaniel Ramos (who was one of the local child actors in last year’s OUR TOWN) completely kill it as Elizabeth Schuyler.”
– Kate Liberman, Managing Director

8. Suffrage Stories

“I loved marveling at the courage and talent and honesty of the community playwrights featured in the HVSF Bakeoff, and personally reporting by email to playwright Paula Vogel on the spectacular success of the short plays that had been inspired by 100 years of women’s suffrage in New York.”
– Davis McCallum, Artistic Director 

9. A Playground for Play(s)

“The way to get my 3 year old son, Lucas, to accompany me to work at the Tent was to promise him a chocolate and vanilla Go-Go-Pop from the HVSF Cafe Tent and that he could sit on one of the golf carts. He would run to the Cafe and shout, “PLEASE chocolate and vanilla PLEASE!” After that was over, he would try to sneak past our House Manager, Lindsay, to see if he could break into the Tent to see what the actors were doing.

Once he realized my job was to meet people at the Tent, he decided he’d do the same: “This is my mommy, Catherine. I’m Lucas. What’s your name?”

Being a child in the theater is lots of fun and HVSF is a great place for kids. On any given night you could see impromptu soccer and frisbee games. Artistic Director Davis McCallum’s kids Thomas and Angus were there, Actor/Associate Artistic Director Sean McNall’s son Declan, as was Actor John Tufts’ son Henry. One night, Kurt Rhoads explained to Lucas how baseball worked. It’s a family place, and I’m proud to be part of that.”
– Catherine Taylor-Williams, Director of Development

10. Oozing Collins and the Chair

Who needs words for this PRIDE AND PREJUDICE chair bit?
The whole office is still laugh-crying at it.

 

What were your favorite moments of the 2017 Summer Season? Share them with us on Facebook or Instagram, or by emailing boxoffice@hvshakespeare.org.

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.