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

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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.

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

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

Lizzy Bennet lives with Mr. Darcy in Queens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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

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

Revisiting WillFest

On Saturday, April 22, 2017, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival hosted a day-long celebration of Shakespeare and all things theater titled WillFest. Through free, all-ages activities, several hundred community members filtered in and out of St. Mary’s Parish Hall, the HVSF Administrative Office, the Old VFW Hall, the Cold Spring Waterfront, and along Cold Spring’s Main Street for performances, workshops, movie screenings, and activities.

Here’s a quick look back at the day’s festivities! Photos by Gabe Palacio. 


Costume Photo Booth with HVSF at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market

…and our next big star, Eamon!

Performance: Scenes from ROMEO & JULIET with HVSF

This production is currently serving over 31 schools through our Spring Education Tour and will visit several regional venues this summer as part of our HVSF On the Road series!

Performance: Scenes from “The Seussification of Romeo & Juliet” with Students from Garrison Union Free School

Performance: “Academy Idol” Monologues with West Point Cadets

Workshop: Theater Games with HVSF Teaching Artist Gianna Cioffi

Gianna is one of four Resident Teaching Artists who brings HVSF Education programming – such as in-school workshops and residencies – to regional schools.

Workshop: “Shakespeare Shakedown” with The Middle Company

Workshop: Stage Combat with HVSF Teaching Artist Michael Irish and Students from Haldane High School

Around Town: Trivia, Movie Screenings, Discount Partners, Art Making & Info at the HVSF Office, and More!

Over 20 local businesses offered special discounts to attendees sporting their WillFest stickers, and our program partners – Cold Spring Film Society, Story Screen Beacon, The Middle Company, Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, Garrison Union Free School, Haldane High School, and the United States Military Academy at West Point – had the chance to engage locals and visitors alike. Many thanks to all of our program partners, discount partners, and donating partners (Whistling Willie’s in Cold Spring for their donation of movie screening popcorn and Grey Printing for their donation of art-making supplies)!

Volunteer staff support provided by students from NYU’s Goddard Residential College Service Learning Program, led by Cold Spring resident and 2016 OUR TOWN actor Megan Shea.