Originally published on August 26, 2020 by Sarah Bahr in The New York Times
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Finds First Permanent Home
Thanks to a donation of land, the staple of New York summer theater will move to a nearby location. Riverside views will remain.
The tent is moving. The preshow picnics and riverside views are staying.
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, a bucolic staple of New York summer theater at the Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, N.Y., will move about two miles south to a new — and permanent — home in 2022. The sprawling performing arts campus is expected to feature an upgraded open-air structure, and, eventually, a second indoor stage and year-round performances. And, if such a thing is possible, even more gorgeous vistas.
Kate Liberman, the festival’s managing director, said an acoustician who evaluated the new site initially had his doubts about the move. “He was like, ‘You already have the most beautiful space,’” she said. But then he paid a visit — and backtracked big time. “I was wrong,” he told her in a call while standing atop a ridge. “It’s even more spectacular than I could have imagined.”
For 33 years, the nonprofit professional theater company has been renting space on a grassy knoll overlooking the Hudson River about an hour north of Manhattan. But last October, Christopher Davis, a conservationist and philanthropist who lives in Garrison, reached out about gifting the company land to build a new home.
A spokesman for the company said he could not estimate the value of Davis’s donation, but that it included more than 50 acres of land. Davis had been a longtime donor and audience member.
“We were flabbergasted and overjoyed,” Liberman said. “And now, at a perilous moment for the entire industry, we will have sustainable footing and a permanent home.”
The company, which typically stages between three and five plays in repertory between Memorial Day and Labor Day, will upgrade its open-sided white tent to a permanent open-air structure. The new stage will include an enhanced natural ventilation system and superior sightlines, as well as improved acoustics, Davis McCallum, the festival’s artistic director, said. The festival will also add dressing rooms, offices for stage management staff and a space for wardrobe work to be done on site.
But it will not sacrifice its characteristic coziness — McCallum said the new venue may even be slightly smaller than the current one, which seats approximately 530 people. “We love the intimacy of the tent,” he said. “And there’s a greater sense of connection to the human voice when we don’t have to amplify performers.”
McCallum, who has run the festival since 2014, said the company had been approaching the limit of how many performances it could cram into its roughly 12-week summer season. “For 33 of our 34 years, our performance schedule has been a function of our lease at Boscobel,” he said. “But now we can transition from a seasonal festival to a year-round cultural anchor for the entire region.”
But the site-specific performances that the festival is known for will remain unchanged. Actors will continue to materialize from the top of sharply sloped hills or pop out from pockets of thickly forested trees. “The land is our set,” McCallum said. “And we’re doubling down on that image in our new home.”
The new site will allow for visual art exhibitions in addition to theatrical productions. The festival has commissioned artists to dream up projects inspired by the new landscape, among them Kholoud Sawaf, a Syrian director; Melissa McGill, a Hudson Valley-based visual artist; and Madeline Sayet, the executive director of Yale University’s Indigenous Performing Arts Program and a member of the Mohegan tribe.
Like most theaters across the country, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival canceled its 2020 season because of the pandemic. But it plans to return for one final season at Boscobel next summer.
Sarah Bahr is a reporter on the Culture desk and a member of the 2020-2021 New York Times fellowship class. @smbahr14