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Checking In With…Kurt Rhoads & Nance Williamson

Playbill Logo Originally published on May 21, 2020 by Andrew Gans in Playbill 

Checking In With… Acting Couple Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson, Longtime Stars of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

The new feature series catches up with theatre actors during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson Headshots

As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to some of our favorite artists to see how they are coping with the self-isolation on a daily basis, both physically and creatively.

The series continues with acting couple Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson, who have been married for 35 years and worked together on 66 plays. Rhoads has performed in 22 seasons at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, where he has also directed. He was seen on Broadway in Julius Caesar and has also performed at the Everyman Theatre and the Clarence Brown Theatre. He was a company member at the Dallas Theater Center, where he recently performed in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. Williamson has performed with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival for 19 seasons. Other recent roles include Clairee in Steel Magnolias at Dallas Theater Center and Camilla in King Charles III at Clarence Brown Theater in Knoxville. On Broadway she was seen in Romeo and Juliet, Cyrano de Bergerac, Henry IV, and The Rehearsal.

What is your typical day like now?

Williamson: We are doing so many Zoom meetings. Three to five a day! From meetings with friends, meetings with family (both sides), Tai chi class, Qi gong class, guided meditations…most free or with a suggested donation.

Rhoads: I had an infection in my knee in January, and over the course of a month I had three surgeries and started eight weeks of IV antibiotics. That ended around March 12, but I’ve been doing PT on my knee. Nance has channeled her inner Clara Barton and nursed and cared for me. We live in Garrison, New York, and have been working a lot outside, making trails, clearing brush, organizing a garden (we’re trying square foot gardening this year) and caring for 60 different varieties of roses. And, I golf when I can.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?

Williamson: Any Jack Kornfield podcast. Kidding on Showtime…I’m also an Acorn junkie; Henry VI, Part 2 and 3, Richard III, John Prine music and videos.

Rhoads: TCM is pretty good, watching Kingdom on Netflix. Books: Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics; An American Caddie in St. Andrews is an easy read.

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?

Rhoads: Try meditation and move a muscle…reach out and talk with people.

Williamson: All the above. And, I write it all down—journaling, or painting, doing what you do to give “voice” to the feelings.

How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?

Williamson: I try to cultivate curiosity about the stories of everyone’s experience, not just mine…because they are the voices of characters. From the noble, exhausted doctors and nurses to terrified patients and their families and lonely souls trapped inside to cruel, angry protestors fueled by deep fear and anxiety. I, of course, have feelings about it all, but at some point, I must try to get past my own judgments to know what’s under the skin of it.

Rhoads: Nance and I were slated to act in Richard III, The Venetian Twins, and Love’s Labour’s Lost at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Fest. I was going to play Richard and Nance, Margaret. Then my knee exploded. I had to drop out of two shows (Twelfth Night at Two River Theater and Julius Caesar at PlayMakers Rep), but was trying to get well enough to play the Cripple King. Alas, it looked unlikely when my third surgery became necessary. Davis McCallum, the artistic director of HVSF, who was slated to direct—offered me the directing job. So, my emphasis had to broaden, and I quickly began to try to go to a macro mindset and meet and jam with designers and get some big picture ideas that translate into strong choices.

Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?

Williamson: We were still hoping for a Richard III [at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival] … but it got canceled at the end of April… So, like everyone else in theatre, we are trying to think of new ways to exist as we wait for the virus to play out. What one does between jobs has always been a quandary—classes, visiting family and friends, catching up on correspondence and reading, doing taxes, looking for work, doing nothing. We can hardly wait to see our fellow theatre mates and start up on that first project after quarantine. The whole community will be like a primed canvas—aching to put on some color!

Rhoads: But in the meantime, I’m doing a Zoom reading of Richard II for Esperance Theater Company. I’m reviewing the one-man show An Iliad, just in case…