Originally published on October 1, 2020 by Izdihar Dabashi in Chronogram
Photo by T.Charles Erickson. Biko Eisen-Martin, Mark Bedard, and Ralph AdrielJohnson in Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s 2018production of “The Taming Of The Shrew”
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF), founded in 1987, is a nonprofit theater company based in Garrison. Each summer, its critically acclaimed adaptations of the Bard’s work draw tens of thousands of theatergoers to Boscobel, the Federalist estate that has hosted the HVSF every summer for over 30 years. The HVSF productions are staged under an open-air theater tent with breathtaking views of the Hudson and the Hudson Highlands.
The pandemic has swept a shadow over the performing arts, and there’s little good news in the theater world, but HVSF made a very positive announcement in September: It has found a permanent home less than three miles down the road from its current location.
The new location is a parcel of donated land on the Garrison Golf Course. Christopher Davis, who owns the golf course, purchased the land back in 1999 with the intent to protect against commercial developments. The Garrison Golf Course will be converted from an 18-hole to a nine-hole golf course, and the current “back nine” will be converted to a green parkland. The move has been in the works for almost a year, and will allow HVSF to accommodate the growing yearly visitors and the enormous resources that go into rebuilding the tent theater after every season. (The HVSF plans a final season at Boscobel in 2021 before settling into their new home in 2022.)
The newly secured home will feature a permanent open-air tent theater and similar stunning views of the river to what visitors to Boscobel currently enjoy. HVSF is working with a design team on plans to include other facilities led by Nelson Byrd Woltz, an architectural landscape firm that has worked on master plans for other Hudson Valley locations including Stone Barns and Olana. Plans for a capital campaign to raise money for the new structures have yet to be announced.
As a contributor to the Hudson Valley’s vibrant creative economy, the permanent home will create greater artistic opportunities due to the expected extended season. The HVSF is working on adding matinees, expanding educational offerings, and scheduling more performances to continue past summer and into October. The increase in events will lead to more jobs for designers, crew, and front-of-house and box-office staff.
Davis McCallum, artistic director of the HVSF for the past six years, emphasizes HVSF’s goal of “making a real commitment to environmental justice, particularly as it affects people of color, in a manner that is equitable, mindful, and intentional.” The HVSF will work with the architectural firm Studio Gang’s team of sustainable designers to focus on rehabilitating the land from a golf course into a sustainable meadow with restored wetlands and wildlife habitat.
In addition to the environmental justice initiative, HVSF will focus on organizing ways to represent various perspectives to ensure as well as promote a diverse campus and community of artists. “For us, the classics aren’t a static monolith of literary dead-white-maleness, but a living resource that is only brought to life when inhabited and interpreted by living artists today, made richer by artists from diverse backgrounds and lived experience,” says McCallum. “This belief is reflected in the diverse cohort of artists that we commissioned to create work inspired by the new site.”
The theme of the HVSF annual community playwriting contest this year was Mohicanituck, the Lenape name for the tidal estuary now known as the Hudson River. HVSF partnered with the Lenape Center and Riverkeeper on talks for playwrights and community members about the role of the river in Indigenous culture, as well as the ongoing threats to the ecology of the river. HVSF plans to continue investigating ways to acknowledge the Indigenous history of the land in a meaningful and ongoing way on the site. “Anti-racism work has been a real focus for our staff in recent months,” says McCallum. “We’ll be reporting on changes we’ve made and announcing more concrete actions in November.” The Hudson Valley Shakespeare plans to announce plans for their 2021 season in this month. “Imagine this as a gathering place for all people of the community,” McCallum says.