Every month, it seems, the Hudson Valley takes another step towards solidifying its role as upstate’s Off Broadway — the place for talented professional actors, playwrights, and directors to work creatively with intimate audiences at a fraction of the cost of producing in NYC. What’s great is the variety of material: new and not so new; cutting edge, comic and classic. And serious talent continues to be drawn to the Hudson Valley. No less a prophet than musician and writer Patti Smith told an audience at Cooper Union last spring, “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie.” Yes, Poughkeepsie, she said! The region is increasingly a mecca for musicians, artists and other creative types — I mean, the Hudson River School of Painting evolved here for a reason, right!
So it is fitting that Half Moon Theatre recently completed a highly successful run at Poughkeepsie’s Cuneen Hackett of Circle Mirror Transformation, the award-winning new play by Annie Baker that was named to multiple Top Ten Best Play lists last season. The production was a true showcase of Hudson Valley talent. It featured a terrific cast led by two time Obie-award winner Kathryn Grody, a longtime Ulster County resident, as well as Millbrook residents Alexandra Napier and Annabel Barrett (full disclosure — my daughter). The two male characters were engagingly played by the heads of two other Hudson Valley professional theater companies: Brendan Burke, Artistic Director of Shadowland Theatre, now in it’s 27th season in an historic art deco playhouse in Ellenville, and Michael Rhode of TangentArts which has a growing following for its Tivoli pub readings.
Half Moon Theatre has carved out a niche as the region’s resident year round company with productions from fall through spring . Its final event of the 2010-2011 season will be a festival of new ten-minute plays by local and New York City playwrights to be performed in Millbrook on Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4, 2011.
However, the bulk of Hudson Valley theater companies come alive in the summer. Earlier this month the Powerhouse, a unique partnership between Vassar and New York Stage and Film now in its 27th year, began announcing it’s rich and diverse six week schedule which is performed on the Vassar campus in June and July. This year will include a family friendly musical by Hudson Valley resident folk singer Dar Williams.
The Fisher Center at Bard brings audiences from all over the world to the Hudson Valley. This year will feature Ibsen’s tragicomedy The Wild Duck as part of Summerscape 2011 which also brings world class opera, dance and film to the campus’s glorious Frank Gehry building.
There are many other companies to discover in the region — Walking the Dog Theatre and Stageworks in Hudson, Performing Arts and Bird on a Cliff of Woodstock and the County Players in Wappingers Falls. And there are great venues like the Bardavon/ UPAC, Hudson Opera House, and PS 21 in Chatham that host a great variety of performing arts. And of course there’s the excellent Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel in Philipstown.
Traditional musicals, the time-honored summer stock fare, can be found at Mac Haydn in Chatham and TriArts in nearby Sharon, CT, among other venues in the summer and at Rhinebeck Performing Arts Center in energetic rotation year round. All these local theater companies depend upon local audiences. So enjoy a fabulous night at the theater — and never leave the Hudson Valley!