If you’ve driven through New Paltz recently, chances are you’ve seen the rectangular, cement building that joined the line-up at Water Street Market.
Dubbed Denizen Theatre, the new performing arts center is a far cry from your traditional theater. As a black box space, Denizen spotlights immersive, interactive performances that meld high-end metropolitan theatrics with integrative community works. True to its name, the theater stages all plays inside a black-walled room that can be configured according to the needs of each individual staging. With minimal separation between actors and audience members, black box theater encourages an intimate experience that engages viewers and immerses them directly into the plot.
“It’s for the people who reside in the area and want to be part of the community,” explains Ben Williamson, the co-artistic director at the theater. An experienced actor and instructor, he works alongside fellow co-director, Brittany Proia, and producing artistic director, Harry Lipstein.
Left to right: Williamson, Proia, and Lipstein lead the way at Denizen. Photo courtesy of Denizen Theatre
It was Lipstein who began the fledgling efforts for the theater. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he chose the site for Denizen when he developed Water Street Market 19 years ago. He didn’t stumble across black box theater, however, until he watched Williamson perform in Florida. Williamson, who acted in the same circles as Proia, went on to move back and forth between acting and teaching Florida and New York. When he discovered that Lipstein designed Urbanite Theatre, a black box theater shell, for Williamson’s friends in Florida, he jumped on the opportunity and joined the company in the first year. He and Lipstein connected and began brainstorming ideas for a theater in New Paltz. When Proia got word about the project, she insisted on joining as well.
“I came to New Paltz and saw the need to create opportunities for other people,” declares Williamson, who grew up nearby in Binghamton.
The trio decided on the name “Denizen” in the hopes that it will reflect the goal of the theater as a whole.
“It’s for the people who reside in this area and want to be a part of the community,” Williamson says.
Left to right: Williamson, Proia, and Lipstein will open Denizen on October 11. Photo by Carolan Trbovich
Designed as a year-round arts space, Denizen holds 50 to 70 people and prioritizes contemporary works that provoke and inspire audience members. It opens on October 11 and has three performances scheduled for the fall/winter season. Cal in Camo, which was written by William Francis Hoffman, is a regional premiere that explores fractured family bonds. It kicks off in October and runs until November 4. After that, Adaptive Radiation, a darkly comedic millennial play by Hannah Benitez, celebrates its world debut on December 6. The Arsonists, a lyrical Gothic tale by Jacqueline Goldfinger, closes out the season beginning on January 31.
In line with its community-minded goals, Denizen offers $5 student tickets, $15 tickets for attendees under 30, and $24 tickets to the general public.
Denizen at night / Photo courtesy of Denizen Theatre