5 Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Actors Dish on All Their Local Favorites

With the 2024 season officially underway, members of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival reveal their summer must-haves and top spots.

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Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) is back in a big way in Putnam County. The annual fest kicked off the 2024 season in Garrison with a powerhouse lineup filled with works that pay homage to the Bard (By the Queen), Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), and Euripides (Medea: Re-Versed), with a number of special events and programming planned throughout the summer months. In celebration of its return, we touched base with five of the actors, all of whom are HVSF alums, to learn more about what the seasons look like for them.

Read on to see where these top HVSF actors love to eat and spend their time off in the Hudson Valley, as well as which essentials they rely upon to get them through the season.

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Melissa Mahoney

Role: Bass (Medea) and Ursula (Ackroyd)

How long have you worked with HVSF?

This will be my third summer with HVSF, and I’m so thrilled to be back!

Where are you based?

Brooklyn.

When do you arrive in the Hudson Valley for HVSF?

We’ve been up here rehearsing since mid-April and we’ll be here until early September.  Not a bad place to spend the summer months!

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Where are your favorite restaurants/cafes in the region?

I love Kitchen & Coffee in Beacon. They have a salad called the Tre Jolie that I could probably eat every single day. Red Line Diner in Fishkill is so good for a late-night dinner after a show. And as far as cafes go, I love Cold Spring Coffeehouse and Matcha Thomas in Beacon.

Where are your favorite shops?

Too many to count! But, as a lover of thrifting, I particularly enjoy DamnAgedVintage in Cold Spring and Blackbird Attic in Beacon.

Where in the Hudson Valley do you like to explore in your free time?

Again, too many to count! To name a few, Fishkill Farms for some cider and chill vibes, Dia Beacon and Storm King Art Center for an artsy day, Magazzino Italian Art (also for art, but mostly for the donkeys in the back!), and Heritage Financial Park when I want to see the Renegades play!

What are your top three products for getting through the HVSF summer season in the Hudson Valley? 

A personal steamer is a total game changer. (Shoutout to our voice and speech coach, Alithea Philips!) Being under the tent requires a lot of stamina, physically and vocally, and a steamer really helps to make sure the vocal chords stay nice and hydrated over the course of a long summer.

Good boots! I recently invested in a pair of Blundstones.  Summers at the tent are unpredictable in terms of weather. From super hot days to super rainy days, you have to be ready for anything.

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Lots and lots of bug spray. The bugs seem to really love me, so I come fully prepared. Thankfully, HVSF also has a ton of bug spray on hand for actors and audience alike.

Stephen Michael Spencer

Role: Jason (Medea) and Ensemble 3 (Queen)

How long have you worked with HVSF? 

This is my third season! I was in the acting company in 2019 and 2023.

Where are you based?

Based out of NYC, born in NC.

When do you arrive in the Hudson Valley for HVSF?

We arrived for rehearsals the second week of April. [We’re] leaving on September 3.

Where are your favorite restaurants/cafes in the region?

Red Line Diner, Vera’s Marketplace and Garden Center, Happy Valley, Quinn’s. Shoutout to the Appalachian Deli & Market on 9D.

Where are your favorite shops?

Beacon Flea Market, antique stores in Cold Spring

Where in the Hudson Valley do you like to explore in your free time?

Beacon Glades Disc Golf Course, Dennings Point State Park, West Point Foundry Preserve

What are your top three products for getting through the HVSF summer season in the Hudson Valley?

Sunscreen because your boy needs it. Orange Celsius energy drinks because same answer and bug spray/tick repellent because I spend a lot of time in the woods and, while performing, I prefer the insects let us work in peace, but we can’t win every bug battle can we?

Kurt Rhoads

Role: Mssr. Detective, Mr. Ackroyd (Ackroyd)

How long have you worked with HVSF?

My first season was 1995, The Tempest.  This year marks my 26th season at HVSF.

Where are you based?

Garrison for 22 years.

Where are your favorite restaurants/cafes in the region?

Riverview in Cold Spring and I like Round Up Texas BBQ on Route 9 in Cold Spring. Also, The Tomato Cafe and Gymkhana in Fishkill.

Where are your favorite shops?

Curt’s Homestead Farm on Oregon Road in Cortlandt Manor.

Where in the Hudson Valley do you like to explore in your free time?

Disc golf in Beacon, ball golf everywhere else, especially Highlands Country Club in Garrison.

What are your top three products for getting through the HVSF summer season in the Hudson Valley?

Osage Rub, sunscreen, electric bug swatter.

Nance Williamson

Role: Caroline, Mrs. Ackroyd, Mrs. Ferris (Ackroyd) and Margaret 3 (Queen)

How long have you worked with HVSF?

I have worked for HVSF for 23 seasons; my first year was 1998.

Where are you based?

We [she and Kurt Rhoads, above] have lived in Garrison since 2002.

Where are your favorite restaurants/cafes in the region?

We love Riverview, Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill, and Brasserie Le Bouchon, all in Cold Spring.

Where are your favorite shops?

I’m not a very big shopper, I have to admit. I’m an amateur gardener, so all things plants are my go-to shops.

Where in the Hudson Valley do you like to explore in your free time?

Walks, hikes, boat rides on the river, kayaking, sunsets and star gazing in our beautiful Hudson Valley. I love bird watching at our feeders [and] s’mores at the campfire.

What are your top three products for getting through the HVSF summer season in the Hudson Valley?

I wear lots of big, brimmed hats in the summer. [Those,] Hoka shoes, and kombucha are three of my summer essentials.

Luis Quintero

Role: Chorus leader/playwright (Medea) and Ensemble 2 (Queen)

How long have you worked with HVSF?

This will be my fifth season with HVSF!

Where are you based?

That’s an interesting question. For the past few years, I’ve split my time between the Hudson Valley in the summer and Houston, TX in the winter. My family lives in Houston and I return to reprise my role as the Ghost of Christmas Future at the Alley Theatre.

When do you arrive in the Hudson Valley for HVSF?

This season we arrived in mid-April, It’s such a blessing to have such a long rehearsal process.

Where are your favorite restaurants/cafes in the region?

Personally, I tend to cook my own food. In fact, I’ve made a bit of a tradition of grilling out for my castmates. And since I’ve been back for so many seasons, I’ve gone through phases of culinary curiosities. One summer I just focused on gumbo, another grilling pineapple with chimichurri, [and] this year I’ve been serving up curry corn rib, and I’ve been also making lamb gyros in honor of Medea. But shoutout to Doug’s Pretty Good Pub, honestly…it’s pretty good.

Other places I’d recommend to people are Bank Square Coffeehouse in Beacon, then taking a walk down to see the glass from Hudson Glassworks; sometimes a buddy of mine, Pierre, will be blowing there. One day he even let me try blowing glass there! Angie’s Bake Shop in Cold Spring has some of the best homemade goods you could ask for, like savory buttery, flaky cheese and egg scones and equally delicious sweet pastry with tart raspberry jams. I usually must contain myself for a coffee and a scone. Moo Moo’s Creamery is also a wonderful walk by the river to enjoy a cold, creamy treat and view.

Where are your favorite shops?

I love Split Rock Books in Cold Spring and have used their books [including Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act and Natalie Hayne’s Pandora’s Jar] to inspire my writing for the season at the Shakespeare Festival. I will visit that store year after year, and I’m always invigorated and inspired by the titles I see. I think it’s a testament to the quality of selection they provide. I also will annually take my mother to a wine store named Boutique Wines, Spirits and Ciders in Fishkill. They have the best curated selection of wine and spirits, and the owners are longtime goers and friends of the festival. They will have the best in the area without a doubt. I always get a couple bottle of rosé [and take] a trip the Cheese Shop in Cold Spring as I prepare my pre-show charcuterie.

On a different note, I like to kick it down to Alto Music and see if there’s a deal on gear I could snare.

Where in the Hudson Valley do you like to explore in your free time?

I love disc golf. If I ever get a moment, I’m probably at the Beacon Glades Disc Golf Course. It’s a wonderful sport for a person who used to play Frisbee to take care of his knees. The course is constructed on the side of Mount Beacon. The baskets are set in and around an abandoned summer camp site. The first time I played the course I felt as though I were at the beginning of a horror movie. As it turns out, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th is a course mascot! I have also enjoyed my time going to the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has a great beginner course I can’t wait to take my family to, and one of the best courses in the country, Wilcox Memorial Park.

What are your top 3 products for getting through the HVSF summer season in the Hudson Valley?

I need a cast iron skillet, because I cook so much and I can’t trust the lodging to provide the kind of kitchen ware that I like to use.

The second I would say is my Cuatro, which is the national instrument of Venezuela. I’ve brought one with me every single year and have even incorporated it into the productions under the tent. In all the years I’ve come to HVSF, I always bring my Cuatro.

Kurt Rhoads is a veteran of the stage and sands at Hudson Valley, [and] to me he’s a mentor and friend. In the effort to fight the heat from blazing days, he introduced me to the wonders of Osage Rub, which looks like green electric shave solution in a plastic bottle. A splash of that on my neck and, if I really am feeling dangerous, my armpits gives the body a spicy cooling sensation through the hot months.

Also a hammock. I love a good, bug net hammock.

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