As we fast approach the arrival of winter, we can’t help but reminisce upon all there is to love about summer in the Hudson Valley. In the height of the season, locals and visitors alike savor warm-weather days during long hikes toward breathtaking views, ice cream cones filled with farm-fresh scoops, and lazy afternoons at beaches and swimming holes. Fairs and festivals sweeten the deal, bringing communities together while highlighting the creativity and talent of the region.
For theater lovers, no fest captures the magic of summer in the Valley quite like Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Each year, the fest, which is fondly known as HVSF, converges in Putnam County for a season filled with heart-racing adventures, shoulder-shaking humor, and convoluted drama as only the Bard could create.
This past summer 2023 season, the festival once again welcomed visitors to its new, permanent home in Philipstown for a stellar lineup of shows. It relocated to its current address at the conclusion of the 2021 season after 30-plus years in residence at Boscobel House and Gardens nearby. The location is less than three miles away from Garrison in Philipstown and is a generous gift from philanthropist Christopher Davis.
“I am delighted to have found the perfect steward for this extraordinarily beautiful land,” Davis says. “HVSF is a nationally recognized arts organization with deep roots in this community. With this gift, we can assure that this place continues to be a positive force in the region while becoming a cultural hub in the Hudson Valley.”
While the tent that this year’s theater-goers experienced is a temporary one, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival unveiled its plans for its new, open-air theater design that will be quite the innovative construct in the region. Through a partnership with architecture and urban design practice Studio Gang, HVSF productions will soon reside in the first purpose-built LEED Platinum theater in the United States.
“HVSF is such a beloved cultural institution, with a truly unique natural setting in the Hudson Valley,” observes Studio Gang Founding Principal and Partner Jeanne Gang. “Our design aims to help the company build on their strengths, with low-carbon architecture that improves daily functionality and amplifies the traditions that define their open-air performances — like the spectacular proscenium arch framing the iconic Hudson River view — as well as create new opportunities for audiences and actors to interact before and after the show.”
So what exactly does the new design entail?
Unlike the classic white tent with which HVSF fans are familiar, the new design will rest at 13,850 square feet along the 98-acre campus that HVSF calls home. It will feature natural materials as part of the curved, timber-framed grid shell architecture and timber columns. Unsurprisingly, the theater’s construction aims to pay homage to the surrounding landscape, which is why the stage’s proscenium arch will be oriented to frame the Wey-Gat (“Wind Gate”) of Storm King Mountain, Breakneck Ridge, and the Hudson River. Plus, staying true with the awe-inducing entries of HVSF actors in many a show, the landscape will still allow the players to “emerge” into the theater.
While the theater’s hillside location at 2015 Route 9 at the intersection with Snake Hill Road is bound to be a delight for theater-goers, it’s far from the only thing happening on the grounds. In addition to the construction of the theater itself, visitors can also expect the addition of outdoor gathering spaces next to the theater, along with a nearby overlook for pre- and post-performance programming.
If all goes well, the new design will see a groundbreaking in 2024.
“HVSF was given the extraordinary opportunity — and challenge — to establish a permanent home that considered not only the future of our theater and the American theater at large, but also the urgent need to reexamine our relationship with nature,” notes HVSF Artistic Director Davis McCallum. “Studio Gang and the team have met the moment with a design that is not only visually stunning, but also supremely functional and sustainable in every sense. Their inspired work will reconnect us with the roots of the open-air theater, emphasizing interplay between the actors, the audience, the play, and the place.”
Prior to gifting the parcel of land to Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Davis purchased it back in 1999 to protect it from commercial development. He owns The Garrison next-door and has modified the layout of the grounds so as to ensure sufficient room for both enterprises.
“Chris Davis’s historic gift preserves this land and allows HVSF to transform from a summer festival to a year-round cultural anchor in the region,” enthuses McCallum. “With this enhanced role comes a greater responsibility to serve the entire Hudson Valley community, and we are actively exploring how we can share this enormous opportunity with community partners across the region.”
For Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which recently received a $10 million grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) as part of the organization’s Capital Improvement Grants for Arts and Culture, its new location near The Garrison and Valley Restaurant is a boon for both organizations. With dining and overnight accommodations nearby, HVSF visitors have all they need for a picture-perfect weekend at their fingertips. For show-goers who visited the theater over the past two summers, the expanded concession stand is a major highlight, as is the proximity to the Valley Restaurant for cocktails and dining. What’s more, depending on how far HVSF chooses to extend its season in the future (a permanent venue means there’s potential for year-round programming, after all), its move could lead to a significant boost for surrounding Hudson Valley businesses beyond just the summer season.
Until then, don’t miss out on all Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has to offer. The summer 2023 season was one for the books, thanks to a medley of Shakespearean standbys and original works. Plus, by the looks of the lineup for the 2024 season, it’s going to be more exciting than ever, with a Shakespeare adaptation, an Agatha Christie-inspired showcase, and a word premiere all on the docket. The works for the 2024 season will take place in the current tent while construction on the new one commences.