In an outcome that surprised few during last month's Tony Awards ceremony, "Hamilton," which received an astounding 16 nominations in 13 categories, swept the night, taking home 11 awards, including Best Musical. The drama "The Humans" won Best Play and three other awards, while another of the elite Tony finalists was the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell-penned musical "Bright Star." Amazingly, all three of these plays were developed at Poughkeepsie's Powerhouse Theater, whose 32nd season is running now through July 31.
So, just what, exactly, is in the water over there at Powerhouse? What, since 1984, has made the eight-week collaborative artistic residency between the organization New York Stage and Film and host site Vassar College such a perfect petri dish for productions that go on to conquer the theatrical world? "I think it's that the environment here gives [New York-based] playwrights and actors a very personal vantage point," says Powerhouse's producing director, Ed Cheetham. "It's a place for them to reflect on what they're working on and focus on the job at hand."
The job at hand this season at Powerhouse features over 20 workshops, readings, and training performances of new original works, with a couple of reinterpreted classics in the mix. Among the enticing highlights are the musical workshop of "Another Word for Beauty" (July 15-17), with book by Academy Award nominee José Rivera and music and lyrics by Héctor Buitrago; a reading of Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley's comedy "The Portuguese Kid" (part of a multiplaywright readings festival that runs July 22-24); and a musical workshop of Taylor Mac's work in progress, "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music" (July 22-23). Retooled repertoire offerings—atypical for this originals-oriented series—include Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's "The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd" (July 7-9) and Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" (July 22-24), adapted and directed by Andrew Willis-Woodward.
For 2016, both of Powerhouse's exclusive Inside Look workshops on its Main Stage train the spotlight on women: "Transfers" by Obie Award-winning playwright Lucy Thurber, which explores the questions and tensions that arise as two young South Bronx men are interviewed while being considered for scholarships at an elite college (through July 10), and "The Wolves" by Relentless Award winner Sarah DeLappe, which takes place during the winter season of a high school girls' soccer team and "paints an offbeat portrait of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for nine American girls who just want to score some goals" (July 21-31). "[The focus on women] wasn't a conscious decision," explains Powerhouse's artistic director, Johann Pfaelzer. "Every year we read over 200 plays to select the ones for the series, and the two we fell in love with for the Inside Look segment happened to be by women."
As with every Powerhouse season, audiences have the opportunity to witness theatrical history in the making "So many people say to me, especially now, 'I didn't go to see 'Hamilton' here when it was starting out, but now I wish I had,'" says Cheetham. "What it's all about for the playwrights, actors, and everyone else at Powerhouse—including the audience—is taking risks and trying out new things. It's about getting in on the ground floor of something while it's truly new, and being part of the process itself."
The 2016 Powerhouse Theater season runs through July 31 on the campus of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. For a complete performance schedule, ticket prices, directions, and more information: (845) 437-5599.
"When the Lights Went Out" presented in 2013 at Powerhouse Theater.