“If there is anything I want to do before I die, it is to go to China” —Richard Nixon
The big Quadricentennial year is almost over—the four hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson sailing up the river that bears his name. It also commemorates a nonevent that was not spotlighted much this year, the simple fact that Hudson sailed upriver because he was trying to find a western route to Asia. Present-day New York was just a corridor to Hudson, albeit a dead-end.
Last year, the Hudson Opera House commissioned New York City-based Concrete Temple Theater to create a show based on the life of the explorer to coincide with the Quadricentennial and the grand reopening of the refurbished opera house. (The reopening has been postponed, but the show goes on!) According to co-artisitic director Renee Philippi, the company was in a quandry as to how to approach the life of Hudson, given that so few details are known about him, and those facts that are known have already been exhaustively mined. "We were having a hard time getting excited about Henry Hudson," admits Philippi.
Concrete Temple, which uses a multidisciplinary approach to theater, combining projections, puppetry, and live music with live-action theater, came up with a characteristically inventive narrative solution: Tell the story of Henry Hudson as one of three charaters seking a way to get to China, either physically or metaphorically. In doing so, "Hudson to China" links modern concerns about China—namely, commerce—with Hudson's own obsession with finding a trade route.
Philippi describes Concrete Temple's creative process as rooted in the European theatrical tradition. "We're interested in myths, in the relationship between the individual and society; our work tends to operate along bigger themes," says Philippi. The company's previous shows bear this out: "Bird Machine" examines the power of flight; "Achtung Grimm!" recreates the fairy tales in a musical theater context; and "The Whale" is a one-man take on Moby Dick.
Concrete Temple's shows are crafted with all-ages audiences in mind; they're engineered to inspire wonder. "The image is often stronger than the spoken word," says Philippi. "We invest a lot of time making sure that the stories we tell are as strong imagistically as they are verbally. Our work has to be on stage. A lot of American theater is almost like television on stage."
"Hudson to China" will be performed by Concrete Temple Theater at the Hudson Opera House on Friday, December 11 at 8pm, and Saturday, December 12 at 2pm and 8pm. (518) 822-1438; www.hudsonoperahouse.org.