Following a season off, the return of one of the region’s oldest outdoor theater festivals to its tented stage is certainly, if you will, a dramatic occasion. But for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, 2021 is that and bittersweet and optimistic as well. This season will be its last at the historic Boscobel estate in Garrison, as the company is preparing to relocate to a new home nearby. Why the move, after nearly 35 years in the lush gardens of Garrison? Simple: growth.
“With the new location, which is just a few miles down the road in Philipstown, we’re going from being a seasonal festival to being a year-round cultural center,” says the HVSF’s artistic director, Davis McCallum, who stresses that the relocation wasn’t a byproduct of the pandemic and that the company’s parting of ways with Boscobel is an amicable one. “For several years, we’d been thinking about having a permanent home. We really started exploring the idea in the fall of 2019, when philanthropist Christopher Davis approached us about donating a 98-acre property in Philipstown, which had been a golf course, to become that home. We couldn’t be more thrilled about the new space.”
For the grand finale at its Boscobel base, the festival, which every summer traditionally produces two plays—one from the Shakespearian repertoire and one contemporary selection—and in safer times tours schools with its student-oriented “HVSF on the Road” series, has put together an enticing sendoff marked by zeitgeist-seizing programming. Preceding this year’s live, in-person productions is an online audio adaptation of “Macbeth” (June 7-20), Shakespeare’s classic tragedy about unchecked political ambition and its deleterious psychological effects. The performance is free, but a $10 donation is suggested.
James Ijames’s “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington” (July 1-30), the company’s choice for this season’s modern original work, acknowledges America’s current racial reckoning via its story about the lives of enslaved people. “The Tempest” (August 5-September 4), one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote, centers on the actions of the island-dwelling sorcerer Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and his supernatural servants, Caliban and Ariel. The comedy has been interpreted as an allegory for everything from the process of artistic creation to European colonization to, perhaps appropriately given HVSF’s goodbye to its long-time digs, Shakespeare’s impending farewell to the stage.
Despite the organization’s move, McCallum maintains that outdoor productions will continue to be a signature component of HVSF’s ongoing operations at its new location. “Because of COVID, open-air performance is really having a moment right now, and that format is our bread and butter,” he says. “People are really hungry to gather again—safely—and to reconnect communally with theater and art.” Starting this month, theatergoers will once again be able to do just that at the festival as it prepares to uproot and takes its final bow at Boscobel. “I think that a lot of theater people believe in ‘ghosts,’ the memories that linger around certain places,” muses McCallum. “And there are certainly lots of memories here. But the future is bright, and we’re excited about the new season and what comes next.”