The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) is a non-profit professional theater company based at Boscobel in Garrison, New York. The festival runs a roughly twelve-week repertory season each year, operating under a large open-air theater tent. Its productions attract a total audience of about 50,000 from the Hudson Valley, New York City, and 40 US states.
The company has proposed moving to a new permanent location in Garrison, New York in 2022. Its proposal envisions a paradigm shift from a seasonal theater festival to a year-round cultural center. Festival plans call for large-scale development of an 80-acre parcel of land currently occupied by a golf course. Included are a permanent tent on the crest of a ridge line overlooking the Hudson, an indoor theater, housing for theater personnel, an inn, a welcome center, and other structures. HVSF would also acquire a for-profit wedding and event venue and a restaurant, both currently operating on the site. The proposal has generated stiff resistance, with the scale of development, environmental impact, and loss of green space among the community’s concerns.
HVSF also performs William Shakespeare's works and live theater throughout the tri-state area by touring. The company has limited runs of its most popular programs through its "HVSF On The Road" series and brings student-oriented productions and education programs to about 50,000 elementary, middle, and high school students and teachers each year. HVSF's arts education programs also include training for early-career theater artists by way of its Conservatory Company, professional development for educators, and free audience engagement offerings before and after performances throughout the summer.
HVSF was founded by Melissa Stern and Terry O’Brien in September 1987 with an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Manitoga, home of industrial designer Russel Wright, in Garrison, New York. The following year, Boscobel House and Gardens agreed to host HVSF's mainstage season on the estate's expansive grounds, and that summer's production of Shakespeare's As You Like It was performed under a tent overlooking the Hudson River.
In 1994, the festival added a second show to its season and began hands-on, performance-driven education programs within area schools. In 2004, HVSF began to tour productions to middle and high schools. In 2006, HVSF acquired a custom-designed, open-air theater tent with seating for 540.
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival was the subject of a one-hour documentary and two hour film of a performance of Twelfth Night which premiered on the PBS affiliate WNET (Channel 13 in New York City) on September 18, 2008. The program also aired on WLIW (Channel 21 on Long Island).
More than 500,000 patrons have been served since HVSF's first season in 1987. Terry O’Brien led the theater for 27 years, directing more than 30 productions, and stepped down as Artistic Director in December 2013. After a search for his successor, HVSF's Board of Directors appointed Davis McCallum as Artistic Director in May 2014.
In 2016, the festival produced a community-driven production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town with a cast of about 40 citizen actors from the Hudson Valley region, directed by John Christian Plummer.
With its plays performed in an open-air theater tent on the grounds of the Boscobel, the festival is known for its backdrop. The stage, a rough patch of dirt that is on the same level as the first few rows of the audience, recedes into lawns with a view of the Hudson River and West Point in the distance. The company uses the vast open space behind the stage as scenery for the plays. According to Ben Brantley of The New York Times, "nature and Shakespeare are the stars" in this festival.
The company received a gift of a land parcel of 50 acres in Garrison in August 2020 and will move to that location permanently in time for the 2022 season. HVSF plans to build a permanent open air structure that will preserve the river views it is famous for at its current Boscobel location.
The festival was named among The New York Times' "50 Essential Summer Festivals" in 2016, was Hudson Valley Magazine's 2016 Editors’ Pick for Best Summer Theater, and was nominated for a Drama League Award for its 2015 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
It produces classic and new works with an economy of style, focusing on script, actors and audience with the Hudson River and Hudson Highlands as its set and setting. The Wall Street Journal hails it as, "The most purely enjoyable summer Shakespeare festival in America," while The New York Times comments, "If anyone wonders about the future of live theater or asks where the audience is, the answer is 'Under that tent."
It is listed as a "Major Festival" in the book Shakespeare Festivals Around the World by Marcus D. Gregio (Editor), 2004.
In addition to its summer productions, the festival sponsors year-round education programs to about 50,000 students and teachers annually. These programs include in-school residencies and theater arts workshops for students, resource workshops for educators, a fall touring production for students in grades K-5, a spring touring production for students in grades 6-12, its annual Shakespeare Summer Camp for ages 8–16, and the Teachers' Shakespeare Institute. HVSF's Conservatory Company, a performance based training program for 6 - 8 early career actors, offers on- and off-stage opportunities to work alongside the festival's acting company.
- 1987: A Midsummer Night's Dream
- 1988: As You Like It
- 1989: Twelfth Night
- 1990: Much Ado About Nothing
- 1991: Romeo and Juliet
- 1992: The Taming of the Shrew
- 1993: The Merry Wives of Windsor
- 1994: Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors
- 1995: The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
- 1996: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost
- 1997: Tartuffe, As You Like It
- 1998: A Winter's Tale, Much Ado About Nothing
- 1999: Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night
- 2000: Measure for Measure, Taming of the Shrew
- 2001: Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet
- 2002: Henry V, The Comedy of Errors
- 2003: All's Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra
- 2004: Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor
- 2005: The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
- 2006: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Rivals
- 2007: Richard III, As You Like It
- 2008: Cymbeline, Twelfth Night, Shakespeare Abridged
- 2009: Pericles, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare Abridged
- 2010: Troilus and Cressida, The Taming of the Shrew, Bomb-itty of Errors
- 2011: Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors, Around the World in 80 Days
- 2012: Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, The 39 Steps
- 2013: King Lear, All's Well That Ends Well, The Three Musketeers
- 2014: Othello, Two Gentleman of Verona, The Liar
- 2015: The Winter's Tale, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Arabian Nights, An Iliad
- 2016: As You Like It, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Our Town, So Please You (devised clown show)
- 2017: Twelfth Night, Kate Hamill's Pride and Prejudice, The Book of Will, Love's Labour's Lost, The General from America
- 2018: Richard II , The Taming of the Shrew , The Heart of Robin Hood, Rip Van Winkle; Or, Cut the Old Moon Into Stars, The Sea-Maid’s Music
- [permanent dead link]PBS
- Marks, Peter (7 July 2000). "Nature's a Stage and Often a Player". The New York Times.
- Serico, Chris (11 June 2012). "Hudson Valley Shakespeare fest returns to Boscobel". Newsday.
- Nuland, Sherwin B. (Autumn 2000). "The Uncertain Art: Is There a Doctor in the House?". The American Scholar. 69 (4): 125–128. JSTOR 41213080.
- Brantley, Ben (3 August 2005). "Prospero May Manipulate Nature, but Here, Nature Sets the Stage". The New York Times.
- Bahr, Sarah (26 August 2020). "Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Finds First Permanent Home". The New York Times.
- Gulley, Ervene (May 1991). "Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare". Theatre Journal. 42 (2). JSTOR 3208227.
- New York Times
- Gates, Anita (2006-07-14). "A Pastoral 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' Under a New Tent". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Teachout, Terry (2015-06-25). "'A Midsummer Night's Dream' Review: The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Donahue, Joe. "'An Iliad' At The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival". www.wamc.org. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Murphy, Mary Jo (2017-06-29). "Outdoor Stages: A Madcap 'Pride & Prejudice' in the Hudson Valley". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Soloski, Alexis (2017-07-25). "In the Hudson Valley, Shakespeare as Man, Myth and Drinking Buddy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Donahue, Joe. "The General From America - Hudson Valley Shakespeare". www.wamc.org. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Teachout, Terry (2018-07-05). "A New Twist On Shakespeare: Playing It Straight". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Green, Jesse (2018-07-19). "Review: Taming 'The Taming of the Shrew' Under a Tent". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Myers, Victoria (2018-06-19). "Julia Coffey and Liz Wisan on Performing Shakespeare in 2018". The Interval. Retrieved 2019-03-02.