Highlights include ten-minute play festival, improv, stand-up, cabaret and one-man show from Jason O’Connell
By Alison Rooney
The joint Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival/Depot Theatre In Process series returns for a second season beginning this Friday, August 5. Last year, a Philipstown.info story on the then-new endeavor described it as follows:
Cross-pollination amongst local nonprofits can be a delicate balance. Most operate within their own orbits, occasionally overlapping, but generally trying to carve out their own loyalties in a community saturated with a larger than usual number of them per capita. However, sometimes linking up can broaden the audiences for both, and now this is literally true for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) and the Philipstown Depot Theatre, as they join together as guest and host, respectively, for the new In Process series, conceived by HVSF and performed at the Depot.
The success of last year’s program with audiences and actors alike made a return engagement inevitable. Last year many people attended all or most of the five shows presented. This season will bring four evenings filled with some of the same types of programming as the first year, along with some new offerings. Once again, HVSF actress Valeri Mudek (who appears this year as Ophelia in Hamlet and as Luciana in The Comedy of Errors) is curating the series. She describes it as “really exciting, because this year we are able to have actors from every show available; last year we weren’t able to because of performance overlaps. So this year everybody gets a chance.” Mudek says that most of the actors and apprentices are very eager to take part, “in particular, with the cabaret show, they can show off the colors that don’t get to be seen – under the tent.”
First up, on Friday, Aug. 5, is the first Ten-Minute Play Festival. As Mudek describes it, “we will have three judges -respected, well-known individuals from the Hudson Valley community – evaluating the work.” (She was not at liberty yet to divulge the mystery-shrouded judges’ names.) To solicit plays, HVSF turned to, in Mudek’s description, “friends of the festival. We cast our net within people we knew: friends of company members.” We’re excited to be doing a piece by John Cariani again as his forte is the short form.”[A full-length reading of a Cariani play was performed during last year’s In Process]. Included among the playwrights is Cold Spring writer and actor, Michael Heintzman. The winning play will be fully produced and performed at “Cabaret Au Naturel” on August 20.
Wednesday, Aug. 10 brings the return of Improv Theater Sports, this time paired with Raw Stand-Up Comedy. Divided into two teams, Equity actors, apprentices and former apprentices will face off in an off-the-cuff improv comedy competition. Audience members will steer the evening by suggesting a variety of scenarios for the actors to riff upon.
Following Theater Sports, the apprentices will take to the stage to perform 5- to 10-minute long stand-up routines. Most, if not all, have never done anything remotely like this before. The apprentices have been taking part in a workshop in stand-up with the festival’s master of thinking on your feet actor Jason O’Connell (anyone who has seen this summer’s production of
The stand-up evening is billed as “not for kids” simply to give the performers free rein to let loose on the topics of their choice without regard to language restrictions or other parameters. It is all unpredictable, but should be suitable for most teen-agers.
Later that same week, on Friday, Aug. 12, it will be O’Connell’s time to battle his own nerves, when he presents his one-man show, Jason O’Connell’s Batman: Turn Off the Dork, for only the second time (the debut performance was held in Manhattan at Tada! Youth Theater’s Emerging Artists New Works series last spring). O’Connell describes the piece as “a little stand-up, a little story-telling, really a personal memoir.” O’Connell found the initial inspiration when attending a show entitled “The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, - which consisted of “one guy, in a black leotard, doing all three films. When I saw it, it tickled my movie geek, comic book geek side. Then I thought “you’re just a nerd who likes Batman; who wants to watch you?” But what it has really turned into is a show about somebody who wants to do a one-man show. It’s a melange of different things: what kind of echoes those film have had in my own life; I’ll take it year by year, beginning with my senior year of high school, right before embarking on my career as an actor. It’s different from what I thought it would be.” O’Connell has thus far worked on the writing on his own. “For this version there are no specific collaborators, but hopefully in incarnations beyond, I will work with a director or dramaturge - someone who specifically focuses on one-man shows. [HVSF Artistic Director] Terry O’Brien has been a huge supporter so far.”
The finale to the series, acting as a book-end with the first program will be Cabaret Au Naturel, which takes place on Saturday, Aug. 20. In addition to the presentation of the ten-minute play judged “Best in Show,” Mudek says there will be an assortment of “songs, some comedy, unconventional theater pieces, story-telling, personal monologues - something for everyone. Plus having the winning play fully performed at the Cabaret is a great opportunity for people to come out to see something from page to stage. It’s really illuminating to see the part of the process of seeing actors saying all of the words, including the stage directions, and then ‘living’ the part in a real production - in process.”
Mudek says the renewed collaboration with the Depot Theatre is again smooth and rewarding for both. “They were thrilled to do it again. It’s so great to have these two prominent theatrical creative forces working together and learning from each other. It’s also very exciting for the festival to branch out from its traditional summer offerings. From the [holiday presentation] Fezziwigs at Boscobel to our expanding education programs with [Education Director] Chris Edwards, it’s great to grow beyond the summer. It wasn’t just the audience which benefited from In Process, but we, the company itself, did as well. Last year because we were seeing company members in all different ways and it was inspiring to Terry and people within the company. Any time you can expand beyond what you’re used to, it pays dividends in creativity.”
All In Process performances begin at 8:15 p.m. and are free, however donations will be accepted at the door. Seating is limited and tickets may be reserved through Brown Paper Tickets. For more information contact the Depot Theatre at 845-424-3900 or email [email protected]
Photo by William Marsh