Shakespeare Festival Cancels 2020 Season

HVSF purchased a new tent in 2018. It will not go up this year. (HVSF)

Hopes to offer online workshops, readings

The Bard once wrote that “all the world’s a stage” — except not for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival this summer.

On Thursday (April 30), the festival announced it had canceled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 threat, joining the darkened theaters of Broadway and shuttered music and cultural venues around the globe. The summer performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival were abandoned on March 27, and the annual Shakespeare festival in Central Park in New York City was canceled on April 17.

Davis McCallum, the HVSF artistic director, described the decision as “heartbreaking” and “a real loss for the festival and our community.”

For its 34th season, the festival planned to perform Shakespeare’s Richard III and Love’s Labor’s Lost, as well as an adaptation it commissioned of a 1747 play, The Venetian Twins, under its tent on the lawn at the Boscobel estate in Garrison.

After the state and Putnam County in March issued orders banning large gatherings of people, such as an audience at a play, the nonprofit HVSF dropped The Venetian Twins from the schedule, offered heavily discounted tickets good for any show to raise money to start rehearsals, and said it would present Richard III and Love’s Labor’s Lost consecutively, rather than in rotation, to provide more flexibility.

Nance Williamson with Jason O’Connell in last season’s production of Cyrano (Photo by T. Charles Erickson/HVSF)

“So many theaters have had to cancel part or all of their seasons, which has had a huge impact on the artists and the staff members,” McCallum said on April 3. “It’s just so hard to know what next week or next month or the middle of the summer is going to look like, or to predict when it will again be safe to gather artists to go into rehearsal or to gather an audience to enjoy a show under the tent.”

He noted at the time that the festival sold 3,000 tickets during the last week of March 2019, compared to 118 this year.

McCallum said that HVSF considered salvaging the 2020 season by presenting performances in which the actors and audience used social distancing but discarded the idea. The actors need to be together to rehearse, he said, and the risk of one person in the company getting the virus and, while asymptomatic, giving it to others could allow it to spread through the cast and even an audience of people who have come from near and far.

“We worked on it every possible way to try to salvage some kind of in-person programming,” he said. “But we had to do the thing that will safeguard the well-being of our artists, our audiences and our community.”

REMEMBERING REX — Rex the bulldog, shown here with Kurt Rhoads during HVSF’s 2014 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, has died at age 9. “The 2014 season was my first at HVSF and I will never forget the joy of Rex and Kurt and the audience in Two Gents,” Davis McCallum, the festival’s artistic director, said of Rex, whose humans were the O’Reilly family of Garrison. “Rex had a beautiful spirit, and a passion for Kurt’s calves, but who doesn’t? HVSF was so grateful for the opportunity to share in his story.” (Photo by William Marsh/HVSF)

Because of the cancellation, dozens of actors and theater personnel will be out of work this summer; HVSF intends to compensate them for at least part of their lost earnings, McCallum said. The summer camps scheduled for late July also have been canceled.

He also said that the festival would honor flex tickets purchased for the 2020 season for performances in June 2021, and that other ticket holders will hear from HVSF about options.

“We look forward to coming back stronger and more vibrant than ever next year,” McCallum said.

Meanwhile, he said, HVSF is exploring ways to interact with the public remotely, such as playwriting workshops and a competition; teleconferenced readings by actors of select short plays; converting the festival costume shop into a mask-making operation; and getting its teaching artists into virtual classrooms.

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