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My Peekskill — # 21 Amazing! You Could Be in a Play: A Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Play, OR a play Right Here in Peekskill.

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HVSF-OurTown-Final2Something amazing is happening in our stretch of the Hudson Valley. If you haven’t heard, it’s good I got to you in time.

If you’re going to get in on it, this Saturday, April 2nd, is your last chance in Peekskill.

It’s been exactly two years since it was announced that Davis McCallum was the new artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. The Festival under his leadership has been unpredictable and more alive than ever, and his Winter’s Tale was legitimately extraordinary.

The amazing thing is connected with their 30th anniversary. They’re producing Our Town and casting nearly the whole thing from among us local regular folk. You, yourself, could appear on the Festival’s stage. They’re running workshops (way more fun than auditions) right here in Peekskill, as well as Cold Spring/Garrison, Newburgh, and Beacon. If you’re tempted to be in it, they want to meet you. Here’s their very broad criteria: “HVSF is searching for a wide cross-section of our community, including people ages 11 and up who are of all genders, races and levels of ability and experience, to be a part of our ensemble.” That’s from their website that explains it all to you (here (HVShakespeare.org/whats-playing/our-town.html)). You can also find the schedule of the workshops, and a very good video from the director. From all reports, the first Peekskill workshop was very, very good. 21 people of all different experience levels, and everyone jumped right in.

Our Town is a play that’s meant to be done. It’s easy. A ladder, some folding chairs, no costumes you couldn’t get from someone’s Mom and Dad. My estimate is that since it premiered in 1938 it’s been produced 80,000 times. Figure a cast and crew of 30, that’s more than 2 million people who have been part of their home town’s Our Town. And figure, over the course of a run, an average audience of 300, that’s 20 million people. I played the Stage Manager in my high school’s production in 1976. That was 40 years ago. If you’re counting.

Our Town is a play that’s made a difference. It’s an expression of our most uninflected longings about who we’d like to be and where we want to be. Being a part of one of those 80,000 productions put something deeply enough inside to make a difference for just about everyone involved. Look at the HVSF website, show up for a workshop, meet the director, and maybe being in an Our Town will make a difference for you.

ourtown_blue_colorAnd That’s Not All!

I’m producing an evening of scenes, called Our Friendly Town, inspired by HVSF’s production. Our Town was written in 1938, about the years between 1901 and 1913, and set in Grover’s Corners, a fictional New Hampshire town. There’s something essential to the American experience in the play, even something aspirational. And it’s significantly different from the American experience of a great many people. And Grover’s Corners doesn’t look very much like Peekskill.

The last scene in Our Town takes place in the cemetery. Emily, whose romance and marriage with George comprise the emotional arc of the first two acts, has died in childbirth and is joining her family and fellow citizens who have died before her. Sitting in those folding chairS, they look down at the town while “the earth part of ’em burns away.” In my scenes, they’re not looking down on Grover’s Corners, they’re looking down at Peekskill, and all the actors and directors will be Peekskillians. Maybe there will be a Black cast, a Hispanic cast, an artist-and-other-newcomers cast, a cast made up of people born and raised in Peekskill. Maybe everyone mixed together – we’ll see what happens.

I’m really doing this. I want you to be part of it. I’m going to get casts together and find directors, maybe get some funding. We’ll develop scripts through improvisation, centered in people’s real experience of life in Peekskill – in all its reality. And we’ll perform at the end of the summer. So, stay tuned.

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