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Shakespeare Under the Stars: A Night at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

New York Festivals
by Julie Schwietert Jul 1, 2009
My first memory of the theatre takes me back to my freshman year in college. Who invited me to see “Angels in America” at The Fox in Atlanta? No clue.

But what I do remember is the theatre: its minarets and Moorish features (it was originally a mosque), appropriately described as “beautifully outlandish, opulent, grandiose.”

A couple decades into the 20th century, a newspaper reviewer was in awe, noting a “picturesque and almost disturbing grandeur beyond imagination.” The highlight was—and still is—“an indoor Arabian courtyard with a sky full of flickering stars and magically drifting clouds,” a particularly spectacular backdrop for the angel who hovered from the ceiling by an invisible harness during the play.

I’d see other shows at The Fox before I graduated and moved to New York, where, when money allowed, I continued to nurture my love of theatre. I remained enamored of beautiful theatres, but eventually realized some of the best shows don’t take place in theatres with heavily curtained stages and dramatic architectural flourishes.

Last Thursday, I took the train north of Manhattan to see “Much Ado About Nothing” at the 22nd annual Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. This outdoor festival, which opened June 16 and runs through September 6, is held on the grounds of Boscobel, an estate atop a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

“Ado”—one of three Shakespeare plays in this year’s line up (alongside “Pericles” and “The Complete Works of Shakespeare {Abridged}”)—may be one of Shakespeare’s best known works, but there’s something that makes you see and experience the play anew when it’s taking place outside under a white tent after you’ve picnicked under the sugar maples.

The sinisterness of the plot to thwart the pending marriage of Hero and Claudio was underscored by a dramatic—and totally natural—bolt of lightning that flashed at just the right moment over the valley across the river.

Every night is different, and while that’s true on any stage, it’s particularly the case for an outdoor production that’s subject to nature’s whims as much as actors’ skills.

If you’re in New York between now and September 6, a side trip to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival makes for a fantastic full or half-day excursion. For details about how you can plan such a trip, check out this article.

Community Connection:

Check out this article for Matador’s round-up of five more North American Shakespeare festivals that feature the bard’s plays in incredible outdoor settings.

What’s your best memory of the theatre? Share with us in the comments below!

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