At a time when our economy has been jolted by the greatest financial quake since the Great Depression, many would like to conserve a commodity that’s scarce right now—money. That would mean a tightening of purse strings and putting a freeze on such lavish expenditures, as say, a Broadway play.
But if it possible to watch a high-caliber performance by spending far less on tickets and without having to drive too far from home, theater aficionados would surely seize the opportunity to do so, feels Denise Bessette, a co-producer at the Hudson Stage Company, a local theater company based in Briarcliff Manor.
One of the area’s best kept performing arts secrets, the Hudson Stage productions are relatively small, without being skimpy; elegant, without being extravagant; are based on good stories; and above all, have a virtuoso cast.
About ten years ago, a shared passion for theater, brought Bessette, Dan Foster, and Olivia Sklar, the theater’s founding trio together.
Long hours of brainstorming, fuelled by pots of coffee and a reservoir of collective creative energy led to the birth of Westchester County’s homegrown professional theater.
In 1999, the fledgling company found its first home in a patch of space at the Croton-on-Hudson library, where it started out by holding a series of staged readings of plays.
With minimal costumes and threadbare set designs, these readings weren’t theater in its full regalia. Still, the audience lapped them up and came back for more, each time a new flyer went around town.
Excited and encouraged by the overwhelming response, the nascent team of thespians, directors, and producers decided to go bigger and do full-scale productions.
The year 2000 saw their first major production, the “Full Bloom,” with all the action—sets, props and lighting. Coinciding with that, they also found a new stage, the Clear View School in Briarcliff Manor, which staged their initial few productions.
The sterling performance won critical acclaim, galvanizing the boutique theater to explore a wide range of theatrical genres from tragedies to comedies.
“In the 10 years that the company has been producing in Westchester, we have presented a very eclectic range of plays: from “Murderers,” a black-comedy about murder in a retirement community in Florida to “True Home”—an original musical by Cass Morgan (the Tony-nominated actress and writer) and Stephen Schwartz (the composer of “Wicked”)—to “Baltimore Star,” the world-premiere of a contemporary drama about Jewish émigrés living in America,” says Foster.
He explains that their mission has been to present either compelling original plays that have an entertainment value, or existing plays that are new to Westchester.
A couple of years ago, the Hudson Stage Company moved to its permanent residence on the Briarcliff Manor campus of Pace University. “[Since] the theater department [of Pace University] is situated in Manhattan, we didn’t have a performance space to begin with,” says Bessette.
Not having much to work with, they made several cosmetic changes to a lecture hall, converting it into what is now the Woodward Hall Theater.
“We had to outfit it with the equipment each time we had a performance, but it suffices beautifully now,” says Bessette.
To mark their tenth anniversary, this fall, they’re bringing “Mary’s Wedding,” an award-winning romance directed by Dan Foster and written by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte.
Set against the backdrop of World War I, it’s a sensitive portrayal of the lives of two mismatched lovers, played by talented young actors Christina Bennett Lind and Blake Kubena.
“The story weaves together [the] actual events of “The Great War” with the romance of a young couple. Part love story, part true story, I believe it’s unlike anything we’ve ever produced. It uses only two actors to tell a sweeping love story that takes us from the farms of Canada to the trenches of France.”
The play has plenty of laughs and tears and “an immense lack of cynicism,” in the words of the playwright. I also think that it fits the blueprint of the kind of material Hudson Stage set out to produce—intelligent and challenging writing that’s also very theatrical. This will offer an experience you wouldn’t necessarily get in film and television,” says Foster.
It’ll run during the weekends for a fortnight between October 31st and November 15th at the Woodward Hall Theater at the Briarcliff Manor campus of Pace University. Tickets are priced at $30, with a $5 debate offered to seniors and students.
Another attraction that’ll play on three Sundays during that period is a benefit performance of Westchester playwright and actress Staci Swedeen’s one-woman show, “Pardon Me for Living,” a comic nightmare based on Swedeen’s rabid raccoon and a near-brush with death.
Produced by Joel Goss and directed by Yvonne Conybeare, it was originally developed through Hudson Stage’s reading series.