Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that the entire English-speaking world hasn’t designated April as Shakespeare Month and honored the Bard of Avon with annual celebrations everywhere, considering that the dates of both his christening (presumably having been born just a few days earlier) and death occur late in the month? I guess that means that it falls to us here in the mid-Hudson to get ahead of the curve and show what can be done when smart, creative people put their heads together. Without deliberately making a “Shakespeare Month” tagline part of their marketing strategy, this year three local arts entities have managed to make it so: the Hudson Valley Community Center (HVCC) in Poughkeepsie, the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY-New Paltz and the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck.
The prize for Most Original Concept must go to HVCC, which last year came up with the notion of enticing new audiences by staging a Shakesbeer Festival, returning to Poughkeepsie this Sunday. Avid readers will know that the Bard’s characters were more fans of ale and wine – notably Falstaff’s favorite, the fortified Spanish wines known as “sack” in Tudor times – than of beer. While a song in The Winter’s Tale declares that “a quart of ale is a dish for a king,” one of Hamlet’s gloomier meditations posits the fate of having his remains used as a clay bung or stopper in a beer barrel as the most ignominious possible ending for Alexander the Great. Shakespeare uses the term “small beer” dismissively, as it is still occasionally used today, just as we say “weak tea” to mean something unimpressive or inconsequential.
There are historical reasons for this: In the Bard’s day, “small” beer was thinner than ale and needed more hops to prevent it from souring quickly. It also had such low alcohol content that it was routinely served to children at meals. “Double beer,” brewed strong enough to survive the sea voyage to the West Indies without spoiling, fares a little better in his plays: One character in Henry VI is offered double beer to bolster his courage for a duel. In any case, the microbrews widely available today are both much fresher and more robust-tasting than would have been available in Tudor-period London, so doubtless the Bard would have found much to his liking at the Shakesbeer Festival.
“I created the Shakesbeer Festival because I wanted to make these brilliant works less intimidating. The addition of a beer-tasting made the event feel contemporary and fresh,” says HVCC special events coordinator Lu Ann Kaldor. “Last year’s performance brought a whole new demographic into our community center, and we’re excited to host it yet again.” In addition to the tasting, supplied by local beer distributor Half Time’s owner, Alan Daniels, the
festivities will include a 90-minute performance of Macbeth by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Touring Company, directed by Ryan Quinn; a post-show talkback paired with dessert and dessert beers; and a “Thinking and Drinking” Shakespeare trivia game, with prizes. Culinary Institute of America students will prepare light comestible fare as well. Sounds like a feast on every level!
The second annual Shakesbeer Festival begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 19 at the Hudson Valley Community Center, located at 110 South Grand Avenue in Poughkeepsie. Tickets cost $30 for drinking-age general admission, $25 for HVCC members and $15 for patrons under age 21. They may be purchased at the door, but reservations are strongly suggested. Call (845) 471-0430 to reserve, and visit https://www.hvcommunitycenter.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/the-hudson-valley-shakesbeer-festival.
If in your book “The play’s the thing” and not the accompanying libations, you might want to check out the latest offering from the SUNY-New Paltz Theatre Department: Much Ado about Nothing, opening April 16 and running Thursdays through Sundays through April 26 at the lovely McKenna Theatre. Associate professor Frank Trezza directs, and it sounds like this production of what many consider Shakespeare’s wittiest comedy will play up the darker elements of the plot. Turning audiences’ attention away from the prickly Beatrice and Benedick’s ongoing exchange of zingers toward the melodrama of Don John’s scurrilous scheme to shame and divide Hero and Claudio is always a challenge with this play, so it will be fun to see how the cast and director manage it.
What make this production a mini-Shakespeare festival are a couple of associated events. Following the Saturday evening performance on April 18, members of the cast, crew and creative staff of the production will engage the audience in a free talkback. An extra full performance of Much Ado geared toward high school students and teachers will be presented on Wednesday, April 22 at 10 a.m. in McKenna Theatre. And a one-day symposium and performance for secondary-school teachers titled “Shakespeare and the Comic Spirit” will be held on Saturday, April 18. Contact [email protected] or (845) 257-3034 for additional information on the symposium and [email protected] for information and discounted student tickets for the special April 22 performance.
Regular performances of Much Ado about Nothing begin at 8 p.m. on April 16, 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25 and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, April 19 and 26. Ticket prices are $18 for general admission, $16 for seniors (62+), SUNY-New Paltz faculty and staff and non-SUNY-New Paltz students and $10 for SUNY-New Paltz students. The student ticket price for the April 22 performance is $10. The box office, located in Parker Theatre, is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased online at https://www.newpaltz.edu/theatre. For additional information call (845) 257- 3880 or e-mail [email protected].
Though the place doesn’t make a big deal of why April was chosen for the Sam Scripps Shakespeare Festival, the Center for the Performing Arts at Rhinebeck has been hosting the Bardic bash for nine years now, so it almost goes without saying that this is Shakespeare Month for Rhinebeckers. This year’s dramatic centerpiece is an all-male production of Othello, contrasting contemporary costumes by Grace Obee with a recreation of the Globe Theatre set designed by Broadway scenic artist Richard Prouse.
Lou Trapani directs, and the cast includes Marcus Gregio as the great Moorish general tortured by jealousy, Joe Eriole as Iago, Kevin Archambault as Desdemona, Brandon Argento as Cassio, Brian Kubsch as Roderigo and Joshuah Patriarco as Emilia. It should be interesting to see if the violence of the play’s grim final act seems less topical and more “universal” when it’s cast as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day: with men playing the roles of the female victims of Iago’s villainy.
Othello opened at the Center on April 10, but you can still catch performances beginning at 8 p.m. on Fridays, April 17 and 24 and Saturday, April 25, or a 3 p.m. Sunday matinée on April 19. For those who prefer cheerier fare, sharing the stage this Saturday, April 18 at 8 p.m. will be Shakespeare on Broadway: a musical revue featuring songs from Bard-inspired shows like West Side Story, Kiss Me Kate, The Boys from Syracuse and Two Gentleman of Verona. Cat Barney, Maria Hickey, Victoria Howland, Zack Marshall, Jim Nurre, Henry George Staats III and Elizabeth Thomas are the performers; Kevin Archambault directs and Paul and JoAnne Schubert do the musical direction. Tickets for Othello and Shakespeare on Broadway cost $24 general admission, $22 for seniors and children and can be purchased by calling (845) 876-3080 or following the Vendini link at https://www.centerforperformingarts.org.
Capping off the Sam Scripps Shakespeare Festival on Sunday, April 26 at 3 p.m. will be a free interactive event called Speaking Shakespeare, in which everyone is invited to join Trapani on the Globe Stage to read aloud their favorite scenes or monologues from the works of the Bard. It’s billed as a “low-key, no-pressure event,” but you need to lug along your own First Folio or more portable copy of the Shakespeare work from which you would like to read. Considering that, although he was paid by aristocratic patrons, the Bard was really writing for us groundlings, that participatory event might just turn out to be the most enjoyable way to celebrate his birthday of all.
Shakesbeer Festival, Sunday, April 19, 3 p.m., $30/$24/$15, Hudson Valley Community Center, 110 South Grand Avenue, Poughkeepsie; (845) 471-0430, https://www.hvcommunitycenter.com, https://www.facebook.com/pages/the-hudson-valley-shakesbeer-festival.
Much Ado about Nothing, April 16-26, Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., $18/$16/$10, McKenna Theatre, SUNY-New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz; (845) 257- 3880, https://www.newpaltz.edu/theatre.
Othello, Friday/Saturday, April 17, 24/25, 8 p.m., Sunday, April 19, 3 p.m., $24/$22; Shakespeare on Broadway, Saturday, April 18, 8 p.m., $24/$22; Speaking Shakespeare, Sunday, April 26, 3 p.m., free; Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308, Rhinebeck, (845) 876-3080, https://www.centerforperformingarts.org.