Actress, playwright and former Psychology professor Grace Kiley had long been haunted by the personality of her near-namesake, Grace Kelly, and finally gave in to the urge to write about her with Longing for Grace, a one-woman show in which she plumbs the humanity underlying the actress’s glamorous exterior by imagining her as a guest at her own funeral. The show premiered last November at the United Solo Festival in New York City and was a smash success, winning three awards. Longing for Grace is just one of the gems that will be performed at the second annual Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts, held June 14 through 16, before Kiley takes it to the Edinburgh Festival.
This year’s Festival will be distinguished by a wide variety of performances that collectively honor the community’s legacy of culture and introduce local audiences to cutting-edge, nationally recognized artists at the top of their game, according to Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild executive director Matthew Leaycraft. Cleek Schrey will coax new sounds and interpretations out of traditional fiddle music, accompanied by experimental vocalist Gelsey Bell. Jess Smith, a director dividing her time between New York and Seattle, will take the audience indoors and out in Home Stretch, a site-specific installation and performance inspired by a Robert Frost poem featuring a man, a woman and a deer. Environment and costume designer Deb O worked 18 years in a car factory before earning an MFA in Theater Design at Yale and subsequently designing large-scale, elaborate sets for numerous distinguished directors. 8 the Play, by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black, is based on the true-life story of two gay couples who challenged California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex couples from getting married; it’ll feature local actors and students from the Yale School of Drama, with proceeds benefiting the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston.
Lucas Handwerker will mesmerize audiences with his mental acrobatics, which unlock the hidden potential of the mind. Storyteller Gioia Timpanelli will demonstrate that the spoken word has lost none of its cathartic power, even in this digital age. Spoken text and video will be woven into the dance performance of Donald Dunn, a Merce Cunningham alum, and his dancers, while Paul Green, founder and former president of the School of Rock, will put on a late-night performance of that perennial pop favorite, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Choreographer and visual artist Clyde Forth will break down the fourth wall in her piece, The Curious Mechanics of Truth, with the help of flashlights handed out to the audience; Forth, whose Clyde Forth Visual Theater company has performed in New York City and other East Coast cities as well as Edinburgh, teaches dance at SUNY-Ulster and in her studio in Mount Tremper.
The lineup of artists from outside the community will be ably matched by standout performers and writers from the region. The Woodstock Players will present the world premiere of Carey Harrison’s new play, Hitler’s Therapist. (Sounds like a hopeless case.) Happy Traum will perform with his son Adam – who lives in California and thus is hardly ever around – and daughter April. Rounding out the performances will be an offering from the Woodstock Writers’ Festival, Snap, Cackle, Pop: An Evening of Comedy, starring J. R. Havlan, writer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Patrick Carlin.
This year’s festival will be timed to coincide with two visual art exhibitions: The opening of “Gimme Shelter,” a sculpture exhibition that opens on July 15 at White Pines, the former residence of Byrdcliffe founder Ralph Whitehead, and “Artist Unknown/The Free World,” an ongoing exhibition of images of vernacular photography found online by artists John D. Monteith and Oliver Wasow, at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts. All in all, in presenting work that is “traditional and untraditional in format, that ranges from very high culture to pop,” as Leaycraft puts it, and enriched by the visual art exhibitions, the second annual Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts promises to be not only thought-provoking, but also lots of fun.
Tickets cost $20 per performance and can be purchased online or at the door; Festival Passes for all performances cost $100. A $175 fundraising dinner at Cucina on July 15 at 6:30 p.m. includes a Festival Pass.