From a perennial hotbed of UFO sightings on the western flank of the Shawangunks to Aleister Crowley’s island retreat in Esopus to innumerable reputedly haunted old homes and cemeteries, the mid-Hudson Valley has its share and more of sites associated with the occult, the unexplained and the just-plain-weird. You’d think that folks who make their living from the arts and tourism would mine this rich motherlode of creepy tales more often than just around Halloween; but most years, pretty much all of the events and activities that entertain through the raising of goosebumps are crammed into that narrow time window from late September to early November when the Veil between worlds is thin.
What that tight schedule means, practically speaking, is that most of us miss most of those events. But why compartmentalize the fun? Why not spread the chiller theatre around a bit more broadly, even making it part of the Valley’s draw for summer visitors?
Well, now someone has done just that: Poughkeepsie’s Half Moon Theatre (HMT) is one of the growing number of community-based theatrical enterprises that put on annual festivals of short plays showcasing the talents of the region’s dramatists. Sometimes these festivals are thematic catchalls, but occasionally they’re organized around some common thread like comedy, dysfunctional families, the anniversary of some historic event; the Rosendale Theatre recently hosted a competition in which every playlet had to reference the Theatre itself in some way, for example. This summer, Half Moon has hit on the brilliant notion of clustering short plays that milk the region’s connections with the phantasmagorical. The 2014 Ten-Minute Play Festival is titled “Paranormal in Poughkeepsie,” and it materializes this weekend, June 6 to 8, at HMT’s spiffy new Black Box Theatre in the Oakwood Commons office building on Route 9.
The choice of theme “actually started out as a discussion of the great literature of the Hudson Valley and how often it turned to the macabre or fanciful,” according to Darrah Cloud, co-director of HMT’s Writers’ Constellation group. “Then fate landed like a spaceship in our yards: The Poughkeepsie Journal ran an article about a group of people who were raising money to erect a statue in honor of Ed Wood, Hollywood’s worst and weirdest director, a native son. Do we hear inspiration?”
Cloud’s contribution to the festival lineup, The Day Tower Pizza Stood Still, involves an insectoid alien who walks into a pizza parlor in Pine Plains and finds romance with a local pest control technician. In fact, many of the short plays in “Paranormal in Poughkeepsie” are set in recognizable mid-Hudson locations: the Omega Institute, Coyote Grill, the Beekman Arms, the Poughkeepsie train station. And several of them deal directly with the improbable life and questionable legacy of Ed Wood himself. Actress/playwright Martina Deignan wrote a play set in the filmmaker’s childhood home at 115 Franklin Street, The Woods of Poughkeepsie, that focuses on Wood’s relationship with his parents. “From what I can tell, his mother was a little eccentric,” says Deignan. Big surprise.
Writers’ Constellation co-director David Simpatico is contributing Plan Ten from Dutchess County: a parody of what has been called the “worst movie ever made,” Ed Wood’s Plan Nine from Outer Space. Actress/playwright Jennifer Skura wrote In Ed We Trust, a fictionalized sketch of the kind of people attracted to the Church of Ed Wood, which exists in real life. “How could anyone take a bite out of the Ed Wood legacy and come up empty?” asks Skura, praising the director’s “off-kilter sensibility and blind self-confidence, as well as his bravery in following his own path.”
“I don’t want to give away any surprises, but each play has a special moment,” promises Simpatico, who’s credited as the supervising director for “Paranormal in Poughkeepsie.” “I hope everyone comes to see these fun, entertaining and thought-provoking plays. They were all written just for this festival, and they represent a cross-cutting of styles, themes and content.”
Performances for Half Moon Theatre’s fourth annual Ten-Minute Play Festival begin at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, June 6 and 7, with a 2 p.m. matinée on Sunday, June 8. The Black Box Theatre is located at 2515 South Road (Route 9) on the ground floor of the Oakwood Commons office building, tucked behind the Red Robin restaurant. Tickets cost $20 and may be purchased by calling (800) 838-3006 or online at https://halfmoontheatre.org.
“Paranormal in Poughkeepsie” Ten-Minute Play Festival, Saturday/Sunday, June 6/7, 8 p.m., Sunday, June 8, 2 p.m., $20, Half Moon Theatre’s Black Box Theatre, 2515 South Road, Poughkeepsie; (800) 838-3006, https://halfmoontheatre.org.