New black box theater in New Paltz prepares for first season of plays this fall

Ben Williamson and Brittany Proia of the new Denizen Theater. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Two regional premieres and a world premiere are in store for Paltzonians this fall, as the Denizen Theatre takes shape on the upper level of the Water Street Market. We were recently treated to a tour of this brand-new “black box” performance space, its public areas and the backstage rooms where the behind-the-scenes magic happens. You can’t see it from the street, but stand in front of the waterfall in the middle of the market and look up: That concrete-and-glass cube will soon be finished, bringing new plays to our downtown.

The main entry to the Denizen Theatre is on the west side of the building, facing the parking lot that plays host in some years to the Hudson Valley Chalk Festival. Right now there’s a tall chain-link fence preventing access, awaiting completion of guardrails along the concrete outdoor deck that overlooks the Market. Through the main entrance is a vestibule/airlock; through a second door, toward the east side of the building, one enters a lobby with a bench made from a 300-year-old slab of cured teakwood, two bathrooms (one handicapped-accessible), a drinking fountain and wall space intended to hang the work of local artists.


Moving northward, one enters the high-ceilinged performance space, which is literally painted black and designed for maximal flexibility in terms of staging and grouping of seats. “The energy of this room is really exciting for me,” enthuses tour guide Ben Williamson, Denizen’s co-artistic director. He points out different ways in which the room might be configured, depending on the visual needs of a particular dramatic production; the space can accommodate an audience of up to 60.

Behind the performance space itself lie two dressing rooms, the elevated booth where a production manager will orchestrate action, lighting and sound and a rehearsal space/meeting room that brings the floor plan full circle back to the vestibule. As yet, it all seems rather bare and echoey, but Williamson promises that the acoustics will be finished, along with the décor, in time for the inaugural season that begins in October. “This will be a breeding ground for the next wave of powerful live theater,” he says.

In selecting the first three plays to be presented, the artistic team consisting of Williamson, Brittany Proia and Water Street Market owner Harry Lipstein sought “work that explores what means to be human in all its duality and complexity… The first three are all about connecting,” Williamson says. First up, scheduled to open on October 11 and run through November 4, is William Francis Hoffman’s Cal in Camo, previously seen only at Manhattan’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and in Chicago. Set in rural Illinois, the play “explores the nature of fractured family bonds and offers insights into how the wounds of our past irrevocably impact our capacity for sustaining human connection.” Williamson terms it “a contemporary Death of a Salesman.” Stephen Nachamie will direct.

From December 6 to 30, the Denizen Theatre will stage the world premiere of Adaptive Radiation. This “alternative comedy,” meant to speak especially to Millennials, was written by Hannah Benitez, a young playwright whom Williamson and Proia met in St. Petersburg, Florida — where they also first met each other, while studying theater at the Asolo Conservatory. He calls it “whimsical and magical…the lightest of the three.”

The first season rounds out with the regional premiere of The Arsonists by Jacqueline Goldfinger, slated to run from January 31 to February 24, 2019. It’s described as “a lyrical Gothic tale, inspired by Electra, in which a father and daughter — poets, musicians, singers, storytellers — on the run from the law, must learn to let go.”

Though a not-for-profit organization, Denizen hires both union and non-union actors, and “Everyone will be paid,” Williamson says. Casting for the first three shows was done with auditions in New Paltz, New York City and via video submissions. Future community-based performance projects including a Young Playwrights’ Festival, poetry slams and “maybe cabaret” are also on the drawing board.

Performances will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinées. The ticket price structure is designed to help build younger audiences for theatrical works: $24 for general admission, $60 for a season subscription, $15 for people under the age of 30 and $5 for students. To reserve, call (845) 303-4136 or visit

Denizen also has a Kickstarter campaign in effect, with a goal of raising $27,000 by September 16 to help launch this exciting new community amenity. To pledge your support, visit

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