How many Arts Festivals can claim that their first festival has been over a hundred years in the making? This summer’s inaugural Byrdcliffe Festival of the Arts, hosted by America’s oldest continuous arts colony, comes as a fitting climax to Byrdcliffe’s extraordinary history. For four generations the Byrdcliffe Colony has been a center of pilgrimage for so many painters, potters, writers, dancers and musicians that it’s a miracle no-one ever decreed a festival before.
This summer’s events focus on the performing arts. It leaves a regrettable omission: Byrdcliffe’s primary tradition, its contribution to the decorative arts. It is to be hoped that future Byrdcliffe Festivals will include the fine arts, painting, sculpture, print & ceramics: the whole panoply of art inspired by Byrdcliffe in its wonderful woodland setting. Thomas Mann sat and wrote here, as did Wallace Stevens. Isadora Duncan danced here. Joanne Woodward and Helen Hayes graced the Byrdcliffe Theater stage, and the celebrated director, Jose Quintero, the supreme interpreter of Eugene O’Neill’s work, cut his teeth at the Byrdcliffe Theater.
Beginning on Friday July 13 and spanning the weekend of Saturday July 14 and Sunday July 15, Byrdcliffe’s signature venues will bring the Festival to life. At the Kleinert James Arts Center in Woodstock, on Upper Byrdcliffe Road at the Byrdcliffe Theater, the Byrdcliffe Barn, and the Loom Room at White Pines, a cornucopia of performances will occur.
For fans of dance, the Clyde Forth Visual Theater, led by choreographer/performer Clyde Forth, brings to the festival her daring improvisational technique, widely seen by North American audiences, with its intimate investigations of character and atmosphere.
The Co-founders of the Phoenicia International Festival of The Voice, the internationally acclaimed opera singers, Maria Todaro (Opera Nacional di Rio di Janiero), Louis Otey (Metropolitan Opera) and Kerry Henderson (Opera Australia) are promising a unique and uplifting vocal concert consisting of Opera excerpts from Vivaldi to Bernstein. The presence of these great singers is an exceptional opportunity for those of us who can’t afford visits to the Met to hear voices of this caliber. Also involved are pianists Doug Martin, and the Festival of the Voice’s special guest, remarkable classical pianist Justin Kolb.
Theater is well represented by Shauna Kanter’s accomplished VOICETheater company, which is premiering its production of Brian Friel’s play, Lovers, featuring an astonishingly mature young actress, Lachlan Brooks. Followers of Woodstock’s New Genesis company will know her from her fine performance as Hamlet last year. The Woodstock Players are also re-mounting this summer’s Carey Harrison premiere, Hedgerow Specimen, with a strong cast that includes an as yet undiscovered gem, a performer not to be missed: Holly Graff, who recently played Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and revealed one of the most gifted young actresses of her generation.
The Woodstock Film Festival, with co-founder and Executive Director Meira Blaustein at the helm, brings Why Stop Now. The film is written and directed by Hudson Valley residents Phil Dorling and Academy Award nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner and stars Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan. Writers have plenty to sink their teeth into, as well. Under Martha Frankel’s direction, the wildly successful Woodstock Writer’s Festival offers two tempting events, one on the art of the memoir and the other on the state of social media. For music fans, Paul Green, founder of the School of Rock, the Festival’s Executive Producer, has created an evening of shimmering music: the songs of Jesus Christ Superstar, to be performed at the Byrdcliffe Barn by renowned musicians and singers of every stripe. And the climactic event of the Festival is Happy Traum’s 100th birthday tribute to Woody Guthrie, also at the Byrdcliffe Barn.
Surrounding events, adding a fringe of impressive variety to the Festival, include workshops from Shauna Kanter and Carey Harrison, on voice and playwriting respectively, Garry Kvistad’s ever-glorious Drum Boogie Festival, music from Connor Kennedy and Friends, Gioia Timpanelli’s acclaimed story-telling, Lucas Handwerker’s mentalist feats, Inyo Charbonneau’s salsa workshop, the Too Much Information project of sizzling monologues, and more.
Go to www.byrdcliffefestival.org for times, places, and more details of what’s on offer from July 13 to 15. It certainly looks as if this festival will do Byrdcliffe proud, and confirm Woodstock’s role as the premier center for the arts in the North East. It has long been a place of pilgrimage for those in the know, and soon everyone will know. So book now while prices are still modest, which they currently are, at $20 per event, $18 for seniors and students at the door (cash or checks only), with a six-shows-for-the-cost-of-five Festival Pass that ensures a seat at Happy Traum’s Woody Guthrie bash plus the Friday Opening Party at the Kleinert James Art Center, and Friday night’s Festival Cabaret at the Colony Cafe, the latter featuring such established favorites as Mik and Gilles, Audrey Rapoport, Sharon Breslau and guests.