A Festival of Theater & Song
Byrdcliffe Theater in Woodstock, NY
You don't know this, but my husband is always getting tickets for concerts of every kind. Most of the time we go, though we don't know the artist or artists. Most of the time the performance is much better than I thought it would be. But this time he bought a pass for a number of unusual sounding performances in Woodstock, called Woodstock Fringe, which is almost two hours away from us. I thought the pass was free, but it turned out to be $75. If I had known it had cost that much when he told us about the shows I might have had a different attitude when we left. He didn't tell me the price until I found it out when we got there.
"I thought it was free," I said as I read $75 on the pass.
"No, what I meant was that you buy one pass and get into all the performances like they were free."
Now "like they were free" and free are worlds apart, but I'm happy to report that in this case it was a bargain! We arrived for the 2PM show about a half hour early. So we picnicked in our car on ready made salads gotten at a local supermarket. The drive up to the theater reminded me of going to camp. It was a long, winding and narrow road designated by a jaunty "Ahoy" banner at the turnoff to the theater. But the anticipation is worth it.
The Byrdcliffe Theater located on Upper Byrdcliffe Road in Woodstock, NY appears at the top of the hill. Made entirely of wood, the theater is as tall as the trees. You feel immediately welcome from the no-frills architecture and the friendly service from the ticket people. All we had to do was show our passes and we received a ticket for each performance. The lobby has a giant mural showing scenes from two operas. In the back there is an exhibit showing the history of Woodstock in pictures. Before and after the performances and during intermissions coffee, soda, and water as well as three kinds of cookies including peanut butter, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin are available for the low price of a dollar for each for two cookies.
The actual theater has both floor seating with raised stadium type seats of the folding kind, and a balcony with outside stairway. We chose to sit close and believe me you are very close to the stage no matter where you sit on the floor. The stadium type seating allows for an almost unobstructed view, which is rare in any theater setting.:) Also, the acoustics are excellent. I wasn't sure if the performers wore microphones or not. The stage is very close and sets are sparse, but the stagecraft is evident. Most importantly the seats are comfortable.
This is an Actors Equity Theater, which means that they only employ people who are in Actors Equity Association. The productions are polished and not much different from seeing a performance in an off Broadway theater. I was very pleasantly surprised when we saw the first play, "The Night the Cardiff Giant Sang Rossini on the Lawn" by Charles R. Traeger. As soon as I saw Norman Marshall in a top hat and tailcoat step up in front of us and tap his cane on the floor after pointing to an image behind him I knew this wouldn't be an ordinary play. As a matter of fact, it wasn't and my husband and I both enjoyed ourselves very much. The acting is so good you almost believe that you are watching real people in real situations. Yet after the performance the actors are extremely accessible and come out and mingle with the audience. There is a refreshing lack of pretense here as performers and audience mix everywhere.:) It reminded me a lot of the kind of experience we get when we got to folk festivals.
But in the end a theater is only as good as its actors and performances. The Byrdcliffe Theater excels in both categories. The best part about Woodstock Fringe performances is that you can go to as many as you want if you have a pass. So the next performance we saw was "Out of the Box" with Bob Berky. Also it was written and performed by him as well. He is a mime, but his comedy is broad and pure American. He came out playing a kazoo and didn't stop playing it for the whole time he was on stage. He communicated with the kazoo and directed people as well using kazoo toots. He used everything from plungers to ballet skirts in his act.:) At the end of the performance he got two people onstage and directed them to do things with only his hands and kazoo toots.:) It was really kind of amazing to see it. He did juggling and mime too. One thing he did was to mimic one of those strongmen lifting a very heavy weight. His body control was terrific! The audience laughed at everything and the place was pretty much full making for a very enjoyable audience experience too.:)
After the performance he came off the stage, which is not very raised, and walked toward the audience. Bob Berky thanked he audience in a kind of speaking encore and then left with a flourish.
We had an hour to wait for the next thing, which was called, "Evenings of Music, Humor & Wisdom". I got into an interesting discussion of my favorite subject, how testing is ruining teaching, with another teacher and a gentleman I didn't know. He seemed really interested in speaking about the subject too. So I just thought he was an audience member. I was surprised to see him introduced from the audience by the moderator of the show as someone who had invented a very unusual musical instrument.:) Do you see what I mean? You could never know if the person with whom you had struck up a conversation was involved in the group or not.
The last performance which was more of a panel discussion, began with the moderator and creator of the idea, Joe Raiola, who told us a very sad story of how almost all of his appliances began to break and his disappointment with the various places with which he dealt. I kept laughing, because as he mentioned a situation I had been there and done that.:) I began to see that my life is really fodder for comedy. I should just feed everything that happens to me into a comedian's mind and see what happens.:) But seriously, this poor guy had every appliance from washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc. have a problem and had to wait for the repair guy to come. The worst was when his computer, not a Mac, broke and he had to call India to speak with one of the tech guys there. I have also been in that situation. :)
Then the actress/comedian, Denny Dillon, was introduced and she still looks so cute with her short cropped blonde hair and that voice. If you remember she was on "Saturday Night Live" and also on "Dream On" with Brian Ben Ben. She just finished doing "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"at the Berkshire Theater. She still has that sweet baby voice and is just delightful both onstage and off. Denny Dillon was in "United 93", which I didn't see and which she said she didn't see either.:) But she is also an artist and has an opening scheduled for her artwork. She has a gallery in Stone Ridge, NY, where she lives now, called The Drawing Room. If you are anywhere near there try to go just to meet her. I always liked her on TV and she doesn't disappoint in person. I told her I was going to put something about her in my blog so I hope she will read it.:)
Marshall Crenshaw was the next performer and he played his guitar and sang his way onto the stage. I think this is the reason my husband got the passes in the first place.:) It was interesting to see a performer in such a setting, because unlike on TV he sat there and was able to comment on everything that was said after he was interviewed as was Denny Dillon. They both sat on a comfortable sofa and it was more like eavesdropping on a group in someone's home than a stage panel.
The last person to join the panel was Stephen Rechtschaffen, the head of the Omega Institute, which is a huge complex devoted to wellness and meditation. After a fairly relaxed and non-serious beginning the panel discussion veered into health insurance reform and it seemed that everyone in the audience had the same feelings. Everyone wants single payer health insurance and Stephen R. discussed how our country is so far behind in almost every area of health care.
He discussed the beginning of the Omega Institute and then talked about prevention as a major part of health care. To the credit of the moderator, the discussion managed to stay on an even keel and Marshall Crenshaw told us that he has to pay for his health insurance though he gets it from the Musician's Union. Denny Dillon also said that she gets hers from Actor's Equity. The whole panel agreed that there needed to be reform in health care and then Marshall Crenshaw sang another song, the host thanked everyone and the panel was over.
Afterward we were able to meet the performers and that was a real treat. We were both exhausted and hungry when we got back into our car for the drive home. But we certainly got our money's worth. We saw three performances that were very different and held our interest and were there from 2PM to 9PM. Now that's what I call a bargain.:) Next time we will find a place close by to stay so we won't have to drive home in the dark.
The performances are running through September 6th. If you are in the New York City area or you are near Albany, it's easy to get there. This is a rare experience that has been happening in Woodstock for years. It was our first time there, but I know it won't be our last. We are planning to go back for the readings.:) I just hope it stays dry, because the rain was the only problem we had.
Until the next time, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought of this post. Also, thank you to my new readers and of course to the readers who have been following me for awhile.
I will be talking a lot about my upcoming show for Red River Writers on Blog Talk Radio. It is called "Tales from the Pages" and I will be interviewing writers who have published short stories and articles. I will also be interviewing publishers of magazines and ezines. In addition, I will be reading from my own adult stories. When will this be on Blog Talk Radio? Tune in on the 4th Thursday of every month. We will be debuting on Thursday, September 24th. The first show is going to be one hour earlier due to my needing to go see So You Think You Can Dance Live in New Jersey.:) See what I mean about my life? It never rains but pours.:) We got the tickets months ago when the show ended and they went on sale.
Who thought at the beginning of the summer that I would be hosting my own radio show? Please mark your calendars so you can hear my voice.:) First show: 2PM Central, 3PM Eastern. All the rest of the shows will start at 3PM Central, 4PM Eastern. If you want to be on the show, you should have either short stories or articles published somewhere either in print or online. Send me a message on the Blog Talk Radio page. I have a lot of possible guests who want to be on the show and the first show is already set. But please, let me know. You may have to wait awhile. There is a lot of interest by short story writers, who rarely get recognized. That is the whole idea of this show, to give attention to authors who are not book writers. I'm very excited about it!