July 29, 2014

‘Shakespeare in the Sanctuary’ will debut in Mount Kisco

Shakespeare in the Sanctuary at Westmoreland Sanctuary, Bedford, N.Y., July 26-28.
Shakespeare in the Sanctuary at Westmoreland Sanctuary, Bedford, N.Y., July 26-28.

Morgan Sullivan (Pleasantville) plays Puck; in tree is Jacob Miller (Bedford) playing mortal boy; Olivia Cote, head turned, of Croton plays Hermia; Livi Perrone, Helena, from Cornwall; Amanda Long (in back) from Carmel; Joshua Miller (Bedford) plays a Sprite called Dragon; Denise Simon, South Salem, director; Jacob Weisberger from Somers plays Mulberry.

Fans of outdoor Shakespeare will have another opportunity to indulge their pleasure this weekend as Westmoreland Sanctuary, Nature Center and Wildlife Preserve in Mount Kisco, N.Y., presents four performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, at 7, Saturday, July 27, at 2, and Sunday, July 28, at 1. The sanctuary’s 640-acre grounds will open 1-1/2 hours before each performance for picnicking, and strolling jugglers will help get audience members in the spirit of the play. Tickets are $20 ($17.50 for Westmoreland members) and should be purchased in advance.

The show is being directed by Denise Simon of South Salem, N.Y., an acting coach, director and career consultant who has has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years as an actress, teacher, director, and personal talent manager. She is also a weekly contributing expert to Backstage.com magazine.

“It was Westmoreland director Michele Miller’s idea to bring Shakespeare to the sanctuary, like New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, and I was delighted to be asked to be involved,” Ms. Simon said. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a show that needs to be done outside; I’ve been in it twice and have always wanted to direct it. This is a first on a lot of levels… Westmoreland Sanctuary and nature preserve is such a gem, but a lot of people don’t know about it; we hope this helps to introduce it to more people.”

Explaining in an e-mail why she initiated Shakespeare in the Sanctuary, billed as “Westchester’s only outdoor Shakespeare Festival,” Ms. Miller said, “Theater and nature have been two of my obsessions since I was in middle school; I was a ‘theater geek’ in high school and college, although I left that behind when I pursued my master’s and doctorate — in anthropology/archaeology. Later, however, I turned back to theater as a playwright and in administration in off-Broadway theater. Shakespeare in the Sanctuary is sort of a dream project for me that combines both my love for theater and for nature.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an obvious choice, as in the play the woods are a magical place where all sorts of enchantment is possible — and I see our woods at Westmoreland as equally magical where wonderful, enchanting creatures such as an elusive bobcat, an ephemeral spring wildflower or fledgling bird live if only we keep our eyes open for them.

“Westmoreland Sanctuary currently serves about 20,000 people annually with environmental education and conservation programs — things like nature walks or bird banding — but with Shakespeare I hope to reach out to people who might not otherwise choose to go out into nature…. Hopefully they will be encouraged to come back again. And finally, Shakespeare is also a fund-raiser for the sanctuary, to help us support our environmental education programs which we offer to schools, scouts and other organizations as well as the public free or very low fee.”

Ms. Simon calls the Westmoreland production “a collaboration of nature and theater; the nature piece is unique. And the way everything fell into place was magical,” she continued. “Everyone was their part; a local theater company loaned us their costumes. People have been wonderful; it has turned into a true community-wide event. Everyone involved is a team player.”

Although presented in traditional language and costuming, this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a one-hour, family-friendly adaptation to which Westmoreland’s nature educator and assistant director Ray Rosenblum of Ridgefield has added some content, including additional fairies who share some facts about nature. It also features original music.

The 27 cast members range in age from six to sixty-plus and are a mix of professionals and amateurs. One of the actors, Jack Tartaglia from Yorktown Heights, who portrays Lysander, played a fairy in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park in New York City when he was a child and is happy to be back in this play in an adult role. Other leads are being portrayed by Judson Scruton of Redding, Egeus; Sam Bass of Danbury (formerly of Ridgefield), Bottom; Liza Dealey of New York City, Titania; Laurence Bierkowitz of Yonkers, Oberon; Joe Blute of Eastchester, Demetrius; Livi Perrone of Cornwall, N.Y., Helena; Olivia Cote of Croton, Hermia; and Steel Swift of Bedford, N.Y., Quince.

In keeping in the family fun nature of the presentation, audience members are invited to “come in costume and revel in the merriment. Bring a lawn chair,” said Ms. Simon, “most of the action will be in the picnic area, and there will be some audience participation. The play ends with a campfire and everyone is invited to roast marshmallows.”

And while “the outdoor theater is really magnificent, we do have a wonderful indoor space in the event of rain that can accommodate about 100 people.”

Westmoreland Sanctuary is at 260 Chestnut Ridge Road, Mount Kisco. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit westmorelandsanctuary.org or call 914-666-8448. For more information about Denise Simon, visit simoncoachinggroup.com.