By Amy Krzanik
Take two professional theater directors, add one award-winning playwright, one Hudson River School painter’s visually jaw-dropping home and a person who’s keen to share it with others, and what do you get? A unique, immersive event, but one that can only be experienced for a limited time. Olana, the estate of the late painter Frederic Edwin Church, will host Performing Olana
from Friday, Sept. 22 through Sunday, Sept. 24. The play was written by nationally recognized stage and screenwriter Darrah Cloud, and is being co-directed by Jeffrey Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi of the Ancram Opera House with help from The Olana Partnership’s Director of Education Amy Hufnagel. Created to be performed on the Olana grounds, the work of historical fiction draws from Church’s paintings, letters and family life, and tackles the big question of how to live artfully in rapidly changing and polarized times.
Audiences will move through the landscape with the actors, traversing the site’s orchard, barns, lake, meadows and forest. The idea is that each stop, each vignette, will resemble a living painting.
The questions posed by the play — “How do you live an artful life?” and “How do you create meaningful experiences for yourself?” — are ones Hufnagel believes Church was trying to answer during his time at Olana. “I contend that a lot of us ask that question,” she says, “and certainly people who have chosen to live in the Hudson Valley.”
Playwright Darrah Cloud, known for her work documenting women’s lives, will focus in on Frederic Church's wife, Isabel, and her mother for this piece, telling stories that never make it into Olana’s normal property tours. “With a theater project, we can really go into untold narratives,” says Hufnagel. “A site like Olana should never have one story, one official house tour. We should always be adding voices, handing interpretation over to other people. My experience to date has been that amazing things happen when you do that.”
Performing Olana: Frederic Church living his art
Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Rt. 9G, Hudson, NY
Friday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 23 & Sunday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Member: $10, Non-Member: $15, Family (up to 5): $40.
Pre-registration is recommended, as only 30 people will be allowed at each performance.