Outstanding Ensemble Emphasizes Creative Freedom & Pay it Forward in its ‘Artistic Homeplace’
To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Or, to be at the Phoenix Festival: Live Arts in Nyack or not to be: that is the real question. And the answer? Yes.
After being postponed for two years because of the pandemic, the first annual Phoenix Festival: Live Arts in Nyack, NyackArtsFestival.com will take place on weekends from September 16 through October 16, showcasing carefully selected productions meant to resonate with people and lift their spirits. All performances will be held outdoors at the Marydell Faith and Life Center in Upper Nyack and the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center in the heart of the village.
“When we moved to Nyack, and particularly over the pandemic, we were watching as everyone was struggling to keep going,” Phoenix Ensemble Artistic Director Elise Stone said. “Hopefully the art uplifts everyone, and we all need psychological and emotional uplifting after the past couple of years..”
Elise and her husband Craig Smith, the managing director of the ensemble, are both long time actors and theater enthusiasts who actually met, got married and worked together at their old repertory. After years of wanting to be involved in something more artist-driven, they founded the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble in 2004, a multi award-winning, not-for-profit organization.
The ensemble prides itself in not only the work they do, which is primarily classical theater (which means more than just Shakespeare), but also in the creative freedom they give to their actors, directors, designers, writers and others on the team. If one of their costume designers has an idea for a show, they’re all ears. At Phoenix, everyone has a voice.
Their goal with forming the ensemble was to create an artistic homeplace. And after moving to Nyack in 2018, they both saw the potential it had and became convinced that there was no better place to not only get the local and extended community involved with the arts, but to get involved with the community itself, which is one of their core values.
They started producing benefits and shows for organizations such as the Rockland Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education and the Nyack Library. The idea of a festival soon came to mind, and this fall it will finally come to fruition.
For the past few years, Smith and Stone began building an infrastructure to support the Festival by reaching out to political representatives and collaborating with local organizations such as VisitNyack.org and listening to merchants and businesses on how this Festival can work for everyone.
They even specifically scheduled the shows to be in the daytime to allow attendees time to explore Nyack and all the mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, and activities that the village has to offer later in the evening.
According to the results from a commissioned study by Brockport Research Institute of 2,000 tri-state arts enthusiasts and Rockland residents, $184,000 will be spent at local shops per 500 attendees. Smith projects that number to actually triple, which means that the festival would bring in half a million dollars to the community.
“Even though we’ve been in Nyack for four years, we were concerned that we would be thought of as the newcomers in a way,” Stone said. “Being part of a community is a key tenet of the ensemble, and we feel that we are part of [it] now and we want to give back to this community.”
Come One, Come All
But, just because the event is in Rockland County doesn’t mean that the event is only for those in the area. It’s for everyone and anyone!
“We’re hoping that people will come and see how close a world class performance is to them,” Stone said. “Whether you’re coming from Westchester or Jersey or from Rockland, a first-class professional theater experience is available right here.”
And as she wants to remind those in Westchester, “we’re right across the bridge!”
Headlining the program are three classic plays: The Skin of Our Teeth, an “epic” humorous tale of the “triumph of the human spirit,” The Importance of Being Earnest, the “funniest play ever written in the English language” (according to Stone) and Chekhov’s rarely performed gem The Harmfulness of Tobacco.
The Children’s Shakespeare Theater and the Rockland Symphony Orchestra will also be performing, so there will truly be something for everyone. The Festival’s audio walking tour incorporating augmented reality, AR Adventures, Digital Dreaming, is available free of charge and will be a special experience.
Both Stone and Smith believe that art should always be available and there should never be an obstacle in the way of that, be it financially or geographically. Because of that, they have a “pay it forward” program in place to give tickets to families who can’t afford the full-price and are working on a program for public school students. Additionally, they will have a shuttle bus available from downtown Nyack to Marydell in Upper Nyack. Like they said, it takes a village to be able to put together a festival like this. Corporate sponsors and individual donations are still being accepted.
Visit nyackartsfestival.com/become-a-sponsor to learn more about becoming a sponsor for the event. For further information regarding family discounts and student programs, contact Craig Smith at Craig@PhoenixTheatreEnsemble.org or 917-717-1617.
For more details and ticket purchases, visit NyackArtsFestival.com. Early bird ticket purchasers get special discounts. Ticket buyers should use the code WEST when ordering. As Stone put it, this experience allows you to witness the artists and the audience breathing together into a story.
So, to be at the festival or not to be at the festival…is that even a question?