Those who like their Shakespeare productions out in the cool summer night air will be heartened to hear that a new festival is taking root through the Hamptons Independent Theatre Festival, more familiarly known as HITFest.
Shakespeare@HITFest is the initiative of Joshua Perl, who started HITFest in a black-box theater space at the Bridgehampton Community House two years ago. He is taking his next endeavor not too far afield to the grounds behind the Bridgehampton School, where he will mount a three-week run of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in August.
He is aided in this endeavor by Peter Zablotsky, the co-founder and executive director of HITFest, and Shashi Balooja, an actor and producer, as director of marketing and communications. Richard Horwich, an adjunct professor of English at New York University and a theater critic for The East Hampton Star, will serve as dramaturg, a position he held at the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival and on three productions at Guild Hall, to adapt plays for the company’s performances. Peter-Tolin Baker will serve as production designer.
Mr. Perl said recently that staging Shakespeare productions had always been a long-term goal. “I have been thinking for quite a while about doing different plays in different scenarios.”
This particular idea came to him while he was helping to teach an introduction to drama class at the Bridgehampton School. “I was at the school, waiting for the class to begin and noticed the field. I said to myself, ‘Self, there should be a theater festival there.’ ”
He chose “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” because “I love this play. I played Demetrius in my late 20s and had such a good time. So much of it takes place out of doors. It made sense. There’s also the element of magic in it: the love potion, Puck turning Bottom into a donkey. I love when Shakespeare goes supernatural.”
Bottom himself is kind of an every actor, he said, full of himself and utterly convinced of his ability to play every role in the play. “I really enjoy watching who plays Bottom.”
Mr. Perl is stepping into a vacuum of sorts left by the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival in 2004. According to David Brandenberg, the artistic director of that festival, there are no firm plans for next summer aside from the festival’s regular workshop for children and teens. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve been ramping up our programming with, for example, theater-for-young-audiences productions touring to schools, like ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ which is coming this spring. We hope to have exciting news about additional summer programming for 2012.”
The lack of major funding for Mr. Perl’s vision and the economic slump have not deterred him. “When I began talking about it, people said, ‘You must be dreaming’ or ‘Are you rich?’ People must look at my life and think I must have a trust fund or not buy food. The truth is I live very economically.”
He is counting on that same frugality to make the festival viable. “My short-term goal is to bring this to the community and make some money to keep it going.” He has already won community support, he said, in the form of the school district’s permission to use the field. “It was a unanimous yes.”
Having the school as a partner has allure beyond just its central location and generous parking. Mr. Perl plans to present a version of the play targeted to young audiences in which students could be lead artists under adult supervision. “We want to get kids involved and have some say in what happens in the abridged version.” There will also be two successive one-week day camps during the final two weeks of the production with scholarships available. The play itself is well suited for younger audiences, he added.
Wolffer has been an early financial supporter and Mr. Perl said other corporate entities familiar with the offerings at HITFest have had positive reactions. “The response has been very encouraging.” In order to ensure that he can realize his vision, he is keeping the production to a bare-bones $40,000 cost.
Such a budget means being creative with things like lighting, using solar power, and recycled 12-volt lighting. “It’s about being green and repurposing, but it’s also cheap.” There will also be no special effects. “It’s fine in a way. It matches our aesthetic about text and actors, the elements of design that support that, and less about the magic of theater that Guild Hall, Bay Street, and other places do so well.” He hopes to draw actors from the community and from New York, if they can find their own housing. Mr. Baker, who has done work for retailers such as Tiffany & Co. and Nicole Miller in addition to production design and Guild Hall’s “Art of Fashion” exhibit, has a full portfolio of creative design solutions.
Mr. Perl credits Mr. Zablotsky for developing a model that allows HITFest to survive even if they don’t fill the house every night. Because the summer production will have profit sharing, the actors or anyone else in the production who sell tickets or advertising will receive a portion of those sales. Actors will also receive a stipend. “It’s not a living wage, but something.” Tickets will be sold as a suggested donation. “If you have $20 you can come, if you have nothing you can come too,” Mr. Perl said. The festival will keep its books open to public scrutiny so that backers can see how their money is spent.
While Bridgehampton is known as a bottleneck for summer traffic, Mr. Perl said the 200 people the play might attract per performance, if they’re lucky, would add only a negligible amount of traffic, particularly after 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. curtain. “Looking at it the other way around, the residents, restaurants, bars, and businesses will benefit from Bridgehampton being thought of as a cultural center, instead of a shopping destination for Staples and Kmart.” To that end, Mr. Perl hopes to develop partnerships with other cultural organizations based in the hamlet to enhance the experience.
Those who wish to become involved in the production can contact Mr. Perl at Josh@hitfest.org.