A Brief History of HRC Showcase Theatre
Subsequently HRC evolved into an entity that presents staged readings of new plays selected through a nationwide playwriting contest, perhaps the only one of its kind in the Hudson Valley. Replacing Laura Margolis as Artistic Director in 1993 was Jennifer Blood, an Associate Director and Stage Manager for the long-running soap opera “As the World Turns.” Over the next few years, owing to the influence and associations of Ms. Blood, HRC’s stages were graced by theatre and television stars such as Kim Zimmer and Paul Benedict, as well as Tony nominees Kathleen Widdoes, Larry Bryggman, and Paul Hecht, and Oscar-winner Melissa Leo. The remarkable octogenarian Faity Tuttle, who had appeared on Broadway stages with the likes of Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda and Melvyn Douglas, directed or starred in several HRC productions during the 1990s.
Actors weren’t the only luminaries to come to HRC in those early days. Two of the playwrights featured in the inaugural playwriting contest of 1993 were Ernest Thompson, author of the Oscar- and Golden Globe- winning screenplay for “On Golden Pond,” and Emmy nominee Michael Ryan, who later assumed the duties of Artistic Director.
Over time, the peregrinations of HRC brought it to such venues as North Pointe in Kinderhook, the Pleshakov Music Center, Stageworks/Hudson, Time and Space Limited (TSL), and the First Reformed Church of Hudson.
As the turn of the century approached, new leaders stepped forward. In 1999, Father Hedrick (for whom the HRC Playwriting award is named) stepped down as president, and was succeeded by the late Jan Grice. A year later cabaret singer and one-time Broadway actress Florence Hayle began a ten-year tenure as General Manager, overseeing many of the organization’s administrative details. Around the same time, Barbara Waldinger was named Artistic Director, in which capacity she continues to serve to this day. In directing HRC’s readings since the year 2000, Dr. Waldinger displays a unique approach. One innovation has been casting: she has gradually recruited more actors from the local upstate community of accomplished professionals, adding them to the mix of New York City-based players that previously formed the core of HRC’s actor pool. Another hallmark has been an extensive dialogue with the playwright and actors, via e-mails and telephone, in the weeks leading up to each reading, encouraging a free and open exchange of ideas. Finally, in staging the reading, Dr. Waldinger steers away from the conventional use of chairs and music stands, while adhering to Actors’ Equity Association guidelines.
The new millennium brought more changes. In 2002 the company, recognizing that it had long since grown from presenting classical plays to showcasing new ones, officially changed its name to HRC Showcase Theatre. Jan Grice, after eleven years in office, retired from the presidency in 2010. Subsequent presidents Don Reynolds, Robert Bisson, and most recently Sandra Gill have continued the tradition of strong and dedicated leadership. In 2021 Marnie Andrews, a skilled actress, director and teacher, succeeded her as president.
In the past few years, with the acceptance of electronic submissions, the playwriting contest has attracted more than 200 entries annually, from which the play selection committee chose five for readings.
With all the growth and change, certain traditions remain immutable at HRC Showcase Theatre. Each reading is followed by a spirited talk-back with the director, the actors, and the playwright. The writers often travel long distances to see their work brought to life and to hear comments and suggestions from the company’s loyal and insightful audience. Most important, HRC Showcase Theatre has remained faithful to the purpose set forth in its original mission statement: to afford audiences diverse and thought-provoking experiences that reflect on life’s challenges, mysteries, and triumphs.