The festival kicks off with 7 p.m. previews of "The 39 Steps" on Tuesday, "Romeo and Juliet" on Wednesday, and "Love's Labour's Lost" on Thursday. Opening nights are slated for June 21 for "The 39 Steps," June 23 for "Romeo and Juliet," and June 30 for "Love's Labour's Lost." The festival concludes Sept. 2 with a final staging of "Romeo and Juliet."
Showcased in a tent theater pitched on the 68-acre property high above the banks of the Hudson River, the festival for the region's only professional resident Shakespeare company opens two hours before each show for picnicking in the gardens, making for a unique theatrical experience.
"[Shakespeare's] plays have something, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly written, to connect them to nature somehow," says Terry O'Brien, the festival's founding artistic director. "And, [at Boscobel], the first row of audience seats are on the ground -- the same ground the actors perform on -- receding into the horizon. It gives us a beautiful backdrop. ... and the beauty of the environment puts the audience in a really good mood."
Maggie Whitlum, the festival's executive director, agreed. "People tend to bring friends," she says. "It's a very convivial atmosphere."
Abigail Adams has been the festival's managing director for the last 12 years, so she can vouch for the kinds of friendships that translate into large and enthusiastic crowds.
"I've watched our audience grow," she says. "When I started, there were 10,000 [audience members per season]. We're now over 32,000."
For each season, the festival tends to stage one Shakespearean tragedy, one Shakespearean comedy, and a third play that might not even be written by The Bard.
"We sort of cycle through the comedies," O'Brien says. "And then we always try to do something in our third slot that's new that involves a small number of people, and uses theatricality and actor tools in order to tell the story."
O'Brien is directing "Love's Labour's Lost" -- the first Shakespeare comedy he's helmed for the festival since 2006, and the second time the festival has staged the play, which chronicles the efforts of a king and his friends' efforts to resist the temptations of women. "It's a surprisingly funny and optimistic play," he says. "The characters are very spirited. There's no meanness in it."
Russell Treyz is directing "The 39 Steps," Patrick Barlow's theatrical adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie and John Buchan adventure novel of the same name. Its four cast members -- Richard Ercole, Wesley Mann, Jason O'Connell and Gabra Zackman -- play more than 140 characters in the comedy-thriller that simulates a plane crash and missing fingers.
"The props [include] steamer trunks and a flock of chickens," Adams says. "I don't even know how they're going to do it, but I can't wait to see it all pulled together."
Christopher Edwards, the festival's associate artistic director, is directing "Romeo and Juliet," starring Carl Howell and Angela Janas in the title roles. And while this production of the tragic love story will remain true to the original text, don't expect actors to be navigating the stage in traditional Elizabethan garb.
"What we try to do is take the play, very simply and on its own terms, and then dress it in a way that makes the people who are in the production recognizable to [the audience]," O'Brien says.
For this and other reasons, O'Brien encourages those who fear stuffy Shakespearean productions to check out a show at Boscobel this summer.
"Wives come, dragging their husbands; the next year, husbands come, dragging their business partners; and then, the next year, the business partners come, dragging their friends," he adds. "Once they saw us, they fell in love with us."
Whitlum agreed. "For anyone who thinks that Shakespeare is not for them," she says, "we are the company that can convince them otherwise."
IF YOU GO
When: June 12-Sept. 2; shows begin at 7 or 8 p.m., with free picnicking open to ticket-holders for up to two hours before showtime