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6 New Shows to Get Pumped About, Thanks to the 34th Powerhouse Season

Vassar & New York Stage and Film will help Duncan Sheik, Dan Finnerty, and more shepherd new works into existence this summer.

Every summer, some of New York City's best and brightest theater artists head upstate to the Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, for a few weeks of grown-up theater camp. Vassar & New York Stage and Film's annual Powerhouse season supports artists in the development and production of new works and has served as a launching pad for notable contributions to the theater from Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton to Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves.

Why is Powerhouse's past covered with so many glowing achievements? According to playwright and Powerhouse veteran Geoffrey Nauffts, "It's such a luxury to be able to go someplace, anyplace, where there are no distractions except for the birds and the bees and the people reciting lines as you walk past them. Where you're solely living, breathing, and eating your creativity for the time that you're up there."

"I never want to do the 87th reading of something just for the sake of it," said Powerhouse's artistic director Johanna Pfaelzer at a press event for the upcoming season. "It's, 'where can we be useful to you?' And then it is a conversation to figure out how we can best be of service."

Read about a selection of this year's most exciting upcoming projects below, straight from the mouths of their creators.


The Pain of My Belligerence

Trip Cullman, director of Halley Feiffer's The Pain of My Belligerence
(© David Gordon)

Trip Cullman: I'm working on Halley Feiffer's play The Pain of My Belligerence, which is coming to Playwrights Horizons in the winter. The show is an absolutely harrowing and funny in the way that only Halley can write. It's an account of a sort of doomed love affair between a guy who exhibits all the traits of toxic masculinity, and a younger woman. The first scene is on the eve of Obama's election, the second scene is on the eve of Trump's election, the third scene is on the eve of Trump's reelection. It's a #MeToo play for sure. She wrote it before this year and all that exploded, but it is absolutely of the moment.


Alice by Heart

Alice by Heart creators Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik
(© David Gordon)

Duncan Sheik: It's using some of the elements of Alice in Wonderland, but there's a meta narrative that's woven through it. It's set in the London Underground during the Blitz in 1941 — down the hole so to speak. And I think Stephen and Jessie have found a really great way of using those elements and telling this really powerful story.

Jessie Nelson: It's about the power of imagination to transcend even the darkest of times. So it's particularly timely right now.


Melissa R and Dorothy Sue

Melissa R and Dorothy Sue playwright Geoffrey Nauffts
(© David Gordon)

Geoffrey Nauffts: It's about two women who, at 40 years old, find out that they were switched at birth. And it's about them sort of piecing their lives back together again, trying to figure out who it was they were meant to have been. You know it happens from time to time. We read a lot about different situations and we're doing our own spin on it.


The Waves

The Waves creators Lisa Peterson and Adam Gwon
(© David Gordon)

Lisa Peterson: This is an adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel The Waves, and in fact this is kind of a revisit of a version that I made 30 years ago at New York Theater Workshop with a composer named David Bucknam. I think it's fair to say that it became sort of a cult thing…so I've always been wanting to take a new look at it. David sadly passed away quite young, so how to do that without him was a mystery, but then I met Adam Gwon, so now Adam and I are going back into this adaptation to really examine it and shave things and explore new parts of the story. It's about six friends who grow up together and lose each other and then come back. But it's also a novel about experience and how human beings experience the natural world and each other…Much of the language is pure Virginia Woolf. So it is this editing process actually of picking and choosing what to use from the novel because it is really rich.


Little Orphan Danny

Little Orphan Danny creator Dan Finnerty
(© David Gordon)

Dan Finnerty: It's called Little Orphan Danny because I was adopted and grew up in a small farm town in upstate New York in a happy family. It was a great little life. But I always wanted to find my birth mother, and when I was 29 we ended up finding her on a fluke because my wife secretly put an ad in the paper in the town where I was born. My birth mother ended up seeing the ad only because she was looking for Celine Dion tickets, so f*cking Celine Dion brought us together. And that would seem like the happy ending. After that it became figuring out how to navigate these two moms and convincing my mom who raised me that she's my mother to me and it doesn't change anything, and still wanting to have a relationship with my birth mother, this awesome person who was there when it started with me.


Radio Island

The cast and creative team of Radio Island.
(© David Gordon)

Liza Birkenmeier: I'm working on Radio Island which is a play about a crisis negotiator in her hometown dealing with her ailing and estranged mother while she's also dealing with an international hostage crisis.

Jaki Bradley: It sort of lets us address the idea of negotiation or how negotiations play out in the political, professional realm and also the personal realm.

Pascale Armond: She's working on this international hostage situation but then also negotiating and trying to deal with her home life, her crumbling love life, her mom that she's helping after she had an accident. And then there's this lurking visitor, and we're trying to figure out who he is while trying to keep the family safe.

Adina Verson: Underneath all of it are many different kinds of danger. It's a very scary play — all these dangers that you can't quite name.

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