Tucked inside Water Street Market is the Denizen Theatre, a relatively new non-profit black box theater that seats 70 people at the max.
The Denizen had its first season in 2018 but according to executive director Kirsty Gaukel, performances were very limited. “It went into sort of, you know, hibernation, obviously, due to the restrictions of performing during COVID,” she says. But that didn’t stop the Denizen’s renaissance. In March of this year, Gaukel and artistic director Andy Gaukel began to “rebuild” the theater. “Andy and I ended up agreeing to basically take on the job of basically getting the theater back up again and getting contemporary plays back on the stage and fulfilling what had been the original mission of the theater,” she says.
Accessibility to the arts is important at the Denizen. Thanks to the theater’s sponsor, a student donation program, tickets are only $5 for students. Anyone can donate on the website to keep this possible. “We are a community supported organization and one of the challenges is that you know, it costs a lot to produce but it’s also incredibly important to us in the board that the theater is accessible, particularly when we are located and, you know, a college town. Having a neighbor that is SUNY New Paltz, it is very important for us to be able to have tickets for students to be able to attend the theater,” Kirsty Gaukel says.
Here in New Paltz, local businesses tend to support each other. “Individuals or businesses can essentially donate the difference so that there is a supported program and that enables us to still continue to produce at the level we want to produce, but it also provides an affordable ticket for students,” Gaukel explains.
Perfect for this spooky season, The Denizen presents the classic Edgar Allan Poe short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” directed by Andy Gaukel. The original story was published in 1843, one year before Poe published “The Raven.”
Inside the theater, art fills up the walls. Local artists submit work depicting themes of the different shows. One piece called “Teatro Lambe Lambe” by Brad Shur, consisted of three tiny rooms with key holes, which guests could peer into to find scenes from the “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
“The Tell Tale Heart” began with a closed velvet curtain. Sean Meehan gave a terrifyingly convincing performance of this one man show. Of course, with the modern twist of the play, Meehan used all of Poe’s exact words but incorporated modern gestures as well. Meehan’s repetition of words and ever so changing facial expressions mixed with his haunting laughs made the audience wonder if he was truly mad.
The show was slightly interactive with the audience. Meehan would point to individuals and ask them questions and at one point, the spotlight followed him as he walked right into the audience.
The carefully-crafted set by Rachael Balcanoff was revealed as Meehan finally opened the curtains. An array of shredded paper piled up on the ground and drawings of the “vulture eye” cluttered the makeshift walls. The messiness of the set seemed to represent the narrator’s scattered mind, but the symbolism was left up to the audience’s imagination.
When the play used creative lighting, it was always purposeful. A bright beam of light was used to dramatize the eye and sudden lighting changes added an element of surprise.
“The Tell Tale Heart” is on stage until Oct. 30, but Poe isn’t the only thing in store at the Denizen. The theater offers performing arts of “different shades of entertainment for people.” The plays are as relevant as they are entertaining. “We’ll look at the world and the kind of questions we’re constantly asking and that seeks to answer,” Gaukel says. The comedy “An Act of God,” directed by Scott Alan Evans, will come to the stage in November.
If you’d like to support the Denizen, you can donate on the website or you can sign up to volunteer to usher or help move sets.
A trip to the Denizen is a perfect addition to your October weekend plans.