“Denizen,” an inhabitant; an occupant; a member of a community. It is only fitting that the newest addition to the hub of culture in New Paltz is named so thoughtfully. With a mission statement that reads, “Denizen Theatre will explore what it means to be human in all its duality and complexity, introducing new works that provoke, challenge and inspire often ignored conversations,” the inspiration behind this new professional, non-profit black box theatre is each and every denizen of the New Paltz community.
When asked why the theatre was opened, Co-Artistic Director Ben Williamson simply said, “For you.”
Williamson, along with Producing Artistic Director Harry Lipstein and Co-Artistic Director Brittany Proia, aim to provide the Village of New Paltz with a place for people to connect with each other in self- expression. They hope to achieve this through the outlet of professional plays from artists of the Hudson Valley to New York City.
One significant theme of the Denizen is inclusion. The theatre, located right in Water Street Market on Main Street, promises to make each show easily accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. To compliment with the close-knit and collective energy the directors wish to create, the Denizen is an intimate fifty-to-seventy seat theatre where the configuration of seating will change according to each show; no two times you visit will be the same.
Although it does not sound particularly large, building this new local attraction caused some controversy. Some residents of New Paltz were not keen on any disruptive construction, being that the village is rather small, quiet and non-commercialized. Some concerns were what the theater would look like, and how nicely it would fit with the rest of Water Street Market. Opposition against the theatre was dealt with by informing people what a black box theatre is, what it will contribute to the community and so on. The biggest obstacle was simply getting the word out and gaining public reassurance.
On a rainy Wednesday, Sept. 12, the ribbon cutting ceremony that began the inaugural season was held. The dreary day did not stop locals from showing up to welcome a new home of theatrical arts. A crowd large enough for an audience gathered underneath the theatre’s overhang, eager to cut the ribbon and begin a season of plays.
From October to February, the shows will be “Cal in Camo,” “Adaptive Radiation” and “The Arsonists.” The Denizen Theatre will generally keep plays at one to two hours, five to six characters. Not only will it be a place for people to come and watch new, contemporary work, but it will also be a well of opportunities for internships and workshops.
As Lipstein said in his opening speech to introduce Proia and Williamson, “Brittany and Ben are not just artists; they’re here to give their talents to our community so that the art of storytelling will elevate empathy in our world.”
Denizen Theatre is located on 10 Main Street, Suite 501 New Paltz, NY 12561. For more information, call the theater at 845-303-4136.