SARATOGA SPRINGS — “I think that Saratoga fits really well as a launching pad for national stage work.”
“And one of the advantages to this model is to bring extremely high-quality artists and work – both from the region and not from the region – to Saratoga and to show it,” says Orchard Project Artistic Director Ari Edelson, in the days leading up to a highly anticipated weekend when the organization will bring a varied genre of arts programming to a variety of local stages.
“The things we’ve done in the past, they all seem to be the parts of an experiment we’re trying to compress into a weekend of events and really focus on sharing with this community some of the things we are supporting through our programs,” he says.
Events will take place Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10 at Caffe Lena, Saratoga Arts and Universal Preservation Hall. They will include a new rock musical, world premiere concerts, the unveiling of a musical cabaret and a series of free readings and writing workshop.
“A weekend like this is to us a sustainable way of bringing great programming to the community at a fairly affordable price point. And it’s also a way for us to just meet more advocates for what we do,” says Edelson, who grew up in the greater tri-state area. His local ties date to childhood summer visits with his maternal grandparents who operated a pharmacy on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.
The Orchard Project first launched atop the Greene County mountains of the Catskills, in Hunter. “There were very few physical resources for groundbreaking performing artists, and frankly for artists who wanted to take bigger risks. We did a week in 2007 and it went pretty well, moved to three weeks in 2008 and kept on growing from there,” Edelson says. “When we looked around for a new place to move, I was able to convince my team Saratoga was the perfect place for the Labs.
The first year in Saratoga, in 2015, worked out well, and a valued connection was forged with local leaders.
“We walked into a meeting, and they asked: ‘So, what is this Orchard Project?’ I said, ‘Well it’s kind of an artists’ retreat that develops performance. We support plays and musicals and dance pieces and shows.’ They said: ‘Oh it’s like Yaddo for theater.’ People immediately got it. The Orchard Project then was about eight years old and had already sent a few shows to Broadway; shows that had emerged out of our Labs.”
The Orchard Project has brought to Saratoga Springs such artists as Alan Cumming – who tested out a cabaret of his at UPH, legendary performance artist, writer, poet and experimental theatre-maker Penny Arcade, and cabaret performer Bridget Everett – who performed in 2015. “She now has her own show on HBO. And people still remember that - back when this really raunchy singer was serenading guys who looked like they were members of Saratoga golf and polo,” Edelson says with a laugh. “That helped me to understand that for us locally there was an ability for us connect with what we did: supporting artists while they were taking risks - fun, public events that would allow people to feel like they were in on something.”
Over the past 15 years, the Orchard Project has supported more than 300 new productions in various forms of development, including the creation pieces that have moved to Broadway such as All The Way, Amelie: The Musical, and 33 Variations, award-winning work such as An Octoroon and The Aliens, and works by Taylor Mac, Young Jean Lee, Rachel Chavkin, Annie Baker, Jeremy O Harris, Savion Glover, and Esperanza Spalding, among others.
“When we were running at capacity in Saratoga before the (pandemic) shutdown in 2019, we were bringing up about 80 artists to Saratoga over the course of six weeks - from Memorial Day until July 10 - and we would take over Saratoga Arts Center and Caffe Lena and the Visitors Center, turn them into a campus where people were developing stuff – maybe a first act of a play, maybe adding the last bit of polish before sending it out to the Geffen (Playhouse) in Los Angeles. Our rule was basically that anything at any stage should be part of this mix of brilliant work,” Edelson says.
Orchard Project’s earliest days were a bit like Burning Man, Edelson says: “storage units we’d unpack on Memorial Day and after we would pack them back up.” It has grown to be capable of supporting a year-round part-time staff as well as running support programs for artists off-season. “Even off-season in Saratoga, the goal is for us to be doing more and more,” he says.
“Coming out of COVID, we realized the most important thing for us is not to just be bringing work to Saratoga to operate like a summer retreat, but to actually generate more work from Saratoga as well as the upstate region. We’re working with Proctors and the Saratoga Senior Center on the launch of what we’re calling the 518 Monologues (July 9). It’s going to be a year-round effort for us to be supporting writing workshops for organizations, community groups and corporations across the entire area code.”
Other weekend events include staging the rock musical “Penelope” (July 8 & 10), world premiere concerts by Martha Graham Cracker (July 8) and Lance Horne (July 9), and a variety of free readings throughout the three-day festival. See listings below or go to: orchardproject.com.
The Orchard Project 2022 Arts Festival takes place Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10 in Saratoga Springs.
Penelope - A world premiere musical by Alex Bechtel, starring Grace McLean. 7 p.m. Friday, July 8 and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 10 at Caffe Lena. Single ticket: $25/free for OP members. Groundbreaking new work of concert theatre for one actor and a five-piece band. Alex Bechtel began to write music from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife in Homer’s “Odyssey.”
Martha Graham Cracker Solves All Your Problems - A world premiere concert, 9 p.m. Friday, July 8 at UPH. Table seating: $45; General admission $35/free for OP members. VIP/Golden tickets also available. Martha Graham Cracker, “The Drag Queen King” and her cabaret have been giving legendary performances since 2005. Martha (the alter ego of Dito van Reigersberg) has become a staple of the NYC and Philadelphia theater scenes. In the premiere of “Martha Graham Cracker Solves All of Your Problems,” Martha assumes a “Dear Abby” persona, accepting audience questions and delivering on-the-spot musical advice.
Famous In New York - a world premiere concert led By Emmy Award Winner Lance Horne. 8 p.m. Saturday, July 9 at UPH. Table seating: $45; general admission $35/free for OP members, VIP available. A concert celebrating New York “originals.” Emmy award-winning composer, pianist, singer, and music director Lance Horne joins together some of New York finest performers, hailing from both upstate and downstate, in celebration of the state that we call home.
Once Upon A Tra' In Puerto Rico - new play reading by Nelson Diaz-Marcano, directed by Rebecca Aparicio at Saratoga Arts, 2 p.m. July 9, noon on July 10. Free/reserved seating for OP members.
The Double[S] - new audio podcast reading by Winnie Kemp at Saratoga Arts, 1 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday. Free/reserved seating for OP members.
The 518 Monologues - Monologue Writing Workshop led by D. Colin at Saratoga Arts, 11 a.m. Saturday. Free.
How to attend: become a supporting “Member” of the Orchard Project a tax-deductible donation of anything above $100 and for full access to the entire lineup. Or buy individual tickets for any of the events, also on sale at Universal Preservation Hall and Caffe Lena. For more information, go to: www.orchardproject.com.