Liberman, a Needham, Massachusetts native, comes to Hudson Valley after serving as general manager of the Laguna Beach Playhouse, a year-round regional theater with a budget roughly twice that of her new assignment. She’ll oversee administration and operations of the festival, a summer staple on a bluff overlooking the Hudson Highlands at the Boscobel Restoration in Garrison. The festival has 35,000 visitors each summer, and reaches 40,000 schoolchildren through its year-round educational-outreach program.
Liberman grew up seeing shows at Wheelock Family Theater in Boston whose motto is “live theater changes lives.”
“That has been a mantra that has stuck with me throughout my career and I continue to think about,” she said Friday. “We’re creating a live experience that will impact our audience and change how they see the world when they walk away from that tent at Boscobel.”
Liberman has served as associate managing director at Yale Rep, managing director fellow at Berkeley Rep, and assistant development manager at the Washington’s Kennedy Center. She has an MFA in theater management from Yale School of Drama and and MBA from Yale School of Management.
She will work alongside Davis McCallum, Hudson Valley’s artistic director, who arrived at the festival last year, replacing founding artistic director Terry O’Brien. As managing director, Liberman replaces Maggie Whitlum, who returned to England after four summers as executive director.
If working with a budget half the size of what she’s used to will require imagination, Liberman seems at ease with that. She has never been to the Hudson Valley tent in-season, only seeing Boscobel under less-than-ideal circumstances last fall.
“It was during my interview, one of those rainy and foggy days, and Davis drove me over to Boscobel, waved his hands and said, ‘Imagine this: The sun is setting over the river and the actors come up over the hill down there,'” she said.
Asked what interview question she nailed to land the job, Liberman laughed.
“I think it was a great dinner at Winter Hill with Davis and members of the search committee. We all hit it off and it became much less of an interview and much more a conversation about everybody’s excitement for the theater and their passions and why we got into this crazy, wonderful and exciting business.”
Hudson Valley Shakespeare’s 12-week 2015 season opens June 9 and runs through Sept. 1. The lineup includes: “The Winter’s Tale,” directed by McCallum; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Eric Tucker; Mary Zimmerman’s “The Arabian Nights,” directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz; “An Iliad” by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch; and “The Tempest,” directed by Jim Calder and featuring Hudson Valley’s apprentices. Online ordering begins March 1 at hvshakespeare.org; the Cold Spring box office opens May 19.
Liberman said her career path at regional theaters East and West has exposed her to best practices that she hopes to bring to Boscobel, but added that the new job is a fit because of her love of theater.
“There’s something so unique about Shakespeare and this outdoor festival and its place at Boscobel and its community of supporters that I’m enthralled by.”
The festival has a year-round mission — acting in the summer and teaching year-round through an outreach program — but not a year-round venue. The state-of-the-art tent goes up in May and comes down in September. Liberman was not ready to declare a goal of establishing a year-round venue, a brick-and-mortar home for the festival.
“That will be a conversation to have with the board and their vision for the organization. It has such a strong history, under Terry and Maggie’s leadership, the organization is poised for its next step. But that’s a larger conversation for the board and Davis.”
Her immediate goal for the next five years, she said, is to “bring new artists to the community and finding a balance between new artists and new Shakespeare works in addition to maintaining the relationship with the company we’ve had over the decades.”
Another goal is to draw more audiences from Manhattan to the south and Poughkeepsie to the north.
As for the company of players — some of whom are welcome faces season after season — Liberman said: “It’s important to strike a balance. Obviously the company is part of what’s bringing people back every summer. At the same time, there’s an exciting motion, with Davis’ entry to the organization, of attracting world-class artists in the city who’ll bring a different taste, a different look and a different direction to some of the work. I’m hoping to strike that balance.”
Asked to share a favorite theater moment, she casts her mind back to a West End production of “Mary Poppins” before it came to Broadway.
“I was sitting next to a 4- or 5-year-old girl. When Mary Poppins flies overhead and Bert tapdances on the ceiling, I turned to my right and looked at this girl, whose eyes were wide as saucers and her mouth was open totally enthralled by this live theatrical experience that was happening around her.
“It’s one of those things where I could see the impact of every moment that we put on a stage in any theater I’ve been at and how significant that can be for young people, for families and for adults. It was gripping to watch her watch theater.”
Top photo: Kate Liberman. Second photo: Davis McCallum. Third photo: Kurt Rhoads in 2014’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”