Skip to content

From Kirkland College to the Bard

July 15, 2011
In summer 2011, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival ( turned 25. A treasured regional cultural institution, the HVSF has received critical acclaim and built a loyal following over the past quarter century. What few—if any—theatergoers know today is that a Kirkland alumna started the Festival! In her own words, Melissa Stern Lourie K’77 explains how her theater training at Kirkland eventually led her to the HVSF and the Bard. Congratulations on an enduring venture, Melissa!

Photos from Melissa Stern's Senior Project, a two-person play about a Marilyn Monroe-type starlet played by Melissa and her alter ego, a bitchy nun

At Kirkland, I was intensely involved in theater and did many shows with Carol Bellini-Sharp, who is still there on the Hill!!  I met with her when I took my son for an interview at Hamilton last winter, and she had hardly changed at all. She was very welcoming, and I enjoyed meeting with her current crop of theater majors. Anyway, I also was in plays by Hamilton’s Harry Kondoleon, a brilliant and successful playwright who passed away far too early in the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s ( And my senior project with my dear friend Marybeth Lerner, a performance of The White Whore and the Bit Player by Tom Eyen, was another high point of my time at Kirkland.

Marybeth Lerner as the nun

After Kirkland, I went to Paris and studied theater with Yoshi Oida, a member of Peter Brook’s famous theater group, whom I had met through a workshop recommended by Carol. I later got a Master’s of Fine Arts at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and did a bunch of regional theater out west. After several years of living in Los Angeles and doing theater there, I decided to head back to NYC. Shortly after that, I moved up to Garrison, NY, right near Cold Spring because I had met a guy who lived there and got married.

I was missing the theater and all my actor friends, so, when a woman named Nicky Balter, whom I had met through the Garrison Art Center (, suggested that I stage a play up at Manitoga, a nature preserve in Garrison (, I was game.  I contacted my friend Terry O’Brien, a classmate from ACT, and we produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream using the talents of a bunch of former ACT actors who had a group in Manhattan called the 29th Street Project.  Terry directed, I played Hermia, and we rehearsed in the Lower East Side, finally bringing the show up to the wild woods of Manitoga and performing out in the rain for a couple of weekends. 

The show managed to create a lot of enthusiasm among the artistic and cultural elite of the area. A Board of Directors was soon formed, and a company, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, was created.  I was the Producing Director, and Terry was the Artistic Director.  The following year, we moved our operation to the lovely grounds of Boscobel, a Federal-style mansion on the banks of the Hudson River (  Boscobel had ample parking and a large lawn where we could locate a tent.  We did As You Like It the second year and from there, things started growing very fast.

Melissa Lourie, 2011

There were no other Shakespeare festivals in the Hudson Valley, and we seemed to fill a void. And our approach was fresh and lively and very accessible.  I acted some but was more the business and producing head of the company, which proved pretty challenging, as we were also producing children at the time.  My husband Peter and I had two kids during these years and in the beginning were also selling tickets out of our home and doing everything else, and it got pretty crazy. After 6 years I decided I’d had enough. Producing is a very exciting challenge, but it wasn’t what I was really in theater to do. So, I found myself a replacement, and we moved to Vermont.  Up here in Vermont, I have found a satisfying balance of acting, directing, ( teaching at UVM, and just plain living. It’s a great state and I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else. 

by Melissa Stern Lourie, K’77
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: