Performing arts take center stage for the summer


While the Catskills are a year-round attraction, everything really comes alive in the summer, including the area’s many performing arts centers. For local theaters, summer is the “on” season for many of their performances, events and workshops, so there is no shortage of entertainment for locals or tourists.

One of the more well-known theater groups in the Catskills is The Forestburgh Playhouse in Forestburgh, Sullivan County. Founded in 1947, The Forestburgh Playhouse is the oldest continuously-operating professional summer theater in the state. Producing Artistic Director Franklin Trapp said this will be the theater’s 78th season.

“We’ve been around a long time,” Trapp said, “and not only do we have the age thing going, but we’re also a professional theater on top of that, so it’s pretty exciting that we’ve been operating at that level for so long.”

Forestburgh contains three operations: The Playhouse, The Tavern and The Academy. The Playhouse puts on the mainstage productions while The Tavern offers dinner cabarets and smaller productions. The Academy is responsible for the workshops and summer sessions available for the young stars of Forestburgh.

While programming continues through the fall, Trapp said summer is the big season for theater in the area because of the peak in tourism during the warmer months.

Casts for Forestburgh productions are primarily hired through the Actors Equity Association with actors based in New York City, but they also hire a resident company each year with actors from all over the country. Some local actors are also cast in shows, especially young actors from the area.

While Forestburgh brings the talent of the city to the Catskills, the Phoenicia Playhouse in Phoenicia, Ulster County, brings out the talent from within the Catskills. The Phoenicia Playhouse is home to the Shandaken Theatrical Society, a community theater made up entirely of local actors and crew.

Michael Connor, president of the Phoenicia Playhouse Board of Directors, said providing opportunities to locals to be involved in the performing arts is important because it is a creative outlet that is not always easy to find in rural areas.

“It is a vehicle for creativity on the part of local residents — adults and children,” Connor said. “There’s real creativity and craft among our local residents.”

Connor said it can be difficult balancing the desire to stay local and the ability to put on a good production, but they manage to pull it off with a combination of adults reminiscing on their former acting careers and young performers hoping to start theirs.

There is no lack, however, in the interest in theater in the Catskills, Connor said. He noted that their 150-person theater gets sold out shows, and there was even a market for scalped tickets for their 2023 production of The Addams Family. He said having community theaters is especially important in this area because it makes the performing arts more affordable and accessible to locals.

“People love theater,” Connor said. “They love to see it and they love to perform in it and if you live in the Catskills, it’s challenging to get to Broadway.”

Trapp noted that the increase in “transplants” to the Catskills during the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to more demand for performing arts events.

“It’s been a good time for us in terms of getting new people into the doors,” Trapp said.

One of the major benefits of these theaters is the opportunities provided to local youth who otherwise do not have many options to practice an art during the summer. Both Forestburgh and Phoenicia Playhouses offer summer workshops for young people of various age groups. In 2024, the Forestburgh Playhouse is hosting a week-long musical theater intensive, a two-week musical theater summer session and a fall cabaret session. During these workshops, youth work with professional directors, choreographers and music directors from around the country to put on a show for friends, family and patrons.

Phoenicia Playhouse will be doing a week-long music and songwriting workshop and a two-week make-a-play workshop. These sessions encourage youth to explore their creativity to dream up and put together original shows to be performed at the end of each workshop.

“It challenges them to imagine things that don’t exist and to create things that don’t exist,” Connor said.

Practicing a performing art like theater also teaches young people skills like creative thinking, public speaking and confidence, Trapp said.

“It may lead to a career but also can just provide cultural enjoyment and most importantly, confidence — I think that’s one of the hugest things,” Trapp said.

Each theater company has a full program for their 2024 seasons with a wide variety of performances that are guaranteed to entertain any audience. Forestburgh Playhouse’s mainstage productions include Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville, Rock of Ages and How I Learned to Drive among others. Phoenicia Playhouse’s big shows this year are The Wizard of Oz, Always… Patsy Cline and Brother’s Keeper. Both playhouses have much more going on this summer — like Forestburgh’s “In the Works, In the Woods” theater festival and Phoenicia’s various film series — and more information can be found on their websites: and