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The best NYC weekend and day trips for theater, opera and dance

Get out of town while keeping tabs on the most exciting plays, operas and dance events happening just outside of NYC

By David Cote and Helen Shaw

New York live performance doesn’t exactly evaporate in the summer. In fact, between Lincoln Center Festival, various other summer festivals and the usual Broadway and Off Broadway openings, there’s plenty to choose from. And yet, we all like to get out of the hot, sticky metropolis, if only for a weekend. Here are the best NYC weekend and day trips to satisfy culture vultures who are hungry for plays, dance performances and operas outside the city limits.

RECOMMENDED: All of the best day trips from NYC

Photograph: Cory Weaver

Bard SummerScape 2015

Good for: well-rounded lovers of music, dance, theater and opera
2hrs 30mins by car; more details here

Each summer at Bard College, President Leon Botstein and forward-thinking curator Gideon Lester fill the Frank Gehry–designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts with an impressive lineup of music, theater, dance and opera—as well as live art that defies category. This year includes a stripped-down version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, directed by Daniel Fish, who explores darker, more ambiguous corners of the classic musical. Later this month brings a rare handful of performances of Ethel Smyth’s violent seaside opera The Wreckers, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger with Maestro Bostein conducting. All this plus cabaret diversions at the on-campus Spiegeltent. Or if modern dance is your thing, catch new work by choreographer Pam Tanowitz.—David Cote

Bells Are Ringing
Photograph: Michelle McGrady

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Good for: Broadway-style 
2hrs 46mins by car; more details here

Since 1928, flocks of vacationing playgoers have made the journey to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to see classic revivals and new work. In 2010 the festival merged with the Colonial Theatre in neighboring Pittsfield to form the Berkshire Theatre Group, which runs five venues, from the historic 408-seat Fitzpatrick Main Stage to the Unicorn Theatre (122 seats for challenging new work) and the Neil Ellenoff Stage, for outdoor family entertainment. This year you can choose from Ira Levin’s twisty thriller Deathtrap, with Gregg Edelman and Alison Fraser; Kate Baldwin headlining the classic musical comedy Bells Are Ringing; and Terrence McNally’s losers-in-love drama, Frankie and Johnny In the Clair de Lune, starring Angel Desai and Darren Pettie.—David Cote

Ballet Hispanico
Photographer: Paula Lobo

Fire Island Dance Festival

Good for: contemporary ballet connoisseurs with a yen for the beach
2hrs 30mins by car; more details here

This dependably starry outdoor fest at the gorgeous Fire Island Pines is a benefit for (and production by) the group Dancers Responding to AIDS. The cause attracts a lineup of faces familiar and fresh: This year the Great South Bay will be the glittering scenery of dancer-choreographers like Clifford Williams and Joshua Beamish (just off Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature), as well as major companies such as Ailey II, Ballet Hispanico and Pontus Lidberg Dance. Tickets for this glamorous event are already tight, so be sure you get yours long before you get on the Sayville Ferry. Another pro tip: Take the LIRR for the most convenient travel experience.—Helen Shaw

The Arabian Nights

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Good for: lovers of classic theater
1hr 25mins by car; more details here

If you don’t want to wait all day for Shakespeare in the Park tickets (and then get rained out), head upstate to Garrison for impressive outdoor vistas and spirited acting of classics. The schedule this summer includes Arabian Nights, written by Mary Zimmerman and adapted from The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, running in repertory with Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a limited run of the searing solo An Iliad, created by director Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare.—David Cote

Martha Graham Dance Company performs The Rite of Spring
Photograph: Sinru Ku 

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2015

Good for: dance lovers, from the newbie to the hardened balletomane
3hrs 30mins by car; more details here

The area’s premiere dance festival is a National Historic Monument and one of the brightest stars in the Berkshires’ summer crown. In 1931, modern dance pioneers Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis turned an isolated farm into a dance retreat, and even in its expansive modern incarnation, it still feels like a place of rest and contemplation. The impressive summer program extends all the way through August, so you still have plenty of time to catch lauded ensembles like Martha Graham Dance Company and Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project. All summer long the alfresco Inside/Out stage features free performances of smaller companies and the Pillow’s own students. To be honest, it’s not exactly a day trip, but staying in an adorable local inn or B&B is not—we can assure you—a hardship.—Helen Shaw

Mass Arts Live
Photograph: Cory Weaver

Mass Live Arts

Good for: adventurous travelers with experimental tastes
2hrs 50mins by car; more details here

Downtown favorite Ilan Bachrach has exploited his curatorial savvy (and rolodex of avant-garde colleagues) to turn bucolic Great Barrington, Massachusetts, into a hotbed of contemporary performance. See performances like Joe Silovsky’s robo-historical Send for the Million Men, numerous works-in-progress, film screenings by theatrical luminaries the Wooster Group and Daniel Fish, and—perhaps most excitingly of all—Radiohole’s latest gonzo mess-a-palooza, Tarzana. If that’s not tempting enough, know that there are nightly barbecues, a generous bar and karaoke every Friday night. Who needs a Bushwick backyard?—Helen Shaw

Duncan Sheik
Duncan Sheik

New York Stage and Film and Vassar’s Powerhouse Theater

Good for: early peeks at works-in-progress (and Shakespeare)
2hrs 10mins by car; more details here

The annual festival, based at Vassar College, has kicked off its annual season of free Apprentice Company performances, running through July 25. Marking Powerhouse Theater’s 31st season on the Vassar campus, the exciting season will include performances of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare; Vinegar Tom by Caryl Churchill; as well as workshop productions of Oh My Palimpsest by Maggie Namulyanga, and Water directed by Tomi Tsunoda with music direction by Stephanie Johnstone. Late July brings new work by the Debate Society and a musical collaboration between Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Kyle Jarrow called Noir.—David Cote

Shakespeare & Company's Henry V
Photograph: John Dolan

Shakespeare & Company

Good for: Bardolators and more
3hrs 30mins by car; more details here

The lineup for Shakespeare & Co’s summer season includes three Bard classics: Henry V, The Comedy of Errors and Hamlet. Other productions include the Shakespeare-related Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti, the world premiere of Jane Anderson’s Mother of the Maid, starring Tina Packer, and a revival of Yasmina Reza’s witty 1998 two-hander The Unexpected Man.—David Cote

Williamstown Theatre Festival
Photograph: Rob Ross

Williamstown Theatre Festival

Good for: theater junkies and star gazers
3hrs 45mins by car; more details here

Ardent theatergoers make a summer pilgrimage to northeastern Massachusetts to see various plays or musicals before they transfer to New York. This year’s lineup includes Cynthia Nixon and Penny Fuller in Carey Perloff’s gripping and sexy new drama, Kinship. Real-life spouses Audra McDonald and Will Swenson headline a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s boozy romance, A Moon for the Misbegotten. And Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs Blair Underwood and De’Adre Aziza in Dominique Morisseau’s Paradise Blue, set in a faded Detroit jazz club. Stay for the weekend and enjoy the sophisticated country pleasures of Williamstown: green lawns, cozy cafes and great art at the Clark.—David Cote


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