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Actor Discovers Popularity For Theater In Tiny Town Of Tivoli

Michael Rhodes is the artistic director for Tangent Theatre Company in Tivoli.
Michael Rhodes is the artistic director for Tangent Theatre Company in Tivoli. Photo Credit: Contributed
Michael Rhodes, who has a long acting career, opened Tangent Theatre Company in Tivoli in 2009.
Michael Rhodes, who has a long acting career, opened Tangent Theatre Company in Tivoli in 2009. Photo Credit: Contributed
Michael Rhodes acts during a scene at a performance.
Michael Rhodes acts during a scene at a performance. Photo Credit: Contributed

TIVOLI, N.Y. -- Michael Rhodes knew he could not find the career he wanted on the floor of the local lumberyard. A chance enrollment in community college, a professor’s encouragement and his own creative and business instincts helped the former Poughkeepsie resident find himself personally and professionally.

  • Who : Michael Rhodes of Tivoli
  • What : Artistic director at Tangent Theatre Company
  • Come see: Learn more about productions at Tangent on its website: http://tangent-arts.org/

Rhodes’ process of self-discovery took root in tiny Tivoli, where he is the artistic director for Tangent Theatre Company. Rhodes co-founded Tangent in 2000 in New York City and moved it to Tivoli in 2009, and produces main-stage plays, new works, and a popular new plays festival in its intimate Carpenter Shop Theater. The theater company plans to expand its calendar in the year ahead, with new plays and performers along with its unique pub readings.

“The time is right, the place is right and the audience is right,’’ Rhodes said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled. We’re expanding and even doing some of our pub readings at other businesses in town. We’re continuing to find new faces and draw them to Tivoli.”

Rhodes path to Tivoli with his wife, Andrea, started after he graduated from Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie. He initially lacked a career objective. “I went to Dutchess County Community College for a few semesters, but didn’t really find a path,’’ Rhodes said. I was working at a lumber yard, looking at molding and grew tired of getting splinters in my hands.”

He enrolled in an acting class taught by Steve Press. “For the first time in my life, I felt like I was good at something,’’ Rhodes said. “Steve Press was the man who gave me the green light to go forward.”

Rhodes moved on to work with a professional theater company producing in Woodstock and eventually moved to New York after being cast in an Off-Broadway play. “I was always looking for something interesting that made me want to get out of bed,’’ he said.

He discovered many of his acting friends found jobs as bartenders and waitresses, striking out on getting worthwhile theater gigs. “I couldn’t believe they were not working as actors,’’ Rhodes said. “They were friends, and we all lived in the same community. They were all talented. We decided to open Tangent in 2000.”

After nearly 20 years in New York, Rhodes and his wife started to seek a new home. “It became cost prohibitive to rent space, and we were not producing as much,’’ Rhodes said. They looked at some big cities, and came to Tivoli to see a production of “Waiting for Godot.”

“It was immediately palpable,’’ Rhodes said. “We started talking about Tangent in a way we hadn’t in a couple of years.”

Michael and Andrea moved Tangent to Tivoli for good in 2009 and started with pub readings. Almost instantly, they saw interest surge. “We kept seeing new faces,’’ Rhodes said. “We had members of our own team who thought we were crazy. We knew we were on to something.”

Interest has continued to grow. Tivoli’s population is just over 1,100 residents, but Tangent pulls in people from Dutchess County, Massachusetts, neighboring counties and the region. Tangent also rents space at its Carpenter Shop theater for select artisans, such as music teachers, artists, and photographers.

“What has happened has really knocked us out with the support we’ve received,’’ Rhodes said. “Plays that people might not have heard of have been getting great attention. It’s been energizing to us. We’ve been waiting to steer Tangent to the development of new work, and now we feel like we can produce a new play and the audience will be ready, willing and able to support it.”

The swiftness with which the artistic community embraced Tangent surprised and emboldened Rhodes. The goal is to continue to produce new works that will keep people coming to Tangent from all over the region.

“We are proud to be part of the tapestry of Tivoli,’’ Rhodes said. “We very passionately believe new work has to be involved in the theater tradition. We can’t keep telling the same stories over and over again.”

On its website, Tangent declares that it presents “character-driven plays that explore the complexities of relationships and behaviors.” Rhodes said the plays are “collar grabbers that shake you by the shoulders.” “They are plays that make you feel, rather that think,’’ Rhodes said. ”It’s about human beings and relationships with each other. They’re emotional minefields. It’s always the why we do things that interest us, not necessarily the what.”

Now firmly rooted in Tivoli, Rhodes can’t imagine returning to New York. He and his wife have found a home, one that embraces their artistic leanings, and they are able to embrace back. It might not be the most likely spot for a blossoming artistic community, but it succeeds, and that’s all that matters to Rhodes.

“We could never move back to New York now,’’ Rhodes said. “We feel fortunate to be part of the Tivoli magic. That we continue it, and contribute to the arts here, is wonderful. We don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Click here for more information on the Tangent Theatre Company.

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