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A ghost story, a love story, and a call to action—Donna Hoke’s HEARTS OF STONE streams live at WTFringe 2020/Women’s Theatre Festival

HAMILTON, NY/RALEIGH, NC/ONLINE (July 7, 2020)— Lydia Stokes is dreaming about dead psych patients…while she’s awake. She believes they need her help; her husband  believes she’s out of her mind. Is there any way they can both be right?

Hearts of Stone, by Donna Hoke, directed by Willow Jade Norton, and co-produced by Arts at the Palace (AATP) and Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF), streams live July 24-25, 2020, with additional recorded performances to be announced.

Originally, Hearts of Stone was programmed into AATP’s (Hamilton, NY) “From Script to Stage” summer development program, with Hoke in residence for a month prior to production of the play. When it became clear COVID restrictions would preclude live performance, Hoke connected Arts at the Palace with Women’s Theatre Festival (Raleigh, NC), which was pioneering work with virtual storytelling. The two organizations decided to co-produce the play on a virtual platform.

“Women’s Theatre Festival was in the midst of their livestream production Freakshow, and it was clear their team had the technical expertise and creative vision to co-produce Donna’s play in this way,” says Elizabeth Douglas, AATP Executive Director.

Hearts of Stone is one of those rare plays that springs to mind as a fully formed idea, which isn’t to say it immediately became a fully formed play,” says playwright Hoke, an O’Neill and Princess Grace finalist, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize nominee, and three-time Buffalo’s Best Writer. “I’d read an article about Willard Psychiatric Center, in Ovid, New York, where thousands of inmates had been buried anonymously on the grounds of the institution, and a woman was being stonewalled by the state as she tried to get the names released to the families.

“Immediately, I envisioned a woman ‘visited’ by these former patients,” Hoke continues. “As she becomes more and more involved with these voices and visions, her husband becomes more and more fearful she’s losing her sanity. Because she’s experiencing something deemed different, her mental fitness is questioned, which seemed an apt parallel to institutional inmates of the fifties, many of whom were committed for things that today we recognize as acceptable differences, like homosexuality, autism, depression, and deafness.”

This joint venture not only allows AATP to be on the cutting edge of new media, but also enables collaboration at the national level, something virtually impossible in a non-virtual production. The production features talent from Oregon, Kentucky, Michigan, Central New York, Western York, Texas, and North Carolina.

Burying institutionalized psychiatric patients anonymously was common practice, Hoke discovered. As she began to send out the play, it was easy for her to connect to similar situations across the country, including in each state represented by the artists. These include Oregon State Hospital, OR; Cherry Hospital, Goldsboro, NC; Eloise Hospital, MI; Eastern State Hospital, KY; Austin State School Farm Colony, TX; and, of course, Willard in New York, the inspiration for the play. Many regions have recently begun the work of trying to identify, mark, and maintain these graves, which makes this play particularly timely.

“This is the play that, after extensive research and many drafts, has emerged,” Hoke says. “It’s a ghost story, a love story, and a query about how we receive things that don’t line up with our definition of ‘normal.’ My hope is that our definition continues to shift—as it has since the fifties—more in the direction of acceptance.”

Says award-winning playwright Rachel Lynett, “Hearts of Stone is a brilliant reminder of what connects each of us beyond the limits of time and space.”

Hearts of Stone features Josie DiVincenzo*, Phil Knoerzer, Chris Corporandy*, Jennel Pruneda, Steve Copps, and Melinda Capeles. The creative team comprises Creative Technical Director Willow Jade Norton, Associate Director Kyle LoConti, Assistant Creative Technical Director Madison McAllister, Streaming Technical Director Ali Ray, and Artistic Advisor Kyle Bass. The stage Manager is Erin Fannin, and the Assistant Stage Manager is Aaliya Buchanan.

Watch Hearts of Stone at on July 24, 2020 at 7:30 PM EST and on July 25, 2020 at 3:30 PM EST. A talkback with Donna Hoke will take place directly after the play on July 24.

Tickets are donation-based. Suggested donation is $10 per show. Donations may be made be made at (noting Hearts of Stone in the memo). A portion of the show’s proceeds will benefit the scholarship funds of Arts at the Palace and Women’s Theatre Festival.

Hearts of Stone is made possible by a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

About playwright Donna Hoke

Donna’s work has been seen in 47 states and on five continents. Plays in include BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (Kilroy’s List), ELEVATOR GIRL (O’Neil/Princess Grace Finalist), and TEACH (two-time O’Neill semi/Gulfshore winner). She’s been a Primus, Blackburn, and Laura Pels nominee, is a three-time winner of the Emanuel Fried Award for Outstanding New Play (SEEDS, SONS & LOVERS, ONCE IN MY LIFETIME), and three-time Buffalo’s Best Writer—the only women ever to receive the designation.


About Arts at the Palace

Arts at the Palace is a nonprofit community arts organization dedicated to presenting, developing and expanding the reach of the arts within the Central New York region.


About Women’s Theatre Festival

The Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF) is a group of theatre artists, both women and allies, who seek to address gender parity, diversity, & inclusion in the theatre community.

* denotes a member of Actors Equity Association