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NYSTI breathes life into Sleepy Hollow legend

New York State Theater Institute director Patricia Snyder wanted the theater to try a retelling of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for its current season.

Mary Jane Hansen had an idea. She wanted to explore the story behind the story: how did Irving create a classic at a time when there really were no novelists in America, and the rest of the world had never embraced an American author?

The result is Hansen's "A Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which opens at NYSTI on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 2 p.m. It will run through Oct. 30 at the Schine Fine Arts Center at Russell Sage College in Troy.

Hansen said that when she first started looking into a retelling of "Sleepy Hollow," "I didn't know what story to tell." But as she learned more about Irving's early life, she was captivated by how he was able to establish himself as one of America's first great writers with the publication of several stories in Europe around 1820.

One of those stories was "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Hansen imagines the inspiration for the story coming from a meeting with Aaron Burr, the one-time vice president and, like Irving, a resident of the Hudson Valley. In Hansen's story, Burr wanted Irving to help him defend Sleepy Hollow resident Brom Bones, who was arrested after a headless skeleton was discovered in town. The remains were believed to belong to Ichabod Crane, Bones' one-time romantic rival.

While Hansen's story is fictional, it's steeped in history. She poured countless hours into researching Irving, Burr and other characters, and the play's actors did likewise.

"It's a joy because there's a wealth of information out there to go to," said David Bunce, who plays Burr. "It's great fun to read biographies."

The cast even took a trip to Irving's estate, called Sunnyside, in Tarrytown.

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