Shakespeare & Co plans for a 2011 season with warmth, wit and wisdom

Heading into its 34th season, the pieces are falling into place at Shakespeare & Company for what appears to be a year filled with hilarity and high octane performances tempered with a bit of soul searching. The first details of the company’s 2011 plans have emerged, and for this theatre-goer there are a lot of good times ahead. Some ten productions are planned, half familiar, half new.

Lead photo above shows Artistic Director Tony Simotes with Alexandra Lincoln and is by Kevin Sprague, who has chronicled the merriment at Shakespeare & Company for years.

New for 2011 is the poignant comedy The Memory of Water, about three sisters at the funeral of their mother. British playwright Shelagh Stephenson has created a fascinating scenario: their soon-to-be buried mother returns to haunt her three daughters, pushing them to resolve their differences before she is laid to rest. Memory of Water will be directed by Kevin G. Coleman and features audience favorites Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Corinna May, Annette Miller and Kristin Wold. Additional cast to be announced later.

The searing wit and wisdom of Molly Ivins lives on.

Equally tempting is the witty and sometimes controversial Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret Engel and sister Allison Engel, with Tina Packer playing the irrepressible Molly Ivins – she gave Bush the nickname Shrub – a Texas columnist whose unforgiving eye was paired with the most rollicking sense of humor of any humorist since Will Rogers or Erma Bombeck. (Think Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd meet John Waters.) Now imagine Tina Packer playing Molly, and I just know it’s bound to be a devastatingly funny evening of theatre.

While we are on the light side of things, the hit show of 2009, The Hound of the Baskervilles returns with the same cast and director for another round of madness, mayhem and cross dressing. Featuring the irrepressible Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe and Ryan Winkles, and directed by Tony Simotes, this audience howler moves at light speed to its dénouement.

In a similar vein, The 39 Steps takes Hitchcock to hilarious territory as the 1935 adventure film is repeated nearly verbatim onstage, but with a cast of four playing more than a hundred roles. Details are still in negotiation.

Artistic Director Tony Simotes does not plan to allow us to overindulge on crackling wit and ROFL farce, there’s serious theatre to be done in 2011 as well.

Finn Wittrock as Romeo in the Washington, DC, Shakespeare Theatre Company production.

Shakespeare’s most loved play, Romeo and Juliet will run in repertory with As You Like It on the Mainstage. The eternal love story will be directed by Daniela Varon and features the up-and-coming star Finn Wittrock as Romeo.

Wittrock was recently seen as one of television’s bad-boy heart-throbs on All My Children, Wittrock spent much of his youth at S&Co., performing in Very Young Company, Young Company and Mainstage productions. Romeo and Juliet also features 16 players, many of whom will double into As You Like It.

As You Like It opens the Founder’s Theatre season on June 24, and will be directed by Tony Simotes. opens Founders’ and features a cast of 16 including Merritt Janson (Desdemona, Othello 2007 & 2008, and Viola, Twelfth Night 2009) as Rosalind, other actors to be announced.

Tina Packer's Women of Will is a marvel of acting, erudition and insight. Kevin Sprague photo.

One of Shakespeare’s strongest woman characters is Rosalind, and she features prominently in Tina Packer’s opener at the Elayne P.Bernstein Theatre, Women of Will, The Complete Journey (Parts 1-IV). In this wonderful event – part performance, part discussion and total immersion – Tina Packer and Nigel Gore – bring you into Shakespeare’s world in a way you have never experienced before. It will forever enhance your appreciation of all things Shakespeare, and let you see two immensely talented actors who have worked together for years interact as real people, and as their characters.

Rounding out the planned season is Moliere’s The Learned Ladies, slated to warm audience’s funny bones next winter, and the return of the current playing The Santaland Diaries with Peter Davenport.

The outdoor Rose Footprint Theatre and Bankside Festival will feature a classic French farce (TBA) along with a full line-up of free, fun and kid-friendly special events and shows for the entire family to enjoy. And of course on Independence Day weekend, there will be the usual reading of the Declaration of Independence celebrating the first long weekend of summer.

Current Season breaks box office records

Managing Director Nicholas J. Puma Jr said “Much to my delight this past season was a big win for us. Not only were our productions, performances and artists given both local and national critical acclaim but our big news is our hugely successful box office and attendance. We are currently at $1,281,349.50 in box office revenue which breaks last year’s box office and brings us up to a whopping 23.4 percent ahead of sales last year at this time and we still have 2 more productions to go (box-office revenues contribute about 30 percent to the Company’s total annual operating budget).

“We are also tipping over 52,000 in attendance,” he continued, “a record for us and with this combination of sales and attendance, it puts us on-track to top our biggest box-office revenue in the history of the Company when we officially close our 2010/11 season in March with The Mystery of Irma Vep. During this past year we also completed our $10 million Capital Campaign with a final Kresge Challenge grant that helped close the gap in reaching our goal. Being able to refinance our mortgage this past year and streamline our policy structures, the Company continues to operate more effectively and efficiently. It certainly is a time for celebration both on and off stage but also a time to continue to be fiscally and artistically responsible. Onwards and upwards.”

Tony Simotes doesn't stand on ceremony, nor seek sympathy. He just rolls up his sleeves and plunges in. Kevin Sprague photo.

In October of 2009 Shakespeare & Company was a theatre company on the ropes, and its future uncertain. A combination of a souring economy and mounting debt faced new Artistic Director Tony Simotes.

Then, earlier this year, Simotes had a bout with throat cancer, and through it all, the spunky leader still managed to not only keep the company together, mainly by inspiring his fellow company members to outdo themselves in every area.

Sometimes adversity brings out the best in people, and that is certainly true of the people that make up Shakespeare & Company.

Ask Tony. He will say it is so.

Simotes sums up the company’s most difficult year

“This was the season to focus on celebrating the power of the human spirit,” says Simotes. “I have never been more convinced of our strength as a Company, and the importance of family, friends, community and artistic expression. Personally, this has been a very challenging year with my battle with cancer, and I am happy to say I WON. I am finding myself not only turning a new page in my life history, but the history of the Company.

“Like many other cultural organizations, we were hit hard with the recession. And on top of that, we also had our own internal financial struggles to tackle,” he admitted, “while running one of the largest Shakespeare Festivals in North America.

“Part of our strategy for getting back on track financially at Shakespeare & Company involves doing more for less, as well as being creative in our budgeting, planning and daily work schedules.

“I didn’t want to select a season that would jeopardize the quality of our productions and performances, and so with that in mind, we have a roster of plays that I think our audiences will really enjoy. We wanted to bring our audience members a season of light, love, comedy, and hope, and so we are rousing up some of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, romances, and one of the greatest love stories in the canon. I am also very excited to bring titles that are new to the Company, which will be performed in the Bernstein Theatre. It is my hope that these robust, thought-provoking, and even controversial selection of plays will ignite conversation and stir the imagination.”

The financial future

Simotes continued on a more somber note: “Perhaps most importantly, I want to continue to get the word out that Shakespeare & Company is a fiscally responsible, thriving organization. After a year and a half of tight budget cuts, layoffs, pay reductions and restructuring, we have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes. Now, it’s all about identifying the ways we can fulfill our mission while maximizing our income.

“When it comes to the experience we offer our patrons, or the joy in the faces of the students we work with, or the inspiration of the actors who come here from around the world to train—in short, our impact on our communities—we are proud of what we do, and think we do it very well. But now is the time to be absolutely certain we’re also doing it well from a financial and organizational standpoint.

“We want to continue to reinforce our mission of bringing new works, new voices and artists to our stages, while exploring the timeless words, wisdom and world of Shakespeare; words that consistently illuminate our own lives, our humanity, and the deeper meaning of what it is to act, to be alive, and to dream.”

Tony Simotes thinks running a large company is no joking matter, but his company is noted for its outstanding sense of humor as Alexandra Lincoln demonstrates. Kevin Sprague Photo.

 

Here is a show by show breakdown, with dates as announced to date. For more information, visit www.shakespeare.org

2011 Summer Season At A Glance

Founders’ Theatre:

As You Like It

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Artistic Director Tony Simotes

Featuring: Merritt Janson as Rosalind. Other cast members TBA.

Founders’ Theatre: June 24—September 4

Press Opening: Friday, July 1 at 7:30pm

“I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.” – II.v

Before he is sufficiently mauled by the ‘hounds’ of the Baskervilles, Artistic Director Tony Simotes will take on Shakespeare’s romantic and pastoral comedy As You Like It, along with a 16 member cast who will ignite the stage as they kick-off Founders’ summer repertory season. A full-bodied experience of the many faces of love, As You Like It takes the audience on a fabled journey into the Forest of Arden, where anything can happen and does! Simotes may have let the ‘hounds out’, but there is still plenty of mistaken identity, mayhem, music, song, dance, crazy antics and fun to be had with his production of As You Like It. By turns enchanting and mysterious, hilarious and heartbreaking, this enigmatic tale has long beguiled audiences with its story of miraculous transformation and the enduring strength of family ties. An ideal play for the whole family, this startling and original adventure is not quite a comedy, not quite a tragedy, but one hundred percent Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Daniela Varon

Featuring: Finn Wittrock as Romeo. Other cast members TBA

Founder’s Theatre: July 8—September 3

Press Opening: Friday, July 15 at 7:30pm

“With loves light wings did I o’er-perch these walls, for stony limits cannot hold love out.”-II.ii

Finn Wittrock will play Romeo.

Romeo and Juliet brings audiences one of Shakespeare’s best-known tales of ill-fated lovers onto the boards in its retelling of the greatest love story of all time.

The director Daniela Varon (last year’s sleeper hit Sea Marks, the world-premier of Martha Mitchell CallingThe Taming of the ShrewMuch Ado About Nothing, and Collected Stories to name a few)  returns to direct a stalwart troupe of 16 actors on this stunning journey of familial woe, love, jealously, and a tragic cascade of events that forever defines these lovers as ‘star-cross’d.’

Varon has a distinctive style that is touched with heart and whimsey which may prove to be a magic ingredient in the staging of this oft-done tale.

Many young theatre-goers are delighted that the popular actor Finn Wittrock has been cast as Romeo, since he has made a name for himself on television. Just who his Juliet will be is still to be revealed, along with the rest of the cast and specific performance schedule.  Wittrock has worked with the company since his youth.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

By Steven Canny and John Nicholson

Directed by Tony Simotes

Featuring: Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe and Ryan Winkles

Founder’s Theatre: July 21—September 4

Press Opening: Friday, July 22 at 7:30pm

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a delectable treat for those summer patrons who weren’t able to catch it in the fall of 2009, when it made its American Premier at S&Co., and a chance for those who did to come back for another howling good time! Buckle up: the “boys” are at it again! Take one beloved story which really needed no elaboration (let’s be honest), add three actors playing sixteen characters, a few fake beards, plenty of cross-dressing and a host of bad British accents, and you get S&Co.’s uproariously funny take on The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The hilarious Hound of the Baskervilles cast returns for another round of laughter and applause. Kevin Sprague photo.

The same shameless trio of actors who made this new play into a huge hit unmercifully catapults Simotes (whether he likes it or not) back into the directors’ chair as he buckles up for more mayhem than you can shake a paw at.  Jonathan Croy returns as the bumbling yet adorable ‘straight-man’ Dr. Watson (the only one who doesn’t wear a skirt in the show…yet), Josh Aaron McCabe as the heady, handsome Sherlock Holmes (and the frighteningly attractive flamenco dancer Cecile), and Ryan Winkles as the sometimes lamb-butchering Scotsman (aka, Sir Henry) and please keep in mind “…it’s not a REAL lamb!”

It is truly a wild and wooly romp that takes one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes tales and ruins it—umm, we mean, turns it inside out—stuffing it with endless laughs as it barrels forward at a breakneck pace. This madcap adventure is great for the Sherlock Holmes novices, and will be only mildly offensive to the hardcore purists…we hope.


Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre:

Women of Will: The complete journey (Parts I-V)

By Tina Packer

Directed by Eric Tucker

Featuring: Tina Packer and Nigel Gore

May 27July 10

Press Openings: Part I: Thursday, June 2nd at 8:00pm; Part II: Friday, June 3rd at 8:00pm; Part III: Saturday, June 4th at 3:00pm; Part IV: Saturday, June 4th at 8:00pm; Part V: Sunday, June 5th at 3:00pm

“And speak I will; I am no child, no babe.”- The Taming of the Shrew, IV.iii

A true tour de force of performance, discussion, and just a bit of crowd participation, Women of Will is the much-anticipated, masterful summation of Tina Packer’s 40-odd years of deep investigation into all things Shakespeare. Director Eric Tucker returns to join forces once again with Founding Artistic Director Packer and her equally talented acting mate Nigel Gore, giving the trio another chance to stretch their iambic muscles as they limber up with a limited run this summer of Women of Will: The Complete Journey (Parts I-V). Packer is also in the midst of negotiating a national tour for the series which will take both her and Gore on the road for most of the Fall & Winter of 2011 & 2012.  This not-to-be-missed extravaganza features the fully expanded, five-part version of Packer’s opus, performed in an intimate setting. This is a priceless opportunity to explore the depth of Shakespeare’s work with Shakespeare & Company’s visionary founder.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dennis Krausnick and presented by S&Co.’s Performance Intern Company

Featuring: Cast TBA

Bernstein Theatre: July 6 — September 3

Press Opening: Saturday, July 9 at 12:45pm

Oh heaven, but man were constant, he were perfect!” – V.iv

A continuation of the very popular Lunchbox Shakespeare tradition, where patrons can purchase a lunch before the show to compliment their bite of Bard, this lively production is presented by the young actors in Shakespeare & Company’s professional actor training program—The Performance Intern Company.

Shakespeare’s earliest romantic comedy about adolescent love, The Two Gentlemen of Verona explodes onto the Bernstein stage with the youthful exuberance of the Performance Intern Company. Dennis Krausnick, Director of the Center for Actor Training at S&Co. will guide the group of 10-16 young and talented actors as they bring their training onto the stage with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. An early example of the Elizabethans’ love of language, swordplay, physical prowess and inquiry, The Two Gentlemen of Verona was first performed in 1594-1595. Take two boys from Verona (Valentine and Proteus) have them both fall in love with the same girl (Silvia), add in the complications that one of the boys (Proteus) is already engaged to another girl (Julia), and the fact that his new love’s daddio (the Duke of Milan) has plans for her to marry someone else (Thurio), and then throw an extra twist into the mix with one of the girls (Julia) disguises herself as a man and sneaks off to Milan …are you following this? The result is an action-packed, hilarious romantic comedy wherein − after a series of mishaps, misunderstandings and mayhem − love wins out and all is righted in the world again.

Note: The Performance Intern Company is a competitive, summer-long immersion in actor training and performance led by Krausnick and S&Co.’s master teachers. Internships are a valuable and popular route taken by many young performers looking to take the next step in their careers and offer an opportunity for the best and brightest young actors to gain professional theatre experience straight out of drama school. Participants work 6 days a week in rehearsals which include, voice, movement, Elizabethan dance, sonnet, text and fight work. They also understudy many of the roles in both the Mainstage and Bernstein productions, and can be seen this coming summer on the Rose Footprint Theatre in one of the many family-friendly and FREE Bankside offerings. Cast and schedule TBA.

The Memory of Water

By Shelagh Stephenson

Directed by Kevin G. Coleman

Featuring: Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Corinna May, Annette Miller, Kristin Wold and others TBA.

Bernstein Theatre: June 16September 4

Press Opening: Saturday, June 18, 8:00pm

“Can you feel nostalgia for something that never existed?” – The Memory of Water

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Corinna May have appeared together before.

A huge hit in the Company’s popular and annual new works celebration The Studio Festival of Plays this past September, The Memory of Water is a this moving and hilarious comedy that follows three sisters (Teresa, Mary and Catherine) as they come together for their mother’s funeral, and re-examine the foggy events of the past.

In remembering their mother, each sister has a different opinion of what truly happened, and it isn’t long before their hidden lies and betrayals are finally revealed.

Yet, even as the sisters drift around their own islands of memory, they yet are unified by their familial bond. This point is driven home when their soon-to-be buried mother returns to haunt her three daughters, pushing them to resolve their differences before she is laid to rest. A poignant black comedy, The Memory of Water is a lucid examination of the relationships between mothers, daughters, and sisters.

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

By Margaret Engel and Allison Engel

Directed by TBA

Featuring: Tina Packer

Bernstein Theatre: August 3—September 4

Press Opening: Friday, August 5 at 8:00pm

“My legacy will be helping folks be a pain in the ass to those in power.”- Molly Ivins

“I write and do these things because I can’t help myself, but most of it’s just back-talk I wish I’d said to my father.”

- Molly Ivins

A fiercely independent newspaper columnist, Molly Ivins never tired of advocating for marginalized Americans and railing against the interests of big oil and untrustworthy politicians. A champion for the people and a beer drinker to boot, Molly Ivins was a force to be reckoned with and her spirit shines in this one woman show. “I just finished reading the play again,” says Packer.  “What I am left with is: Drinkin’, jokin’ and telling the truth were the 3 loves of Molly Ivin’s life (if you don’t count her father, Bob Bullock and the newspaper business).  Her dog’s name was Shit, her college was Smith and she put the Shrub in George W. Bush.”

Bankside Festival:

REVOLUTIONARY MOMENTS

Monday, July 4, Noon

Bernstein Theatre

The Declaration of Independence is preceded again this year by Revolutionary Moments, a special collection of vignettes compiled by Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer and featuring S&Co. actors. Part performance, part narration, part discussion, Revolutionary Moments highlights the influence of Shakespeare on some of history’s most fascinating figures at key moments of decision. Not to be missed!

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Monday, July 4, 3pm

Bankside Meadow. Free!

Celebrate a revolutionary weekend! Our free, ever-popular reading of the Declaration of Independence features some of the most stirring words of political rhetoric ever written, spoken out loud by S&Co. actors and special guests from the community. Filled with music, barbeque, sweets and treats, this jubilant summer event is always a huge hit, and drew nearly 1,000 patrons last year.

Shakespeare & Young Company

Rose Footprint Theatre: August 17 and 19, 5pm

$15 adult/ free for ages 18 and under

No writer has captured the powerful emotions of adolescence better than Shakespeare. In his words, youth spring eternal. Join our Young Company actors as they perform Shakespeare’s works with a fierce and fiery temperament, exploring their passion for friendship, love, justice, and hope.

Special events and more:

Studio Festival of Plays

Founders’ Theatre: September 5, 11am—11pm

Suggested donation: $16 per performance

The Studio Festival provides a rare chance to see cutting edge works in an informal setting, with Company artists presenting one-time staged readings of some of the most exciting new work around. Many Studio Festival plays are under consideration for future seasons; past plays that have gone on to celebrated full productions include this year’sThe Memory of Water plus Mengelberg and MahlerGolda’s BalconyMartha Mitchell Calling and A Tanglewood Tale, to name a few.

Wednesday Q&A Sessions

Wednesdays, July 13—August 24

Included with ticket price for each performance

Our productions are bound to get you talking. But why not include Company actors in your post-show conversation? Join us for these performances and enjoy an informal Q&A with the actors. Have a nagging question you’ve been dying to ask since intermission? Here’s your chance!

July 6 following Two Gentlemen of Verona

July 13 following The Memory of Water

July 20 following Romeo and Juliet

July 27 following The Memory of Water

August 3 following The Rose Footprint Performance

August 10 following As You Like It

August 18 following The Hound of the Baskervilles

August 24 following The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Behind the Scenes Tours

10am on Wednesdays and Saturdays, July 2—September 3

Tours begin at Josie’s Place in Founders’ Theatre

$10 adults/$5 aged 18 and under

Our popular Backstage Tours return! These two-hour adventures take you through the inner workings of Shakespeare & Company. Explore the behind-the-scenes workings of the costume shop, armory, backstage areas, and more. You’ll also get an insider’s view of the nuts and bolts that underpin a day in the life at the height of our season.

Eat  Like Falstaff!

Founders’ Theatre Tent: Every Saturday in July and August, 5:00pm to 7:30pm.




Ticket promotions, special discounts for Berkshire residents, and more

Tickets for the 2011-2012 season may be purchased on or after January 5th on-line at: www.shakespeare.org or by calling the Box Office at (413) 637-3353, or in person at 70 Kemble Street, Lenox Ma. Ticket prices range from $10 to $85, with multiple discounts from 10-50% off regular ticket prices and are available for Groups, Students, Seniors, Teachers and the Military. The company features a popular 40% Off Berkshire County Discount. Both Founders’ and Bernstein theatres are wheelchair accessible and hearing-aid assisted. To learn more about the season, discount availability, to order tickets or request a season brochure, visit www.shakespeare.org. For Group bookings, parties, and special event rental information and details contact David Joseph, Director of Sales & Group Tours, at (413) 637-1199 ext. 132 or groupsales@shakespeare.org.

3 for 99 Promotion

Shakespeare & Company features a “3 for 99 Deal” allowing someone to see any three productions of their choice during the 2011-12 Season for just $99. If someone purchases the “3 for 99 Deal” by January 31st they will also receive a ticket to The Two Gentlemen of Verona in the Bernstein. Contact the Box Office at (413) 637-3353 or email boxoffice@shakespeare.org for details. The “3 for 99 Deal” is available for a limited time only, excludes Saturday evening performances and cannot be combined with any other discounts.

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