Week one has been an exciting mix of work and play! As Company Manager Jessie Chapman drove me from the train station in Pittsfield to Shakespeare & Company's campus in Lenox, she mentioned that I'd arrived at the busiest time of the season. We began rehearsal for Henry IV on Tuesday, but have only rehearsed four of the possible six days of the week, due to the fact that half of the company is also performing in Artistic Director Tony Simote's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opens today. The other Classical Directing Fellow, the inimitable Emma Weinstein, assisted on Midsummer, so she and I have been like ships passing in the night.
On Thursday night, I was able to join Emma for an “advertiser's preview” of Midsummer – an event where Shakespeare & Company invites the companies who advertise in their Playbill for a special pre-show reception and preview performance of Midsummer or Julius Caesar (which opens on Friday). I was amazed to see how many local businesses support the theater – and vice versa! Last night, the company held its annual gala (which also included a performance of Midsummer), where we met many of the individual donors who support the company. Another production (A Servant of Two Masters) opened on Friday on the company's outdoor stage, and this afternoon I'll catch yet another (a one woman show called Shakespeare's Will). There will ultimately be eight productions performing in four different venues by the time Henry IV opens!
Yesterday I explored Pittsfield a bit more and stopped by Barrington Stage (where Musical Theatre Fellow Hannah Ryan is engaged on three different shows!) to catch a performance of Working on a Special Day, a co-production between The Play Company in New York and Por Piedad Teatro, a non-profit that promotes Mexican-American cultural exchanges. It was a totally beautiful, bittersweet love story performed by two Mexican artists, based on an Italian film. I love watching international collaborations – I find them so rich, in terms of both aesthetics and politics – and this one in particular reminded me of the sort of show I'd see at the MCA in Chicago.
That's what's surprised me most about this week – how much the Berkshires have reminded me of Chicago. Obviously the landscapes are very different, but both environments foster culturally saturated communities and strong ensembles of artists. As with Chicago, I'm amazed by the number of non-profit arts organizations this area is able to support! I've yet to check out Williamstown Theatre Festival, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Jacob's Pillow, Tanglewood... not to mention the museums! And at Shakespeare & Company, there's a real sense of history among the folks who work here. Many have worked with this company for decades; found their partners here; even hold multiple titles within this organization! It's not unlike Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company or Lookingglass Theatre in that regard.
When I first arrived, I felt like a new in-law who had just arrived at a family reunion – because folks both work and play hard together out here, they've truly created their own language. It's beautiful – and a bit intimidating! But people have been truly generous with their time and have helped me learn how to interpret. On my days off from Henry IV rehearsal, I stopped by technical rehearsals for both Midsummer and Julius Caesar; Shakespeare & Company has an open door rehearsal policy, so I'm hoping to observe even more directors in action while I'm here. (I find that it's much more helpful to watch an artist engaged in the work, as opposed to just hearing them talk about their process.) I loved watching Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer give notes to her Caesar company – she has truly infectious energy! I noticed that she started the afternoon with a few big, general notes for the company about what she learned from having an audience for the first time, then transitioned in to several smaller, more specific ones. I also try to work big to small when I'm directing; watching Tina work with her cast reminded me of how effective that technique can be. Director of Education Kevin Coleman introduced me to a new technique, “feeding in,” which I'll detail in a future post!
Pictured above: scenic view on the drive from Great Barrington to Lenox