“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more / Men were deceivers ever / One foot in sea, and one on shore / To one thing constant never.”
That’s a line from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Three words in particular — ‘Sigh no more’ — have been adopted by Shakespeare & Company as its theme for 2022, and for good reason.
“We’ve chosen to signify we’re walking out of hard times, but they’re not far behind us,” said Jaclyn Stevenson, director of Marketing & Communications at the Lenox-based theater organization. “‘One foot at sea and another on shore’ — we’re moving on to greater things, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Cultural destinations across Western Mass. and the U.S. can certainly relate to that sentiment, navigating plenty of woods as COVID-19 shut down almost all live performances in 2020 and continued to hamper the craft in 2021. But Shakespeare & Company has one foot firmly planted on the shore of a post-pandemic world, and hoping it stays there.
“It’s been very challenging,” Stevenson told BusinessWest. “We went from having no performances at all to having outdoor performances last year — and it was a great benefit to have that option. Then, as things started to reopen, there’s that constant challenge of monitoring what the COVID-19 protocols for the public are, and on top of that, the protocols for actors are often different, so we’re looking at the safety of the patrons as well as the safety of our actors.”
Part of that process was creating a second outdoor space, the 500-seat New Spruce Theater, an amphitheater that went up in only 90 days last summer.
As the company’s two indoor venues reopened as well, changes ranged from an entirely new HVAC system, ensuring the best air quality, to ‘safety seating,’ which puts empty seats between each party. That means less tickets sold, but safety was paramount, Stevenson noted.
“This summer, we’re going to have performances on four stages, two outdoor and two indoor. Some people like the air-conditioned performance experience, and some people like to be outside. But the summer season will continue to be challenging because things are ever-changing.”
The two Shakespeare productions planned for 2022 include Much Ado About Nothing — “a lot of companies are doing it this year because it’s so celebratory; everyone’s happy to be back,” Stevenson said — and Measure for Measure, which involves “war and a madman and depression, so it’s very timely.”
This year marks Shakespeare & Company’s 45th season of performances, actor training, and education, Stevenson said, and while the shows are well-known, not as many people are aware of the other two pillars.
The actor training takes several forms: month-long intensive programs, weekend intensive programs, and a Summer Shakespeare Intensive modeled after the month-long program, which provides young actors — undergraduate theater students, recent graduates, and early-career acting professionals — the opportunity to immerse themselves in Shakespeare six days a week for four weeks during the summer performance season.
In addition, the Center for Actor Training offers a variety of specialized workshops throughout the year, exploring a full range of disciplines, including rhetoric, wit, clown, fight, voice, movement, public speaking, and more. The Center for Actor Training now offers many of its workshops and classes online, providing the opportunity for theater professionals around the world to study with its faculty.
The education side of the ledger is highlighted by the annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare, which brings more than 500 students from 10 high schools together each year for a nine-week, collaborative, non-competitive, celebratory exploration and production of multiple Shakespeare plays. “Our faculty members are working, professional actors,” Stevenson noted.
The program — which culminates in full-scale productions at their own schools and then on the main stage at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse — is the subject of Speak What We Feel, a 2021 documentary by Patrick J. Toole that won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Film at the 2021 Berkshire International Film Festival.
“The Fall Festival has persevered and continues to grow,” Stevenson said, though it was much scaled back in 2021. “Hopefully, this fall, we can go back to a typical setup.”
While Shakespeare’s plays are the heart of the organization’s mission, Stevenson was quick to point out that visitors can take in plenty of contemporary plays as well throughout the year, as well as comedy and other events.
Meanwhile, she noted, the campus itself is a recreational — or at least relaxing — spot. “We have a 33-acre campus and walkable, accessible grounds that include a full array of modern sculpture peppered in with buildings of many eras. It’s a beautiful campus — you can come here, park your car, walk around, and have a picnic.”
It’s all located in the heart of Lenox, which is why the company has collaborated with local restaurants, which have created Shakespeare-inspired cocktails and desserts.
“The idea is, you can order an ice-cream cone and be reminded that, right down the street, we’re offering productions during the day and evenings in a full array of modern and contemporary titles.”
Bridging the gap between classic and modern — that’s Shakespeare & Company, which hopes 2022 is the year it finally steps out from the sea of a pandemic and moves confidently up the shore, sighing no more.
— Joseph Bednar