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LENOX — The Assoc. for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) awarded the 2022 Ellen Stewart Career Achievement Award in Professional Theatre to Tina Packer, founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.

The award is named for American theater director and producer Ellen Stewart (1919-2011) and is awarded annually to an individual primarily based in professional theater, honoring a career of distinguished service to the field.

ATHE Executive Director Aimee Zygmonski lauded Packer for her work, noting that it has “inspired generations of actors and spectators.”

“Tina Packer’s Shakespeare & Company develops and performs classical and contemporary works, houses one of the largest theater-in-education programs in the Northeast, and offers year-round actor-training opportunities,” Zygmonski said. “She has developed transformative training methodologies and, for four decades, been an advocate of collective storytelling, both nationally and in her local community.”

According to ATHE, Ellen Stewart Career Achievement awardees are recognized for superlative contributions to the field over the span of a career and exhibit significant selfless service; serve as authentic role models to peers and students; are original thinkers whose work has established new frames of reference; are instrumental in nurturing careers of others; are proven, effective advocates for the field; and are known for supporting multiculturalism and diversity in theater and education. Honorees were announced at ATHE’s annual conference last month.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Jaclyn Stevenson

Jaclyn Stevenson says Shakespeare & Company has extended its season into the shoulder months surrounding summer.

 

Jennifer Nacht describes the beginning of the summer season in Lenox as a light switch that clicks on to a time of “happy mayhem.”

Unofficially, the season begins after Memorial Day weekend, but Nacht, executive director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, noted that the weekends leading up to the holiday were plenty busy, as well. In fact, as early as January she first began to see a vibrant summer on the horizon for Lenox.

Back then, Nacht had begun planning the Lenox Art Walk event scheduled for this month. Her attempt to reserve hotel rooms for artists who planned to travel to the event was more difficult than anticipated.

“I was able to find only three rooms after calling several different hotels back in January,” Nacht said. “They were all so apologetic and said that because of weddings and other events, every place was booked full.” 

This difficulty with finding rooms is just one indication of what promises to be a sizzling summer for Lenox, which, because of its tourism-based economy, faced innumerable challenges during the past two summers of COVID, and is poised for a breakout year.

Indeed, ‘healthy’ and ‘robust’ are terms that Marybeth Mitts, chair of the Lenox Select Board, uses to describe tourism in her community as high season, the three months of summer, commence.

“We’re excited to welcome the first full season of Tanglewood since the summer of 2019,” Mitts said, adding that, with a full summer of Boston Symphony Orchestra performances as well as a Popular Artists series, Tanglewood’s economic impact on Lenox and the Berkshires is considerable.

As one small snapshot, Nacht pointed out that James Taylor’s annual shows on July 3 and 4 will bring more than 36,000 people to town over just those two days.

“We’re excited to welcome the first full season of Tanglewood since the summer of 2019.”

Shakespeare and Company is another Lenox-based arts institution projecting not just a solid summer, but a solid year.

Indeed the theater company has extended its season into the shoulder months surrounding summer. Jaclyn Stevenson, director of marketing and communications, said the longer season is experimental, and will incorporate performances both indoors and outdoors.

Last year when COVID numbers stubbornly stayed high enough to threaten Shakespeare and Company’s ability to stage indoor plays, plans for an outdoor theatre that was a “someday” project, moved on to the fast track.

“The Spruce Theatre was constructed in 90 days in the summer of 2021,” Stevenson said. Modeled after the amphitheaters of ancient Greece, the stage rests in front of several tall spruce trees that are incorporated into the design.

“When the idea for it was presented in the context of COVID, it was much easier for everyone to understand the vision Artistic Director Allyn Burrows had for the theater,” added Stevenson.

While the company already had its outdoor Roman Garden Theatre that seats 280, the Spruce Theatre is a 500-seat facility with room to stage larger productions. In fact, the opening play for the Spruce Theatre was a production of King Lear featuring actor Christopher Lloyd in the title role.

“Having Christopher Lloyd here to christen the stage was a real coup,” Stevenson remembered. “It was the kind of fanfare we would not have been able to create otherwise in a COVID world.”

For this, the latest installment of its Ciommunity Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at how Lenox is well-positioned to further rebound from COVID and take full advantage of what is expected to be a big year for the tourism sector — and communities that rely on such businesses to fuel their economy.

 

Art and Soul

The Art Walk is a good example of an event that was created at the height of the pandemic after the town was forced to cancel its annual Apple Squeeze event. As an alternative to the town-wide festival, Nacht and others developed the Art Walk and scheduled it for the late-September weekend when Apple Squeeze would have taken place.

The first Art Walk consisted of 40 artists set up in different areas of town known as “artist villages.” These villages were arranged to accommodate only small groups of people with an emphasis on foot-traffic flow to keep everyone moving through the exhibits.

The event received great feedback and has quickly become a tradition in Lenox. Now in its third year, Art Walk features spring and fall editions. Meanwhile, the Apple Squeeze has returned, and will take place on Sept. 24.

Jennifer Nacht

Jennifer Nacht says the summer is looking very promising for Lenox and its many tourism-related businesses.

“It’s very validating to see these events that we put together on the fly are now becoming established,” said Nacht, noting that Lenox Loves Music is another event created during the pandemic that has had staying power.

In Lenox, music and entertainment are an important part of the town’s identity. When Tanglewood, Shakespeare and Company and the other entertainment venues shut down at the height of COVID, the chamber began working with the Berkshire Music School on a series of Sunday afternoon concerts, and Lenox Loves Music was born.

“The new events really help the merchants,” Nacht said. “Our real goal is to hold events that bring people to Lenox who will eat in our restaurants and explore our shops.”

Like the Art Walk, the popularity of Lenox Loves Music has made it a keeper, with concerts every Friday in June and September.

“We run all these events in the shoulder months of May and June then September and October,” Nacht said. “Once our high season hits, beginning the weekend of July 4, we’re packed with visitors so we don’t need to entice tourists because they are already here.”

Shakespeare and Company is another organization that has extended its season to the shoulder months. In years past, the company would stage three plays by the Bard and three contemporary works. With the expanded season, it is staging two Shakespeare plays along with five or six modern plays.

“The mission of our company is based on the work of Shakespeare,” Stevenson said. “We choose our plays thoughtfully to reflect the spirit of the Bard and to show people new things.”

In addition to staging plays, the company also has a robust actor-training program and a nationally recognized theatre-in-education program.

Stevenson noted that a high-school-age theater group had recently performed Romeo and Juliet on the Spruce Theatre stage.

“The new events really help the merchants. Our real goal is to hold events that bring people to Lenox who will eat in our restaurants and explore our shops.”

“It was so cool to see students on the same stage where actors from all over the world will be performing Much Ado About Nothing in July,” Stevenson said. “You could see the joy of them being in that space.”

 

Setting the Stage

To accommodate all the tourists visiting these attractions, and locals as well, Lenox has a number of projects in the works to refurbish some of its municipal buildings while plans are in the works to build several new structures for town departments.

Beginning with Town Hall, Mitts said improvements are underway to replace the carpet and curtains in the auditorium as well as install a new roof and gold leaf on the Town Hall cupola.

“The town has capital plans within the next five years to begin construction on a new wastewater treatment plant, and a new public safety structure to include the Lenox police and fire departments,” Mitts said.

In addition to roof and chimney repairs to the library, Mitts said a key project involves updating the HVAC system.

“We’re installing a new interstitial system to manage ventilation in the building,” Mitts said. “This is to ensure proper storage of the library’s collections including rare books and ephemera of the region.”

Meanwhile, a different kind of refurbishing project is taking place at Mass Audubon Society’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, a popular destination for hikers at all levels. Last July a wind and rainstorm felled thousands of trees and severely damaged a boardwalk at Pike’s Pond. With $200, 000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the state and private donations, cleanup and renovations are in progress.

“Many of the trails and structures have been restored, however, there is on-going work to bring the facility back up to the full capacity it enjoyed in June 2021,” Mitts said.

As for the chamber of commerce, Nacht said that while the pandemic really challenged the agency in many different ways, it also presented an opportunity for the chamber to show what it could do to support efforts in town.

“People are now confident in the chamber and look to us for help with their events,” Nacht said offering the example of a proverbial ‘good problem to have’ at a recent farmers’ market.

“The farmers’ market brought so many people to town there weren’t enough lunch places for people,” Nacht said. The chamber arranged for a food truck run by someone who had worked in Lenox restaurants for 20 years. “He was excited to be back in Lenox and tells people he’s living his dream with his food truck.”

“It’s nice to feel that kind of energy coming back to Lenox,” she went on, adding that energy levels are expected to soar even higher during what is shaping up to be a very memorable summer.

Daily News

LENOXSheila Bandyopadhyay has joined Shakespeare & Company as its director of training, beginning her new position on August 9. 

A director, movement specialist, performer, and devisor of original theater, Bandyopadhyay has an extensive background in both new work and Shakespeare and has trained and taught with the company as an education and training artist. 

“I began my career at Shakespeare & Company, so taking on this role is a wonderful return,” said Bandyopadhyay. “I look forward to upholding the high quality of actor training Shakespeare & Company is known for, establishing inclusive practices, and expanding our offerings to keep us at the forefront of theatrical artistry.” 

Bandyopadhyay has been an active player in New York’s independent theater scene, with work at venues including the West End Theater, the Brick in Brooklyn, the Tank, the 72nd St. Theater Lab, and multiple festivals for new work (directing/devising); the Boston Center for the Arts, Gallatin NYU, FSU/Asolo, and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts Company (movement and choreography), and The Humanist Project and Stages on the Sound as a performer, among others. 

Some of her favorite roles include Tamora in Titus Andronicus, Bianca/Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew, and ​​Scheherazade/Dahna in 1001 by Jason Grote. 

Artistic Director Allyn Burrows said Shakespeare & Company’s artists, administration, and staff are thrilled to have Bandyopadhyay take on the position of Director of Training.  

“Sheila brings a profound depth of teaching experience that the participants in our training programs will sincerely benefit from,” he said. “She knows well the work we delve into here, and brings a broad perspective and insight into the conversation of what we know about actor training and how we can evolve. This is an exciting moment for us.” 

Before becoming director of training, Bandyopadhyay served as head of the Professional Training Program and Core Movement Faculty at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and Head of Movement at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Bandyopadhyay has taught actor training workshops internationally and on both coasts. 

In her new role, Bandyopadhyay will steward Shakespeare & Company’s acclaimed Center for Actor Training into a new era, continuing to refine its aesthetic and enacting positive change for a more accessible, inclusive environment.  

Daily News


LENOX — Shakespeare & Company, a theater performance, education, and training outfit now celebrating its 45th year, announced the appointment of Amy Handelsman as managing director, effective May 1. 

Handelsman accepted the position following an executive search process led by Arts Consulting Group (ACG), and comes to the company with more than two decades of diverse experience in theater, dance, film, and television, particularly in the areas of nonprofit management, business development, and strategic planning.  

“I am thrilled to be joining Allyn Burrows, the rest of the staff, and the board at Shakespeare & Company — one of the nation’s most highly regarded theater companies — to uphold the playful rigor of its work and to open up new avenues for programming, partnerships, and community engagement,” she said. 

In her new position, Handelsman will be responsible for championing Shakespeare & Company’s artistic vision through the development of new and expanded income streams, expansion, and cultivation of the company’s Board of Trustees; supervision of administrative, marketing, and fundraising efforts, and ongoing engagement with various constituents in the Berkshire County community.  

Most recently, Handelsman served as managing director of GALLIM, a movement production company based in Brooklyn, N.Y., which has staged productions at Lincoln Center’s Hearst Plaza, New York City Ballet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Ailey II Dance Company, and other venues.  

She serves on the Artistic Council of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Playwrights Conference, and has worked as a curator, dramaturge, project manager, and consultant for a wide range of clients including the Hip-Hop Theater Festival (Hi-ARTS), HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and locally with Jacob’s Pillow and the Batsheva Dance Company’s 2018 Summer Tour.  

Tourism & Hospitality

Staging Ground

Actors in last year’s production of King Lear, starring Christopher Lloyd (center), rehearse in costume on The New Spruce Theatre stage.

 

“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

Daily News

LENOX — Jaclyn Stevenson has been appointed director of Marketing and Communications at Shakespeare & Company, a nonprofit theater performance, education, and actor-training organization based in Lenox.

Jaclyn Stevenson

In her position, Stevenson directs all marketing and communications efforts for the company and supervises the Graphic Design and Patron Services departments, including in the areas of audience engagement, retail operations, and concessions. She also serves as co-chair of the communications subcommittee of the IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility) committee, and as liaison to the Lenox Cultural District steering committee.

Stevenson brings more than 20 years of communications experience to the position, having worked with a wide range of clients, including Toyota Motor Corp., CIGNA Healthcare, Disney World Sports, Spalding, and many others. Most recently, she served as director of Marketing and Communications for Columbia-Greene Community College, part of the State University of New York system.

A BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree in 2012, she holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Bridgewater State University and a master’s degree in organization development from American International College, as well as several certifications relative to web accessibility, social-media management, and risk management.

Daily News

LENOX — Shakespeare & Company hopes to open a 500-seat amphitheater on its grounds this summer. Founded in 1978, the theater company attracts more than 40,000 patrons to Lenox annually.

“We’ve been considering this particular location on the property for a long time as part of our strategic plan,” Artistic Director Allyn Burrows said. “We can imagine Shakespeare’s words resonating amongst these spruce trees as they have with the pines at the Mount and the lilacs of the Roman Garden Theatre. Paying homage to Greek amphitheaters and this company’s history, we’re thrilled that this venue can serve present times and future generations of theater lovers. In addition, our hope is for this new space to further enable our goal of prioritizing inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility — giving us a new stage on which to support that effort.”

Demolition has already begun on the buildings occupying the space where the new performance space, currently known as New Spruce Theatre, will sit. The theater company hopes it will be completed in time for the opening of King Lear this summer.

The open-air theater comes after a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to suspend all of its in-person activities.

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