For Berkshire's Shakespeare on the Mount, Optimism in the Race for Space

News   For Berkshire's Shakespeare on the Mount, Optimism in the Race for Space Some see hope for Shakespeare on the Mount, the company that has established a 22-year tradition of theatre and arts education in the Berkshires at Edith Wharton's former estate in Lenox, Mass.

Some see hope for Shakespeare on the Mount, the company that has established a 22-year tradition of theatre and arts education in the Berkshires at Edith Wharton's former estate in Lenox, Mass.

For the past several months, Shakespeare and Company has been desperately searching for a new home. The theatre company will not be able to renew its lease with the Edith Wharton Restoration after 2003, and has been fundraising and seeking new quarters under artistic director Tina Packer.

Last July, on a whim, said a theatre spokesperson, Tina Packer approached Gloria Pennington, president of the neighboring National Music Foundation (NMF) in Lenox and within a week had made the NMF an offer of $5.1 million for its campus complex. The offer was made pending customary inspections and feasibility studies.

Later, Shakespeare and Company's administrators learned that the NMF property and buildings would require extensive renovation, beyond what was first imagined, and this lead to a reduced offer to the NMF of $4.1 million.

Complicating the sale, however, are issues relating to grants made earlier to the NMF by the State of Massachusetts. Most of the nearly four million in State money was actually put into renovating the NMF complex, but certain instances of mismanagement have been pointed out. These include the alleged use of NMF funds to pay co-op maintenance fees for NMF president Gloria Pennington's daughter's NYC apartment, on the grounds that it was also used as NMF's NYC office. Given the prospect of an imminent sale of NMF's primary assets to Shakespeare and Company, and because a major NMF donor has fallen behind in scheduled payments on a "matching grants" program connected with the State, an audit was called for by Rep. Christopher J. Hodgkins (D - Lee, MA)

The Hodgkins audit calls for a lien and for a return of the millions to the State by the NMF.

The recent wave of optimism followed a meeting last week with the State that included a Lenox Selectman, Rep. Hodgkins and theatre administrators. It appears the State supports the sale to Shakespeare and Company and that the government could recoup a certain portion of the proceeds once existing NMF mortgages are paid.

-- By Murdoch McBride