After months of wrangling details, Berkshire-based Shakespeare and Company has penned an agreement committing the 20-year-old theatre company to purchase the former home of the National Music Foundation in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Eventually Shakespeare and Company, headed by founder and artistic director, Tina Packard will be based on the 63-acre, 22-building property at 40 Kemble Street in Lenox.
Before that happens, Shakespeare and Company will be financing its purchase and then gradually initiating a multi-phase program that will first increase the company's audience base.
Shakespeare and Company spokesperson Dan McCleary said the theatre group is happy to have found a new home, especially one that will seem like a step up after so many years at The Mount, the former home of Edith Wharton, which is run by her estate.
When the estate said it did not want to renew the theatre's lease for The Mount, Shakespeare and Company began house hunting, with the goal of staying in the Berkshires. Packard feels site specific settings in the mountains can lend themselves to important classic production values. "We've done so much work in the past few years," McCleary told Playbill On-Line, "but it feels good, especially because our new home allows us to expand."
McCleary said it was a little frightening to think that the real work would actually begin at this point, even though a lot has been done, including inspections on the new property, the rebuilding of the Shakespeare and Company board, as well as more than $2 million in fundraising.
Some sources actually place Shakespeare and Company's funding success at almost $3 million thus far, but the group says that it must raise more.
In all, McCleary said the theatre company would need between $8.5 - $9 million -- both to cover necessary renovations and restorations as well as the $4.1 million purchase price of the Kemble Street facility.
There is a mortgage contingency date attached to the Shakespeare and Company agreement for the Kemble property. The theatre group must have its funding in place by Feb. 18. A closing date of April 4 is now anticipated.
"The regional banks are very interested in being a part of this," McCleary told Playbill On-Line.
Shakespeare and Company has a long, six-month season which begins May 8. By 2001, the theatre company hopes to have one 400-450 seat theatre stage up and running at Kemble. By then, most of the groups administrative offices will already be at Kemble. For now, and through much of the transition over the next few years, operations will continue at The Mount (that lease is valid through 2004) and at the nearby 500-seat Duffin Theatre. At Kemble, McCleary says, the theatre company hopes to provide a higher level of audience amenities.
"What we hope to be doing in next three years, before 2004," McCleary said, "is growing our audience to as much as one hundred percent over what we have now. The plan is to produce works over three properties. In time, we'll have the new stage site at Kemble, we'll continue producing at the outdoor mainstage at The Mount, and we'll continue using the 500-seat Duffin Theatre 2 miles away. By 2004, when we move to the new property, we will be taking a much more healthy audience base with us."
Shakespeare and Company has recorded four consecutive record breaking seasons and has an audience base of 38,000 people as of this year. Its goal is to establish a 60,000-strong audience base in the next few years. By comparison, New York City's Roundabout Theatre has just reached the 42,000 subscriber level and New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse is estimated at about 35-36,000.
-- By Murdoch McBride