With sophisticated spin campaigns rivalling anything produced by Manhattan's best publicists, two leading cultural groups from the Berkshires say they have found a level of amicability and peace that eluded them during the near quarter of a century they spent together under one roof at Edith Wharton's Lenox, Massachusetts, estate, The Mount.
As reported, a March 1 press conference was held at The Mount to announce the early departure of Shakespeare and Company from that site. Though not necessarily synonymous, the company and the historic location have been mentioned in the same breath for more than two decades.
Recent levels of harmony between the groups notwithstanding, a special master was named in 1995 after tensions between the groups prompted a lawsuit between Edith Wharton Restoration and the theatre company. While there were issues on either side, the conflict amounted to a landlord/tenant dispute played on a grand scale.
Playbill On-Line has learned that there were concerns over the way the historic property was being treated—i.e. as a working facility rather than a one-of-a-kind landmark.
This mid-'90s conflict was resolved with a determination that Shakespeare and Company would quit The Mount by 2003. Since then, both groups have grown big while growing further apart. Each has been successful in their respective fundraising efforts and, last year, the theatre company secured a 63-acre facility of its own just a mile away. Meanwhile, Edith Wharton Restoration is said to be anxious to continue extensive and long-range plans to rehabilitate what was once Wharton's acre-size kitchen garden, as well as other buildings and gardens on the property. The plan is to open the site for tourists, lectures and educational programming. Wharton's 100-year-old home is considered by many to be a monument to classical design and is valued by interior designers and architects. ( When it was built, it was also welcomed as a departure from the prevailing Victorian aesthetic.) Pushing up the theatre's mandated departure no doubt assures that the restoration of the site will conclude in time for a planned 2002 centennial celebration.
For its part, Shakespeare and Company has been fundraising aggressively and building its subscriber base well ahead of the move to its new $4.1 million permanent home. The theatre will occupy the former headquarters of the National Music Foundation at 40 Kemble Street, also in Lenox. Earlier described by theatre founder and artistic director Tina Packer as "the re-invention of the organization," Shakespeare and Company's purchase of the Kemble facility has sparked an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation program there. Shakespeare & Company expects to use all of the entire 22 building Kemble facility.
Theatre company spokespersons have said Shakespeare and Company will need to raise between $8.5-$9 million — both to cover necessary renovations and restorations, as well as the $4.1 million purchase price for Kemble.
—By Murdoch McBride