As announced on Dec. 31, 1999, Shakespeare & Co.will close on the purchase of its new home, the former headquarters of the National Music Foundation in Lenox, Massachusetts.
In a Shakespeare and Company statement, founder and artistic director Tina Packard said, "There have been many significant dates in Shakespeare & Company's history, but this is the most important one. Even more important than April 1, 1978 when we founded the company here in the Berkshires. This is the reinvention of the organization."
Within a few years and after an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation program, Shakespeare & Co. will eventually be based on the 63-acre, 22 building property located at 40 Kemble Street in Lenox.
Until now, Berkshire's leading nonprofit theatre company was located at The Mount in Lenox, the historic former home of the late Edith Wharton.
As reported earlier, 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. In December, some sources placed Shakespeare and Company's funding success at almost $3 million thus far, but the group says that it must raise more. In all, said spokesman McCleary, the theatre company will 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.
Shakespeare and Company will continue operations at The Mount for the time being. The company has a long, six-month season and begins productions on May 8. By 2001, the theatre company hopes to have at least one 400-450 seat theatre stage up and running at Kemble. By then, most of the group’s administrative offices will already be at Kemble. The lease at The Mount is valid through 2004. 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 last December, "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 two 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 late 1999). Its goal is to establish a 60,000-strong audience base in the next few years.
On April 7, a Shakespeare & Company source told Playbill On-Line that the theatre's fundraising effort is critical to making the real estate program work. In terms of the need for fundraising, for instance, only eight of the 22 buildings at the new Kemble site are usable now. Many of the structures there need extensive restoration due to neglect or deferred maintenance.
-- By Murdoch McBride