There are a few things you can expect when going to see a show at Shakespeare & Company: outdoor theatre, the occasional rabbit running across the stage, stunning sunsets, craft beer, and deck chairs overlooking the organization’s 30-acre property in the heart of the Berkshires. But most importantly, expect to see great plays.
With four theatres and an expanding slate of programming that including classic and contemporary works throughout much of the year, Shakespeare & Company is fast becoming a destination for good theatre with a view (and then some). For artistic director Allyn Burrows, who is now entering his second season at the helm, the goal is to continue growing to be on par with the likes of Ontario’s Stratford Festival—a destination for theatregoers from all over the world.
Within his first year, Burrows built a new outdoor theatre and changed the configurations of the company’s three existing theatres. “I tried to do as many things as possible before anyone really realized I was there. I moved quickly,” he says. “I knew there would be a honeymoon period… [I wanted to] shake things up and see where it landed.”
Another goal was to “push the envelope” when it came to programming. With the 2018 season, Burrows was drawn to “edgier and more socially probing” work like Taylor Mac’s Hir, which will play in The Berkshires in September. “I’m not about just simple entertainment,” says the artistic director. “I feel like we have to know what we’re saying in the world if we’re doing theatre.”
For Burrows, who cut his teeth working in New York City’s Downtown theatre scene before going on to work in theatres around the country, taking on the leadership at Shakespeare & Company has been a homecoming of sorts. The actor and director returns to the Berkshires after having been an associate artist there for more than a decade, and it's this sense of familiarity that has allowed him to trust both his instincts and his audience’s capability to “show up” as the organization continues to evolve under his leadership.
“I’ve learned to trust the connections between human beings [that happen in the theatre]—the relationships onstage, and between the actor and audience,” explains Burrows. “We’re absolutely awash in all this stimuli at the moment: electronics, social media, our current political climate…. People want something that is direct and honest, insightful, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and really, just humanistic at its root level.”
It’s the theatre’s ability to connect people that led Burrows to become an artistic director. “It was born of a sense of wanting to create more community with people,” he says. “The collective effort to do one thing—and that is create a few moments of searing honesty. What excites me is that there’s an energy which arises out of people working together.”
Since its founding in 1978, Shakespeare & Company has fostered a vibrant community of artists and audiences; the organization attracts more than 60,000 patrons annually and boasts a core of over 150 artists. As well as year-round productions, Shakespeare & Company also offers robust training and education programs, with the mission of sharing technique, knowledge and experience to not only better develop artists, but to build an audience and expand the company’s influence. A number of the artists who have come through the training programs have gone on to work professionally with the organization.
The spirit of Shakespeare & Company is steeped in a love of Shakespeare and his core values, which to Burrows, is interpreted as broadly as “what’s important in the world.” That means nurturing the next generation of theatremakers and providing audiences with honest, intimate, and visceral work. “[The goal is to have] people can feel like their vibrating when they’re leaving the theatre,” says Burrows.
He’s the first to admit that his job is made easier by the company’s beautiful natural surroundings. “When you drive into the Berkshires you’re immediately bathed in this new environment. You’re not ducking in off the street to see a piece of theatre that then needs to transport you. You’re already partially transported to another place by coming on to our property,” says the artistic director. “I want to honor that by doing something that’s deeply genuine.”
Shakespeare & Company’s season will kick off May 24 with Carey Crim’s play Morning After Grace. The season will continue with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (July 3–August 5); Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost (July 10–August 18); August Strindberg’s Creditors (July 19–August 12); an outdoor staging of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (August 9–September 2); Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg (August 11–September 2); Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons (August 16–September 9); Taylor Mac’s Hir (September 13–October 7); and Jon Jory’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (December 15–16). For more information visit Shakespeare.org.