SOUTHBURY, Conn. — Shakespeare & Co., which has been ever-more firmly ensconced in the elegant Berkshire hills town of Lenox, Mass., since its founding 22 years ago, took a giant step forward on April 10 when it completed its purchase from the National Music Foundation of a 63-acre property with 22 buildings in the center of Lenox. The price was $4.1 million.
S&Co., which has been leasing the late Edith Wharton’s Lenox property the Mount, now owns its own home for the first time. The organization has also announced its 2000 season — 316 performances of 12 plays presented on five stages, mostly still at the Mount.
The nonprofit company, headed by its founding artistic director Tina Packer, has already started to move into its new home, a close neighbor of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s celebrated summer home. The first theater at the new site should be ready for production by summer 2001. Seating 417, with either a thrust or a full arena stage, this first theater will be known as the Founders’ Theater.
Shakespeare & Co. has already raised $6.7 million of the $8 million it estimates it will need to fulfill phase one of the move, including the building of the Founders’ Theater. The move will continue, with some performances still being given at the Mount, until the end of 2003, when the lease at the Mount expires.
Phase two includes the building of a 700- to 800-seat replica of the Rose, Shakespeare’s first Elizabethan playhouse. Packer’s ambitious plans aim to turn S&Co. into a world-class theatrical organization attracting national and international visitors.
Shakespeare & Co.’s fund-raising has been helped by the fact that the National Music Foundation, which failed to make a go of it in Lenox, had received grants from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and, under an agreement with the state, the Foundation has returned $528,000 of the $4.1 million sale price to Shakespeare & Co. The former tenants also installed new dressing rooms with showers and ample public toilet facilities at some of the property’s buildings.
In addition to indoor and outdoor performance spaces, the new site may also feature a film production center, sites for other arts-related and community organizations and possibly a residential community. This summer’s season at the Mount and the Duffin Theater will include productions of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “Twelfth Night,” “Coriolanus,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Winter’s Tale,” along with the Reduced Shakespeare Co.’s “Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged).” Other plays will include Jane Martin’s “Jack & Jill,” and the Edith Wharton one-acts “The View Beyond” and “Oh! Mr. Chekhov!”