WILLIAMSTOWN -- There was still a week's worth of performances on the Williams town Theatre Festival's Main and Nikos stages.
For artistic director Jenny Gersten, the light at the end of the tunnel clearly was brighter.
She was looking forward to a week-long vacation with her two sons after final performances of "A Month in the Country" in the Main Stage and "Whad da bloodclot!!!" in the Nikos.
Seven productions -- three in the Main Stage; four in the Nikos -- in a nine-week stretch that began in late June and ended in mid-August; not to mention the Free Theatre, cabaret, play readings, non-Equity company showcases, talks, special events, a workshop presentation of a new music-theater piece by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim at Mass MoCA. And no sooner will the dust settle than Gersten will begin planning her third season.
The numbers weren't all in but from a financial standpoint, Gersten was pleased as she sat down to chat in a downstairs lounge area at the festival's home, Williams College's ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
Despite the fact that there were fewer performances of fewer productions this year, the numbers -- attendance and box office -- were up, Gersten said, over the 2011 season, her first.
That's even more remarkable considering there were no gimmes in the season, with the exceptions of a Neil Simon comedy, "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," the first Neil Simon play at Williamstown in nearly
The Main Stage opened with an eccentric rendering of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" which brought the Victorian farce into 1939 and put Oscar Wilde's precise razor-sharp language into the mouths of an American family of Damon Runyon mobster types hiding out in London society. That was followed, in turn, by a new musical, "Far From Heaven," in a workshop presentation prior to a spring date at Playwrights Horizon in New York; and the world premiere of a new translation of Ivan Turgenev's "A Month in the Country."
The Nikos opened, also in late June, with Lucy Boyle's new play, "The Blue Deep," starring Festival veteran Blythe Danner in her first appearance on a Williams town stage in some years; followed in turn by "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," "The Elephant Man" and Katori Hall's freewheeling comedy "Whaddablood clot!!!" about a privileged New York white woman who awakens from a coma speaking in a perfect Jamaican accent.
If there is a connection among the productions it lies, in all likelihood, in one of Gersten's overriding goals.
"I want to make the festival a place in which artists can feel comfortable doing something they couldn't do somewhere else," Gersten said, noting especially, Cooper's appearance in "Elephant Man" and Brooks Ashmanskas' turn in "Last of the Red Hot Lovers."
"(Barney Cashman) is a role Brooks wouldn't be given a chance to play somewhere else," Gersten said. "It was good for our audiences to see him and to see a Neil Simon play on our stage.
"Bradley (and director Scott Ellis) wanted to do ("The Elephant Man") and we offered Bradley a safe place to (do it)."
Among the biggest challenges Gersten faced last summer was the shape of the Main Stage schedule -- four shows in eight weeks, meaning a changeover every two weeks. The pressures, especially in a theater that was new to much of the staff and artists, including Gersten, were intense.
Cutting one show and extending each of the runs to three weeks relieved most of the pressure. In addition, Gersten said, the longer runs gave time for audience word-of-mouth to build. So, Gersten said, it's a format she plans to continue.
Gersten's first season began with the cancelation of the opening production and a last-minute switch. Later in the summer, the furious remnants of the storm Irene took out the festival's costume shop. There were no such calamities this year.
"There were no natural disasters," Gersten said. "We had only one actor replacement. Production designs were achievable. Overall, people were very positive."
Gersten acknowledged that choices she made last year may have been too informed by her New York background and mindset.
And even though she and her husband and their kids live in New York and the festival maintains an office there, "more and more," Gersten said, "I identify myself as someone doing theater in Williamstown."
Conquering the ‘62 Center
She also is determined to get a better handle on the challenges posed by the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, which replaced the old Adams Memorial Theatre and opened after Gersten's nine years at Williamstown as producer Michael Ritchie's assistant producer.
"I have to learn more about this building," Gersten said simply.
All in all, she said, "the ripples from last season helped shape this season and I think that will continue with ripples from this season.
"I'm going to walk out of Williamstown feeling very pleased."