Anyone who has ever participated in the past 25 years of the Fall Festival of Shakespeare has his or her own story to tell.
The nine-week high school theater program, regionally led by Shakespeare & Company, has fostered countless friendships and learning experiences and encouraged participants "to thine own self be true."
This Thursday through Sunday, stories from the Bard and enthusiasm from his scholars will be shared as the Fall Festival presents 10 plays in four days, with the time and energy of more than 30 Shakespeare & Co. artists and 500 students.
PHOTO GALLERY | Lenox Memorial High School performs 'Richard III'
This year, one participant, Annie Considine, has come full circle with her experience.
A 2008 graduate of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, the young woman returned to her alma mater this fall to help Lenox students produce their staging of "Richard III" for the festival. She is also an alumna of the festival.
Prior to last week's in-school presentation of the play, Considine shared her festival connection with an audience of families and community members, including some of her former teachers.
"Being a director for the first time, here at my former high school, is very special to me," said Considine. She is co-directing the Lenox production with Fall Festival veteran director Kelly Galvin.
After high school, Considine went on to the University of Chicago to pursue a bachelor's degree in theater and performance studies. There, she also did work with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and graduated from the university with honors in 2012.
She returned to the Berkshires this past January, and was hired as an actor and education artist for Shakespeare & Co.'s Northeast Tour, playing Puck, among other roles in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." She also finished a run this month with the company's production of the Rupert Holmes comedic thriller "Accomplice."
Considine said she had no clue whether she'd be involved with the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, but was pleasantly surprised when she was picked to work with approximately 45 students at her old high school.
"In this group of students, I see a lot of what joys I experienced with the festival. It makes me feel very complete, both as a teacher and a performer," she said.
Last month, a 25th anniversary benefit celebration for the festival raised nearly $60,000 for the program. During the event, state Rep.
Shakespeare & Co.'s Director of Education Kevin G. Coleman regularly describes the Fall Festival as being "as physically demanding as a varsity sport, as intellectually rigorous as an honors class, and as emotionally charged as adolescence itself."
"The jewel in our crown, the Fall Festival, began when students from two local high schools (Lenox and Mount Greylock) invited each other to share their performances of Shakespeare's ‘The Taming of the Shrew' and ‘Romeo and Juliet,'" he said. "That simple idea grew into a resoundingly successful event that has become a celebrated tradition in our region while inspiring imitation nation-wide. It is an unforgettable experience and doesn't happen on this scale anywhere else in the country."
Incidentally, a group of Mount Greylock students attended last week's Lenox performance, symbolically solidifying the festival's roots.
Considine also says that in directing this year, she's bonded with Kiki Bertocci, another Fall Festival alumna who has returned to direct. Bertocci is helping to direct "King Lear" at Mount Greylock.
"When talking about the festival, we often refer to this King Lear quote, ‘Who is it that can tell me who I am?,'" said Considine.
She said the way it was written, the text of Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard with sheer emotion and power.
"When [students] perform it, this festival teaches them to do so without holding back," said Considine.
"The process then becomes about finding yourself and being yourself. When you hold nothing back, you find your voice, which is something that can be used in the theater, but even more so in life."
Considine continued, " I hope this experience is something they can look back on in 50 years and still be proud of."