LENOX -- Aided by a celebrity-studded list of guest speakers, Shakespeare & Company's 12th annual July 4th reading of the Declaration of Independence attracted a record crowd of more than 1,200 spectators to the spacious grounds on Kemble Street.
Among the guests of honor were Gov. Deval Patrick; state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield; Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless; TV journalist Ted Koppel; actress Olympia Dukakis; and actor Richard Dreyfuss.
Dreyfuss had presented a talk on civics and public discourse at the just-renamed Tina Packer Playhouse, formerly the Founders Theater, to a sold-out crowd on Monday night. His presentation was titled "It's Time for a Talk -- The National Conversation."
Patrick commended the theater troupe for its 35 years of programs and successes.
"Shakespeare & Company is a jewel that provides the community with unparalleled productions of Shakespeare, an astounding education program that has touched the lives of thousands of young people throughout the commonwealth, and actor training that has produced some of our finest artists," said Patrick.
The governor was introduced by Artistic Director Tony Simotes and was also welcomed by Board Chairman Richard A. Mescon, who noted that Patrick had just released $5 million in cultural-facilities matching grants.
"We did not get one," said Mescon somberly, causing Patrick to bury his head in his hands.
"That's because we didn't apply for one," Mescon quickly added, bringing a smile and chuckle to the governor, arrayed on a platform with 55 other speakers while the audience watched from lawn chairs and rose for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.
"Our annual reading of the Declaration of Indepen dence is one of the things I'm most proud of," said Simotes. "I'm always awed by the power of hearing the document read aloud. Our community, dignitaries and company actors breathe so much life into the reading. This yearly tradition is such a great way to honor our history."
Parking lots were filled to capacity and a hot sun beat down on patrons who had arrived in early afternoon to partake of an all-American barbecue, with hamburgers, hot dogs, side dishes, desserts and beverages for sale at family-friendly prices. SoCo Creamery purveyed frozen treats to cool the crowd.
"This is a real deal," several patrons waiting patiently in line commented. Children cavorted in the sun and played in the big-top tent on the theater's Bankside during the multi-generational event filled with patriotism and good cheer.
The barbecue served more than 400 hamburgers, 350 hot dogs, 100 pieces of grilled chicken, 75 pounds of potato salad and over 300 ears of corn, according to actress and Communications Director Elizabeth Aspenlieder. Theater company musicians, actors and singers supplied entertainment.
The ceremonial reading opened with a crowd sing-along to "This Land is Your Land." Dreyfuss read the Gettysburg Address, and after the 56 readers handed off to one another as they read the Declaration of Independence, the actor discussed civic engagement for 90 minutes with about 100 members of the crowd.
"We must put civics back into the hands of all Americans," said Dreyfuss, a longtime friend of Simotes who acted at Shakespeare & Company in the early 1980s. "We need to teach our kids how to run our country before they are called upon to run our country."
The reading of the Declaration is part of the theater company's outdoor Bankside Festival, which offers family-oriented performances and programming all summer. The Bankside Festival is headlined by a new adaptation of Moliere's "Tartuffe the Imposter," currently running in previews with a press opening this Saturday at 6 p.m. Tartuffe runs through Aug. 25 in the Rose Footprint Theatre.
For more information, visit www.Shakespeare.org.
To reach Clarence Fanto: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6247 On Twitter: @BE_cfanto