LENOX >> A prominent actress and management veteran at Shakespeare & Company is the featured speaker this Sunday at the Lenox Library's monthly Distinguished Lecture series.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder, the widely recognized and critically lauded star of Shakespeare & Company shows such as "Bad Dates" and of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" alongside theater troupe co-founder Tina Packer, will discuss "The Art of Acting" at 4 p.m.

The event is free, though donations are encouraged for the series curated by Jeremy Yudkin, a Stockbridge resident and professor of music at Boston University.

Aspenlieder, who served as marketing and publicity director for the theater company since she joined it in 1995, is now director of business sponsorships and new donor development.

But her many roles on stage and behind the scenes will be the focus of her talk.

"It's about how art reflects life, the parallels in our lives and how they help to inform the roles I play on stage," Aspenlieder said in an interview.

She pointed out that many of her leading-lady parts, even if set centuries ago, "ask the same questions that we ask ourselves today. Many of these characters resonate with me and also with members of the audience, and thankfully that opens up room for debate, discussion, discovery and enlightenment."

Although Aspenlieder does not disclose her age, she concedes with candor that acting offers are fewer these days.

"I dig in, hold the reins and hope I can survive," she said.


Although she has "a few acting things on the back burner, not yet announced, in the Berkshires next fall and winter," Aspenlieder will serve as an assistant director for Packer, who directs this summer's major production of "The Merchant of Venice" on the main stage during a seven-week run that begins July 1, starring Jonathan Epstein.

"It will be fascinating to be in a director's chair with a complete different perspective on the artistic endeavors on stage," she said. "Tina asked me and it's something I've wanted to do for years. This season the opportunity came up to work with her, and I thought it's time to shake things up a bit and use a different part of my brain."

Acknowledging some trepidation, Aspenlieder acknowledged that she's "excited and anxious at the same time, but I'm very much looking forward to it."

Aspenlieder, a native of Sharon, Ontario, a small town 100 miles north of Toronto, spent three years at a leading acting school in the Canadian metropolis but has spent her career at Shakespeare & Company, appearing in 24 productions.

After attending a talk by Packer and co-founder Dennis Krausnick in Toronto, she was intrigued enough to enroll in the company's annual one-month acting workshop in 1993, and joined the Summer Training Institute two years later.

"The first production I saw was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at The Mount," the home of Shakespeare & Company from 1978 to 2000. "It was magical and left an indelible mark." Before long, she was cast as Hermia for a "Dream" production.

Aspenlieder has performed elsewhere, including a staging of "The Lion in Winter" at Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vt., last summer, with Tina Packer; Boston TheatreWorks productions of "Angels in America" and "Othello" and a career-highlight "Bad Dates" at the 800-seat Merrimack Repertory Theater in Lowell, a year after she first performed the role in Lenox.

In 2009, she won Boston's prestigious Elliott Norton Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for her portrayal of a single mother trying to make new romantic connections in Manhattan. The "Bad Dates" role requires nearly two hours of continuous on-stage dialogue, and today the actress marvels at the voluminous script she had to master.

At Shakespeare & Company, Aspenlieder and her colleagues had to navigate financial rough waters in 2009 and 2010 and, more recently, a series of management shakeups.

"We've had dark days but the successes outweigh them," she said. "Being an eternal optimist, I always think of the good memories."

Besides, Aspenlieder said, "this place is such a community — an eclectic, maddening, exhilarating, astonishing group of people to work for."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If you go ...

Who: Shakespeare & Company actress Elizabeth Aspenlieder

What: Distinguished Lecture series topic: "The Art of Acting."

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lenox Library's Distinguished Lecture series, 18 Main St.

Cost: Free

Information: 413-637-2630; lenoxlib.org, aspenlieder.com.