Artistic team to remain at helm of Shakespeare & Company


LENOX — When Shakespeare & Company veterans Ariel Bock and Jonathan Croy were appointed interim co-artistic directors 15 months ago following multiple management upheavals, they assumed that their new roles were temporary.

Now, an extensive national search for a new artistic director has come up empty and the board of trustees is extending the interim arrangement for an indefinite period.

And that's just fine with Bock, who joined the troupe 38 years ago and has been a noted actor and educator with the company, and with Croy, a director and actor in more than 70 roles since he signed on in 1982.

"If you think about everything that was going on when we first stepped up, we were flat out," Croy said. "But things settled down fairly quickly and we do work together really well. So there's been very, very little disagreement."

"We generally see eye to eye on most things," Bock agreed. "We're both really open-minded, too."

The interim arrangement and search followed the sudden departure of Executive Director Rick Dildine in March 2015 after only six months in the job, returning to his previous post as artistic and executive director at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, followed by the departure of board Chairwoman Sarah Hancock.

In November 2014, Artistic Director Tony Simotes had been let go without explanation after five years in that post and 35 years with the company.

During an on-campus conversation, board Chairman and Treasurer Kenneth Werner said that the trustees decided that "the best course for the company at this time was to keep our interim team in place."

"That doesn't mean we won't, at some time in the future, be looking for someone else," he added. "But at this point, they've got a great season set up, and we didn't want to disrupt that."

Although the company's search firm, Stamford, Conn.-based Management Consultants for the Arts, winnowed the list of applicants down to 10, Werner reported that "we couldn't find someone who would do exactly what we wanted." Four semi-finalists had been interviewed by the troupe's internal Search Committee.

"We had two finalists and we couldn't get to a conclusion, unfortunately," Werner said. "We needed someone who was going to be in the Berkshires on a full-time basis. If somebody wants to do other things, that's OK, but it's got to fit within the confines of this full-time job."

The board was seeking a new director who could provide strong artistic leadership and also recruit donors, Werner said, "someone in tune with the aesthetics of the company, someone obviously who knows and loves Shakespeare and understands the way this company does it."

The consensus of the board was that it was "difficult to find the right person who meets all those criteria," he said.

There's no timeline to reopen a search, he added, pending discussions with the search firm and the trustees.

The board also plans to seek a managing director but only after an artistic director is selected. Stephen Ball, a 27-year veteran of the company, continues as interim managing director as well as general manager.

Bock, who was one of several internal candidates for artistic director and is also manager of institutional giving, acknowledged "an element of disappointment. We actually had a lot of people associated with the company who applied. We have a far-flung company, hundreds of company members, and there are many who have been artistic directors."

For his part, Croy, who said he did not apply, declared that the interim post he has shared with Bock "has worked brilliantly for us."

"It's part of the fabric of the company that we approach everything as a team sport," he asserted. "It really hasn't been that radical a departure, surprisingly."

As for her artistic vision, Bock said, "I want our artists to shine and I want us to take an equal amount of risk, to do something we haven't done and also something we're really great at. It's important to an organization to do something different."

"The work we do here is aimed at creating a balance within the artist, so the intellect and physical expression are just as engaged as your emotional life," Croy said. "A good season at Shakespeare & Company sits in balance as well."

Asked whether the Bock-Croy team approach might endure, Werner said: "All options are possible, I wouldn't want to rule anything out. For the long-term, the single artistic-director model is still the board's thinking."

The multiple jobs held by the staff is "a strength, because it deepens our investment in the company and also allows a year to be full of different kinds of challenges," said Croy, who will direct the production of "Twelfth Night" outdoors at The Mount from July 14 to Aug. 20. "There's no danger of getting into a rut."

The two will begin planning shortly for the 40th anniversary season next summer.

Werner, who had expected his one-year tenure as board chairman to end soon after a permanent artistic director was selected, conceded that "I won't be going anywhere for the next year, and probably longer."

Since he's a Florida resident who spends five months a year in the Berkshires, Werner believes a board chairman who lives in or closer to the Berkshires, such as in New York and Boston, would be best.

With advance sales for the season that just opened strong, he pointed out, the 2015-16 season produced a surplus, based on operating income and contributions exceeding expenses. Specific figures for the fiscal year ending March 31 are still being audited internally, Werner said.

Last summer, 64 percent of available seats were sold compared to 50 percent in 2014.

Paid attendance in the company's two playhouses last year totaled 29,945 patrons, a gain of 8 percent over the 2014 season, according to the box office.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

"Both of us are very interested in the company doing well, as opposed to promoting ourselves. We love the company and we would really like to see it thrive. We're willing to do what's best for it, even if it means not getting our favorite play or our favorite person."

— Ariel Bock, interim co-artistic director

"It was a great strength in our partnership, to bring up a script and then having to put your thoughts into concrete form, you couldn't simply go with your gut. There were times that each of us was trying to convince the other, and it made for a deeper conversation about the scripts for this season."

— Jonathan Croy, interim co-artistic director

"They took over under exceedingly difficult circumstances, and last season was a great season. Obviously, there's still some uncertainty in the air but having these people running the show and keeping things not just on a stable footing but making better and better artistic things going on here is really great, and they should be commended for it."

— Kenneth Werner, board of trustees chairman


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