Shakespeare & Company names Allyn Burrows as artistic director


LENOX — There's a new artistic director at the helm of Shakespeare & Company.

The theater troupe announced on Thursday that after an extensive national search, Allyn Burrows, an actor, artistic associate and board of trustees member from 1991 to 2004, has been named as top executive.

Burrows was the sole finalist from a field of 15 applicants presented by Management Consultants for the Arts.

"I was approached by the search firm," he said in a phone interview from Boston. "It was a long process, it seemed to go on for months and I ended up as the last man standing."

"This is a watershed moment for Shakespeare & Company," board Chairman Ken Werner stated. "Allyn is one of the most lauded and exciting actors and directors both in Boston and nationally and we are extremely fortunate to have him take over the artistic leadership of our company. He is someone who is well known to us, and our search for a new artistic director could not have turned out better."

In a phone interview from his Manhattan office, Werner cited Burrows' experience as artistic director of the Boston-based Actors Shakespeare Project since 2010.

"He was acting here in the play 'Or,' and had a chance to talk to me and the board," Werner added, pointing to "the combination of great credentials and knowledge of the history and the current state of the company. Since he was here this summer, everybody knows him, and everyone who knows him likes him."

Werner offered high praise for the work of co-interim Artistic Directors Ariel Bock and Jonathan Croy over the past two seasons following the involuntary departure of Tony Simotes as the company's top administrator during a period of tumult in the executive suite.

Currently a resident of Medford, Burrows, 54, a native of Boston, will begin part-time on the Lenox campus next week, phasing out of his Boston job and completing plans for next summer's 40th anniversary season with Bock and Croy. In January, he will move here with his wife, actress Tamara Hickey, and their daughter, 4, to work full-time.

Hickey portrayed Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" at Shakespeare & Company this summer.

A Boston University graduate who majored in international relations and minored in drama, Burrows' acting credits include films ("The Company Men," "Julie and Julia"), TV ("Law & Order," "As the World Turns"), as well as off-Broadway and regional theater roles. He won a prestigious Eliot Norton Award in 2006 for several Boston-area performances in "King Lear" and Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming."

"An adviser urged me to get the acting thing out of my system," Burrows said, pointing out that diplomacy is a valuable tool in the world of theater. Following his graduation, he lived and worked in New York City for 18 years.

He described Actors Shakespeare Project as an "itinerant theater company" that performs in various spaces throughout Boston and is active in community outreach and education.

"We could not be more pleased with Allyn's selection," stated Shakespeare & Company founder Tina Packer. "He has extensive experience as an actor, a director and in leading an organization. His knowledge of Shakespeare is deep. Many of us have collaborated with him in the past and found his work inspiring. He brings new energy and we all look forward to working with him."

Noting that he had hired Packer to direct three plays at his Boston company, Burrows described the "cross-pollination" between the two theaters. "I hope to keep up the spirit of collaboration," he said. "I'm leaving at a good time; the organization is on a solid footing."

Looking ahead, Werner and Burrows projected that the Lenox theater will continue to strongly emphasize Shakespeare, but intends to substitute classic American plays for the contemporary works it has been staging.

"There's great value in developing new work, and I'd like to continue in that vein through playwright workshops," Burrows said. "But you take a big risk on new work" because of audience unfamiliarity.

As he sees it, audiences are keen on seeing Shakespeare & Company actors in productions of high-impact plays by Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, David Mamet and Sarah Ruhl, among others.

"These are playwrights who say a lot about modern society and emphasize the power of language, the same way Shakespeare resonates today," said Burrows. "Shakespeare speaks to the American experience. It's really about the human condition."

"In a political year, a lot of rhetoric is flying around and language gets devalued," he added. "Words matter, and there's Shakespeare standing quietly in the corner, observing 'that's what I've been saying all along.' "

"Our mission is to produce top-quality work, heavy on Shakespeare, that attracts patrons and fills seats," Werner said.

He welcomed Burrows' arrival as a harbinger of stability in the executive ranks.

"We're really happy. It took us a while to get here," Werner said, "but now we're in the right place."

Acknowledging the challenge of attracting ticket buyers in an age of TV and tablet streaming, Burrows said: "We're really in a battle to get people out to the theater to have a unique experience. It has to be worth their while, they pay 'good rent' for their seats, so we have to give them what they came for."

"I'm very excited," he added. "It's a great time to celebrate the past and look forward to the future, as we stand on the springboard of the 40th anniversary. I'm keen on building a relationship with the community, I want people to realize Shakespeare & Company owes a great debt of gratitude to the community for its support, and we want to give that back."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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