Shakespeare & Company's annual 'Declaration' a reminder of 'what we stand for'

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LENOX — Often referenced but rarely read aloud in full, the Declaration of Independence was celebrated on this Fourth of July at Shakespeare & Company.

While recognizing that the document's signers faced unparalleled adversity in their quest for freedom, renowned broadcast journalist Ted Koppel reminded the hundreds gathered on Shakespeare & Company's grounds on Monday that it would be "a long, long time before the kind of equality that they were talking about would even begin to come to pass."

Koppel acknowledged the bravery of those who forged ahead to gain independence from Great Britain, but asked the audience to take note of how the document regards Native Americans as "savages" and fails to include women and slaves.

"When our founders spoke of all men being created equal this was at a time when there were hundreds of thousands of slaves in this country. Men, women, and children who were anything but equal," Koppel said.

The Spirit of 1776 was alive at the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, hosted by the theater company in Lenox. The tradition included as special guests former Gov. Deval Patrick, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Koppel.

Dozens of volunteers joined them, taking turns reading lines from the historic document that Shakespeare & Company celebrates every year because "it's a document that says much about who we are," according to Artistic Director Jonathan Croy.

Patrick, a regular at the event and participant in the reading, said it's always "a moving community gathering."

"It's a good way to remind ourselves of what we stand for," Patrick said.

Downing has also made an annual tradition of the event. He said the reading serves as a reminder that the founders "were just normal citizens who came together to get something done."

To that point, Koppel asked the crowd to think of the signers as people.

"I want you to think of them not as the icons they have become. I want you to think of them before roads and bridges, and tunnels, and high schools and universities were named after of them," Koppel said.

The men were sweating in the Philadelphia heat, nervous in signing the declaration that day, Koppel said.

"They were in effect taking on the most powerful country in the world, In addition to the courage that motivated them, and the eloquence that fueled their language, they must have been a little but nervous," he said.

In addition to the annual, the day also featured a community barbecue and included a ribbon-cutting to celebrate new accessibility features at the company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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