Williamstown Theatre Festival: Blame it on the Free Theatre
WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL
'62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St. (Route 2), Williamstown.
(413) 597-3400; wtfestival.org.
Tony Award-winning summer regional theater presenting new and established dramas, comedies and musicals on two stages -- the 512-seat Main Stage and the 173-seat Nikos Stage.
Season: Late June through mid-August
Amenities: Concession stand featuring sandwiches snacks, baked goods, hot and cold beverages
Low-cost or free admission highlights:
• Show discounts:
-- For all Friday evening Main Stage productions families can get one free ticket for a child 18 or under with each full-price adult ticket purchased.
-- All tickets to "Animal Crackers" are half-price for young people aged 18 and under.
• Family Friday Workshops. Every Friday July 5- Aug. 9, 4-6 p.m. Free (reservations recommended). Young people aged 8-14 and their families can enjoy a series of free afternoon hands-on workshops that explore the many artistic and technical components that make up the creative life of the festival.
• Fridays@3. Paresky Center, Williams College. Every Friday afternoon at 3, July 12-Aug. 16. Suggested donation $5, reservations recommended. New plays read by WTF company actors.
• Free Theatre: "Dracula, or, The Undead." Adapted by Steve Lawson from the novel by Bram Stoker. 7:30 p.m. July 10-13, 16-19. Presented outdoors (weather permitting) at Poker Flats field on the Williams College campus.
DID YOU KNOW?
1. There will be 152 public performances during the 11-week season this summer,
2. There are nine year-round staff for the festival; however, at its peak, WTF hires up to 400 employees.
3. Each summer the festival brings in more than 150 apprentices, interns and Non-Equity actors, many of whom have gone on to fame -- Kate Hudson, Diane Paulus, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to name a few.
Now in its 59th season, Williamstown Theatre Festival has a rich tradition behind it, including a Tony Award for achievement by a regional theater. Some of the best-known figures in theater, film and television -- directors, actors, writers, designers -- have worked there.
But as she begins her third season as artistic director, Jenny Gersten is mindful of the fact that WTF was begun by a small group of community-minded businessmen who felt Williamstown and its residents needed a bit of a boost during the summer.
That origin is never far from Gersten's thoughts.
"We try to be mindful of the fact that we are here for the community," Gersten said. "It's important for us to hold on to those roots."
Thus, she noted, the array of free and low-admission programs offered over the course of the festival's eight-week season.
The most visible is the Free Theatre, which debuted in August 1987 on the fields of Buxton School. Former artistic director Roger Rees brought the roaming Free Theatre indoors nine years ago, where it remained under Rees' successor, Nicholas Martin, until Gersten brought it back outdoors to Poker Flats on the Williams College campus.
"There is a very different feel to the Free Theatre audience," Gersten said. "It pleases me that we can bring together 200 to 300 people outdoors we don't generally see indoors.
"It's a gathering, a happening, lively, less stodgy than what people anticipate about indoor theater."
Janine Hetherington has been a WTF season ticket holder for five years. Blame the Free Theatre, says the 40-year-old developmental professional and mother of five boys ranging in age from 6 to 11.
At the invitation of a friend, Hetherington took her kids to a production of Amy Herzog's "Trouble Tales."
"The quality of the show inspired us [Hetherington and her husband, Ben Klompus, principal of BART Charter School in Adams] to see a show on the main stage. We were hooked," Hetherington said in an email.
In the 2010 season the following year, Hetherington and her husband, who live in Williamstown, saw the world premiere of Herzog's "After the Revolution" in the Nikos Stage. Now, she says, they attend WTF events throughout the summer.
"We have both lived and traveled far and wide and know just how expensive it is to attend the theater, concerts or visit museums in the city," she said.
"We make it a priority to expose the kids to as much variety with respect to the arts as possible and with a family of seven, the WTF's free theater, family days at the Clark, ‘62 Center shows and Mass MoCA dance parties make it possible for us to do so."
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