LENOX — On a sultry summer afternoon on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard recited:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ..."
"... that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," concluded Ken Werner, chairman of the theater group's board of trustees.
The two men were sharing the spotlight Thursday afternoon reading, arguably, the most famous line from the Declaration of Independence.
"It's the line everyone knows," Bernard told The Eagle. "It's powerful to hear the written word spoken, and by all walks of life."
"The words are as poignant today — maybe more so — as they were almost 250 years ago," added state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
Pignatelli, Bernard and Werner were among the 50 people from across the Berkshires speaking a line or two from the 243-year-old document that would be the rallying cry for colonial America to break away from England.
The recitation highlighted Shakespeare & Company's annual Independence Day celebration, appropriately titled, "We Hold These Truths," held in partnership with Multicultural BRIDGE.
The patriotic event held outside the Tina Packer Playhouse featured a children's crafts table, face painting and a photo booth. The Amy Ryan Band entertained the estimated 700 people with a mix of country, rock and blues. Also, a community dance group enthralled the crowd with a Colombian folkloric piece in celebration of preserving its history and culture through performance.
In keeping with Shakespeare & Company's theme of diversity, readings from speeches and writings from 19th-century activists Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Harriet Tubman, among others, inspired the crowd before the Declaration of Independence was read aloud.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, had the honor of reciting the first line, prefaced by remarks that seemed to take a swipe at President Donald Trump's use of the English language.
"When I look over this audience, I see we are believers in complete sentences, finished paragraphs ... and believe in facts that still count," Neal said.
Thursday's free-of-charge, Fourth of July celebration has evolved from a simple barbecue with Shakespeare & Company staff and performers reading the Declaration of Independence in 2001 to a community gathering featuring a variety of guest readers, entertainment and family fun.
Scot and Heather Wade, of Dalton, were first-timers to the event, bringing their three young daughters and son to enjoy the children's activities.
"We happened to find out about this online," Heather Wade said.
Seven-year-old Siduri Wade dived into the arts and crafts using small sticks and a variety of red, white and blue items to create her version of the American flag.
"She's really creative, always painting and making anything that involves glue," Scot wade said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6233.