WILLIAMSTOWN — Williamstown Theatre Festival will have a decidedly different look this summer in a season comprising the return of the festival’s popular cabaret, play readings and special events — all of them on the Main Stage at the festival’s home at Williams College’s ’62 Center for Theater and Dance.
Only one fully mounted production is on tap this summer — the William Finn/James Lapine musical, “A New Brain,” produced in association with Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, where the show will be performed Aug. 16-Sept. 9 at BSC’s Boyd-Quinson Stage on Union Street.
“The [festival’s] economic model is steeped in a summer stock tradition that is no longer viable,” festival interim director Jenny Gersten said in a video released Thursday. In addition, she cited the economic difficulties facing not only the festival but theaters everywhere — the rising costs of labor and materials, and “reduced” audiences. As a result, she said, “we are creating a special season that requires a smaller footprint.”
The goal, she said, is to “serve our resources, both financial and human” and, in the process, ensure that the festival, which marks its 69th anniversary next summer, “will be able to produce theater in Williamstown another 70 years.
“For me,” Gersten said, “this is a time of peak optimism.”
The slimmer program profile also fits in with the festival’s plans to build “a more equitable, diverse, inclusive, accessible, anti-racist, and anti-oppressive Festival.” Among the actions the festival is taking to “foster a respectful, responsible, and equitable workplace … WTF will no longer be mounting a seven-show season,” according to a recently released progress report issued by the festival on “equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, anti-racism and anti-oppression.”
The 2023 season begins July 12 with the first of six performances through July 15 by award-winning comedian and recent “The Daily Show” host Hasan Minhaj in his new work-in-development, “Experiment Time.” Minhaj also is host and creator of Netflix’s Peabody and Emmy Award-winning weekly comedy show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” and the Netflix comedy specials “Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King” and “The King’s Jester.”
He will be followed on July 16 by Tony Award-winning actor-singer Laura Benanti in a concert of songs from her Broadway career. Benanti starred as Perdita in the WTF production of “The Winter’s Tale” (2001) and last performed for WTF audiences at the 2020 Gala. She has earned two Drama Desk Awards, two Outer Critics Circle Awards and garnered five Tony Award nominations.
Minhaj and Benanti’s appearances will be followed by a three-weekend cabaret series, curated by Christopher Fitzgerald, and a series of play readings performed on a reconceived and designed Main Stage — the 2023 festival stage — created by Se Hyun Oh and Emily Schmit that will put performers and audiences together in one intimate setting.
“In rethinking the scale of the season, we have a wonderful opportunity to also rethink how the audience experiences our programming,” Gersten said in a news release. “This summer, audiences and artists will come together in an intimate space, literally sharing the stage, to foster a greater sense of communion and conviviality.”
The cabaret performances are scheduled over three successive weekends: July 20 to 22; July 27 to 29; and Aug. 3 to 5. Artists for each weekend will be announced shortly.
The new 2023 festival stage also will support a series of play readings beginning July 20 to 23 with “Paris, ACTORS!” written by Hamish Linklater and co-starring Linklater and his actor-partner Lily Rabe.
Also scheduled: Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” featuring Louisa Jacobson of HBO’s “The Gilded Age,” July 29 and 30; and Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” Aug. 5 and 6.
Casting and directors for “Three Sisters” and “The Pillowman” will be announced at a later date.
The festival will produce another reading series, Fridays@3 at the Clark Art Institute, featuring three plays in development. There also will be artists-in-residence workshops, July 13 to Aug. 6.
“This summer is the beginning of a wonderful journey,” Gersten said in her video, “Next summer, the summer of ’24 what we’re planning, is to be back in full production mode.
“I am happy to be going on this path with you.”