Breakfast with The Eagle: A glorious muffin with Allyn Burrows

LENOX — Shakespeare & Company's new artistic director, Allyn Burrows, didn't look like a man on the run when he walked into Haven Cafe and Bakery on a sunny morning in July, ordered a glorious morning muffin and a coffee and sat down at one of the high tables for a chat.

He already had fueled up for the day. The muffin, it turns out, was a little post-breakfast snack; a morning pick-me-up before a typically packed day of meetings, rehearsals and overseeing the transformation of a patch of land on the northwest side of the Tina Packer Playhouse terrace into an open air theater.

Burrows usually begins his day with breakfast at home — a poached egg on English muffin with parmesan cheese and pesto.

"Then I know I've fueled up," he said with a laugh. "I often forget lunch."

At this time of year, he says, he makes sure the freezer at his Lenox home is fully stocked.

It's not uncommon for the 55-year-old Burrows to take a 12-minute nap at some point during the day — "to recharge," he says.

The man who says he likes to sprint has been at full gallop ever since coming on board full-time at Shakespeare & Company in January. Since then, he's put together a season; reconfigured the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre and the Tina Packer Playhouse; designed a new open-air theater-in-the-round; scheduled a winter/spring series of one night only events; launched a new summer series, Storytellers and Songwriters; and already is planning not only next season but after that.

"It's important to keep connections with the community," he said, taking a small bite out of his muffin. "We are going to go to year-round programming. I want to get in people's minds that we're doing things [throughout]."

It's not only a theater company that's keeping Burrows running. He's a family man. His wife of 10 years is actress Tamara Hickey, who is playing Ariel in Burrows' production of "The Tempest," which opened the new 287-seat outdoor Roman Garden Theatre last Sunday. It is scheduled to run through Sept. 3. And they have a daughter — 5-year-old Sadie.

"We pulled that out of the ether," Burrows said with an affectionate smile.

He met Hickey, a native of Prince Edward Island, at a workshop at Shakespeare & Company. And, yes, he says, it was love at first sight.

But Sadie — who has occasionally shared the stage with her dad when he gives the curtain speech at the start of performances — is "chairman of the board," Burrows says with a dad's affection and amusement.

"She gets better laughs than I do."

The Eliot Norton Award-winning Hickey works not only at Shakespeare & Company; she's been seen on film, American and Canadian television and on various stage in Boston, including Speakeasy Stage, American Repertory Theatre, New Repertory Theatre, and Actors' Shakespeare Project, which her husband led for eight years before returning to Shakespeare & Company, with whom he had been associated for 18 years before taking over ASP. Hickey also is a yoga master.

Burrows is quick to acknowledge that parenting — especially when both parents have careers in theater — can be a juggling act.

The key, he says, is checking in with each other, making sure they are in sync, not only with each other — "I am in awe of Tam's style. She's such a great mom," Burrows says — but also with Sadie.

"You really have to get into her mind and her heart," he said. "When we're in sync, we really acknowledge we're in sync.

"People ask if she's going to be an actress," Burrows said, sipping his coffee, "but, you know, this is a business, doing this art, putting stuff together. She's very good at that. She may be a good producer."

Burrows was born and raised in Boston. He's the youngest of six. His father, who died in 2007, was an internist. His mother, who died in 2011, was an artist.

"The same day Sadie was born, at 7:01 a.m., my mother died at 7:01 p.m.

"Sadie has my mother's hands," Burrows said, after a reflective pause.

He became involved in theater when he was 13. Shakespeare was the attraction from the get-go.

"I had always been attracted to his language," Burrows said. That attraction wound up having practical application. Until he had a big-time growth spurt at age 16, Burrows was short and the target of bullies. Spouting Shakespeare was a way to fend them off.

"I could talk fast and run faster," he said.

Shakespeare also was a bridge between Burrows and his father.

"He was intrigued by Shakespeare," Burrows said. "He developed Alzheimer's. Shakespeare was a way to engage him."

Looking back, Burrows is not terribly surprised that his choices have led him to a life in the theater.

"I've always had an active imagination," he said, breaking off the last of the muffin, leaving behind a scattering of crumbs on the plate.

"[When you are performing] there is a very intense plane ... that exceeds whatever is happening on stage; when all the elements come together, an alchemy."

As for the world outside the theater, Burrows says he feels "we're in a moment where language and relationships are in disrepair. We are in an age of disrespect. I would like to bring back respect."

And theater, Shakespeare & Company, have roles to play. And that means, Burrows says, making demands: "[That we make] ourselves better at what we do in our spaces at Shakespeare & Company," he said, and "[that we make] specific demands on ourselves as artists and as human beings."

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212.


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