Stories to tell and songs to sing at Shakespeare & Company

LENOX — Everything just seemed to fall together naturally, Allyn Burrows said.

Shakespeare & Company's new artistic director was talking about "Storytellers and Songwriters," a brand new series starting up this weekend in the Tina Packer Playhouse.

With three exceptions, the series of one-night-only events pairs veteran Shakespeare & Company actors with guest musical artists, some of whom are contributing material to the spoken word performances; each of whom will perform on their own immediately following the actors.

The series began Friday with Jonathan Epstein in David Hare's "Via Dolorsa" and continues tonight with Burrows as the English poet T.S. Eliot in "T.S. Eliot and His Love of Shakespeare." Joining Burrows will be violinist Michi Wiancko.

Coming up are Tod Randolph in Joan Ackermann's "In Light of Jane" (Aug. 19) with music guest, Kris Delmhorst; Nehassaiu deGannes in her own piece, "Door of No Return" (Aug. 18); Elizabeth Aspenlieder in a return performance of Theresa Rebeck's "Bad Dates" (Aug. 20) with the musical participation of Vikki True and the Tanglewood Music Center Fellows; Tina Packer and Nigel Gore in an encore performance of "Women of Will" (Aug. 25); and John Hadden in his one-man show about his father, "Travels With the Masked Man," followed by musical guest Bobby Sweet.

All performances begin at 8:30 p.m.

"With "Cymbeline" closing and our new outdoor space [the Roman Garden Theatre] opening, the Packer was free," Burrows said during a rehearsal break from "The Tempest" as he settled into an Adirondack chair under a tree at the edge of the Packer Playhouse terrace overlooking the Rose Footprint Theatre and a spacious field.

"For years, company members have been developing these one-person shows. The performances are all readings so they are easy for us to mount. For me, this was a trifecta so I just started asking around."

Burrows has been working on his T.S. Eliot piece for a while.

"Michi came to us from Silk Road Project. She plays with Yo-Yo Ma," Burrows said. "Her playing really has blown me away and her music has given this Eliot piece a different dimension."

Bobby Sweet and Vikki True have strong, loyal followings throughout the Berkshires and environs and Delmhorst, Burrows said, also is expected to draw a large audience.

"It's been a while since Tina did 'Women of Will' here [where the piece was developed] and I wanted her to have a good experience doing it once again with Nigel," Burrows said.

"Elizabeth has done 'Bad Dates' here [and in Boston] and John had this play about his father that he's been taking around. So it all just came together."

Spoken word and music have been natural allies at Shakespeare & Company where music, and dance, have been as integral to company productions as has been text.

"I think these programs bring the poetry into new relief," Burrows said. "[This series is] letting us step outside the lines;" so much so, Burrows says, that he hopes younger audiences will be drawn to the 40-year-old company if only for the music.

"I'm hoping to reinvigorate our audience, and our company, in a way that is beyond just doing new plays," Burrows said.

"This is storytelling and music and we can certainly use some storytelling and music these days."

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at 413-496-6212.


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