Allyn Burrows reflects on first season at the helm of Shakespeare & Company

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LENOX — Shakespeare & Company is not hibernating. Events — play readings; the high school fall festival of Shakespeare — lie ahead in the coming months. But, for all intents and purposes, Allyn Burrows' first season as the theater company's artistic director is done.

The steady flow of people is down to a trickle; his beloved Adirondack chairs are in storage; fallen leaves are scrambling over the largely silent Shakespeare & Company campus at 70 Kemble St.

"I'm still standing," Burrows said, sipping from a mug of freshly brewed coffee in his ground floor rear office in the Miller Building. "I'm Scottish so I'm naturally superstitious, but we're already on to next year."

He glanced across the room to a white board on the wall opposite his desk. It was filled with columns of play titles. On a table next to the wall were piles of scripts, all of them, like the titles on the white board, contemporary plays.

Burrow's choices from those piles and lists will be announced some time after the start of the new year. He's already announced the Shakespeare plays — "As You Like It," which he will direct in the new outdoor Roman Garden Theatre; "Love's Labors Lost," which will be performed outdoors in a 90-minute family-friendly adaptation in The Dell on the grounds of The Mount; and "Macbeth," which will be performed in the Tina Packer Playhouse.

"The climate is acutely ripe for discussions around power peddling and cost of ambition, so 'Macbeth' was a good fit there," Burrows commented in a subsequent email.

"As for 'As You Like It,' I'd wanted to place a pastoral comedy in the Roman Garden Theatre since we created the space last year. 'The Tempest' [which launched the Roman Garden] was a better pairing with 'Cymbeline,' but 'As You Like It' was patiently waiting in the wings.

"'Love's Labors Lost' is great fun, and once again shows what fools men are, and that's always worth a good laugh."

In his office, Burrows said he was, on the whole, pleased with the way the summer went, especially two of the contemporary plays, Amy Herzog's "4000 Miles," which opened the season in May, and Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," which closed the season in mid-September, both at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre.

Press him just a bit and his face will break into an impish smile when he talks about reconfiguring the Bernstein and Packer stages and creating the Roman Garden Theatre as his first moves after becoming artistic director, "before anyone realized I was here," he said with a laugh.

"I'm really still overwhelmed at how well the new outdoor theater worked out. I kind of knew what I wanted there and it more or less worked out that way."

"The Tempest" played to 90 percent capacity, Burrows said. It helped that there is rain space — the tented Rose Footprint Theatre.

"If it rained during a performance at The Mount [where Shakespeare & Company's mainstage was a roughly 600-seat amphitheater], that was it. It was goodbye audience," Burrows said.

"Here, when it rained during the first half of the final performance of 'Tempest,' we could move into the tent. The rain went away and we were able to do the second half of the performance in the Roman Garden."

The change in the Bernstein is nuanced, subtle. Burrows has pulled the theater's three separated sections into one gently curving form that still surrounds the floor-level stage on three sides. Burrows characterized the overall theater-going experience in the reshaped Bernstein as more "collective."

The actors could sense it, he said, especially the cast of "God of Carnage," of which Burrows was part.

"You could really feel the presence of the audience in that show," he said. "It was visceral, positively carnivorous."

Perhaps Burrows' biggest risk was mounting Shakespeare's infrequently-performed "Cymbeline" as the main attraction in the Packer Playhouse.

"People were somewhat take aback that I put a lesser known Shakespeare on our stage," Burrows said. "But I was pleased with the way it turned out."

He gambled on "Storytellers & Songwriters," a series of one-night-only programs that paired solo spoken word performances by various company veterans with mini-concerts by a variety of regional singer-songwriters. Audience turnout fell short.

"These were one-offs and a lot of people missed them," Burrows said, reflectively. "I don't want to give up on that. We'll do it again in some fashion. I want to get music on this property."

Burrows acknowledged that putting a season together is tricky. He had to be particularly concerned about costs.

"There are a number of things in the run-up to a season and you have to get it right," he said. "It's a sprint. You eat standing up. Then you watch it roll out and you guide it."

He would have liked to have had the freedom to extend some of the shows.

"You work hard and do only 20 performances per show. It's so ephemeral," Burrows said, "and I get wistful about that."

Lessons were learned. Most meaningful, perhaps, has been "learning how to take care, how to be mindful, regardless of circumstances, how important that is," Burrows said.

"If you take care, that will serve you and that's not the easiest thing to do."

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at 413-496-6212 or jborak@berkshireeagle.com




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