Earlier this month, the Albany Times-Union reported that there won’t be much theatre occurring at the storied Willamstown Theatre Festival. The reason is based on the staff walkouts and subsequent investigative reporting by the LA Times I wrote about back in 2021.
Recognizing there are many issues to address in addition to the complaints of exploitative overworking of staff and interns and unsafe working conditions, the Festival is planning on presenting different performing artists, staging readings and cabaret performances and partnering with neighbors this summer.
The reason for the absence of theater at the Williamstown Theatre Festival amounts to what is essentially a public atonement for how the festival treated interns, apprentices and other staff for decades and a commitment to finding a new model for producing a season of world-class summer theater, the company’s artistic leader said.
In Williamstown, the theater festival launches in mid-July with four performances over three days by the stand-up comic Hasan Minhaj, followed by weeks of cabarets, staged readings and workshops by artists-in-residence. Williamstown alum and Tony Award winner Laura Benanti will perform a concert, well-regarded stage and screen actors will participate in readings by known and upcoming playwrights, and the festival will contribute financial and artistic resources to assisting its neighbors at Barrington Stage on a revival in Pittsfield of “A New Brain,” a 1998 musical by BSC’s longtime associate artist William Finn (“Falsettos,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”).
Near the end of the article, writer Steve Barnes wonders if the festival can continue in the same vein as they have historically operated if they have to pay a large swath of previously unpaid interns given waning philanthropy and diminishing audiences. The festival for their part says they will be working to create a stronger relationship with audiences:
In another symbolic choice, most audiences this summer will join performers on the stage. Minhaj and Benanti will do their shows for crowds in regular theater seats, but for staged readings there will be rows of seating on three sides of the stage, and tables, chairs and drink service will accommodate onstage cabaret patrons.
Gersten said she hopes the new perspective for audiences will make an impact on them. “It was important this summer for me that people share our point of view, that they’re on the same level with the artists as we work toward these changes,” she said.