Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 2, 2020

Look-back: Allyn Burrows, Artistic Director, Shakespeare & Company

Theatre lovers bemoan the absence of productions at every venue in the Berkshires and are coming to accept the numerous electronic alternatives. But the language, the movement, and the community of actors/crew and audience is just not quite the same. In the meantime, those onstage, backstage, and seated in front of the stage, whether on their couches or at their computers, are filling in the depth and effect of live performance of theatre as best we can.
Below is a reprint of our exclusive interview with Allyn Burrow of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox from May, 2018

INTERVIEW: Allyn Burrows, Artistic Director, Shakespeare & Company

by Shera Cohen

In the Spotlight had the pleasure of interviewing Allyn Burrows, new Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA.

If Allyn Burrows’ face looks familiar to theatre enthusiasts, especially to those who visit the Berkshires in the summer, it is. For many years, Burrows worked as an Artistic Associate and acted in countless Shakespeare & Company (S&Co) productions – comedies, tragedies, and history plays.

Allyn Burrows
Photo by Olivia Winslow
He is particularly remembered for his roles in King John, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Henry IV, Part 1.

Burrows served as Artistic Director of Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston where he directed and acted. Burrows’ talents have also been seen on many stages in New England; i.e. Huntington Theatre, Lyric Stage, Merrimack Repertory Theater.

He has been a busy man, performing in prestigious theatres throughout the country. If you haven’t seen Burrows on a stage, he may be familiar from roles on TV or film.

For the company, for audiences, and for me, it is wonderful that Allyn Burrows has returned home.

In the Spotlight (ITS): I had the privilege of watching you perform a few decades ago at Shakespeare & Company. What it is like for you to return many years later, now wearing the “hat” of Executive Director?

Burrows: Well, it's not a lot different from my last job as Artistic Director of Actors' Shakespeare Project in Boston. It's great to be back at Shakespeare & Company, though, and there are a lot of moving parts. Very exciting in that regard.

ITS: In addition to being the man in charge, will you be directing and/or acting? Is it fair to ask which of these three jobs you enjoy best?

Burrows: They all require different types of brainpower, so it's a tossup which I enjoy the best. I won't be acting this summer, just acting and producing.

ITS: What goals do you intend to keep from the troupe’s many years of existence? What about your personal goals?

Burrows: I intend to preserve and honor the legacy of what's been created over these past four decades, and to transform the unique qualities of this amazing company into something that resonates in the community and hearts of people who experience this place. Personally? I'm hoping to be the best father I can be. And I'll strive to be a better artist.

ITS: How is a season formed? Is there conscious effort to balance Shakespeare’s with other playwrights? New writers? New works?

Burrows: Season formation comes out of a lot of discussion, about makes good theatre, what's important for us to be saying, what's fun, what's gratifying, what will draw people here, and what has impact. Contemporary plays are an important part of what we do.

ITS: What would you say to potential audience members who “fear” Shakespeare?

Burrows: Come along for the ride, it really won't hurt, and you'll be surprised how much the material affects you.

ITS: Are there any anecdotes that you would like to tell our readers? While you think about that, I have my own anecdote about you. It was years ago when outdoor performances took place at the Mount. During a particular comedy, you ran down to the stage (which was grass) and snatched my purse, which was on the ground, en route. You proceeded to look through the bag. While laughing, I also hoped, “Please don’t take anything out of the purse to show the audience.” Who knows what was in there?! You were a gentleman, my bag returned intact, and the show went on.

Burrows: Holy smokes, the audacity! Who was that guy? I'm guessing it may have been “Midsummer Night's Dream” and I was playing Oberon (king of the mischievous fairies). Let me apologize these many years later for the intrusion. Can't really top that one. All the kooky antics make up the fabric of what we do.


May 8, 2020

Stratford Festival Award-Winning Film Series Coming to a Couch Near You!

My Vicarious Return to Canada’s Shakespeare
by Shera Cohen

The title of one of my On the Road articles for In the Spotlight was “Canadian Mission: To visit the Top 10 English-speaking theatre cities in the world”. Having already journeyed to NYC and London, Toronto was next on the list. The date was August, 2013. Book-ending the city of Toronto were the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival within less than two hours by train on both sides. Returning to these six-month long theatre fests is definitely on my “to do” list. However, 2020 is nothing like it was seven years ago. The longest excursion I take these days amidst the Coronavirus is from my couch to the mail room. However, I can reminisce and live vicariously through this inventive programming. You might want to read my article HERE

Stratford Festival Award-Winning Film Series  Coming to a Couch Near You!

You're about to have the best seats in the house (literally) as the Stratford Festival launches a virtual "film festival" offering FREE streaming of 12 of their finest Shakespeare prosuctions. One film will be released on their YouTube channel every Thursday at 7pm ET and will remain available for three weeks.

Their full lineup is below. Join the viewing party Thursday, or watch at your convenience. Each film will debut with a live viewing party - allowing us to get together virtually while we can't gather in our theatres. Details to come! If you can't make the viewing party, fear not! Each film will be available for free for three weeks on their website.

STREAMING DATES: 

KING LEAR: April 23 - May 14

CORIOLANUS: April 30 - May 21

MACBETH: May 7 - May 28

THE TEMPEST: May 14 - June 4 

TIMON OF ATHENS: May 21 - June 11

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST: May 28 - June 18

HAMLET: June 4 - June 25

KING JOHN: June 11 - July 2 

PERICLES: June 18 - July 9

ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA: June 25 - July 16

ROMEO AND JULIET: July 2 - July 23

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: July 9 - July 30

Filmed live before a Stratford audience! All films are captured live at the Stratford Festival in Canada.

May 5, 2020

In the Meantime…

Hello Readers:
It is noticeable that the arts continue, albeit in different formats, during this forced hiatus by Covid-19. The arts of nearly all genres will endure, whether resuming where they left off at the end of 2019 and/or morphing into other shapes and sounds. Neither of these results are not necessarily bad.
Selfishly, we hope that our website and Facebook fan will remember to seek out In the Spotlight reviews, previews, articles, and interviews once the world revs up, hopefully in the summer of 2020. In the meantime, In the Spotlight will post a variety of stories that are as applicable now as they were when first published.
From time to time, our writers will post. We are so thrilled that ITS writers are all sticking with us for the duration of the pandemic, and beyond. Their reason? Each has a sincere love of the performing arts, particularly the local arts.
ITS will offer up-to-date listings that the impact of the pandemic has had on your favorite venues. Some sites will temporarily close for the summer months, some will readjust their calendars to include as many programs as originally planned, and some might be relatively unscathed. I imagine that September will be jam-packed with numerous performances planned for the summer months. Please try to adjust your personal calendar to fill in as many art forms as you enjoy.
We start our look back on In the Spotlight. The history of ITS must include the history of Bravo Newspaper, Springfield, MA
The following is a reprint of an article written by Shera Cohen, co-founder of Bravo, in December 2016.

By Shera Cohen

In March 1991 Bravo Newspaper was founded, serving the local arts community as a free monthly publication. Twenty-five years later, Bravo has become In the Spotlight, a website primarily promoting the arts in Greater Springfield. We thank our many writers and other staff and thousands of readers through the years.

Equally important is formal acknowledgement to the Springfield Cultural Council for its initial grant which launched Bravo. That successful application for $6450 provided financial support, along with at least 50 grants from throughout Pioneer Valley, for the next 25 years.

Shera Cohen of Springfield, and Lauren Grossman of Longmeadow (now Arizona) ended their work for the Chicopee Centennial in December 1990. “What to do now?” Both women had theatre backgrounds. “Let’s start a theatre newspaper,” Grossman said. Cohen followed with, “I don’t even know how to use a computer.” They both learned the mechanics; the subject matter grew from theatre to all the performing and visual arts; and office space moved from Grossman’s pool table, to Cohen’s living room floor, to a tiny office with stained glass windows, to one larger office on State Street, finally to three different spaces on Main Street, with each location larger than the one before, all in downtown Springfield.

The Springfield Cultural Council grant paid for production and printing of 1,000 papers monthly with distribution only in Springfield. Cohen and Grossman were the entire “staff” of Bravo which included writing articles, selling ads, design and paste up (computers didn’t perform as they do now), and delivery. Year #2 of Bravo increased distribution city-wide and to five cities/towns; each due to receiving more grants from as many cities. A few writers and a salesperson were added to the team. At its 12-year mark, Bravo delivered boasted 50,000 readers in 48 cities with a staff of approximately 50 at its high point. 

Radio media came next, when Cohen and Grossman approached WMAS for a weekly arts program, hosted by themselves. Did either have radio experience? No. But staff at WMAS offered free air-time on its AM station on Sundays – first for 15 minutes at 6:15am, then at 6:30am when more listeners might be awake, eventually to a half-hour at 9am. Thirteen years later, the show ended with a huge thank you to five additional hosts and the many, many listeners who said, “I heard you on the radio.”

Looking toward the 21st century here, Bravo printed its last publication in 2003, at the same time morphing Bravo to In the Spotlight electronic media. Many writers from the newspaper continued with Spotlight, even those who joined in 1992. 

In the Spotlight continues as a local source of reviews, previews, interviews, and “on the road” features on community and professional performing arts in the region.

April 16, 2020

Goodspeed Musicals Launches Musical Theatre Podcast


Goodspeed Musicals Presents:
IN THE SPOTLIGHT, Goodspeed's Deep Dive into Classical Musicals

Michael Fling and Anika Chapin of the Goodspeed Artistic Staff explore and examine favorite musicals—from contemporary hits to classic Broadway. They’ll share fascinating tidbits about each musical’s creation and history, then analyze a song or scene to illustrate how the dramaturgy of the show works. 

Whether you're "Getting to Know" a show for the first time or learning more about an "Old Friend," you're guaranteed to fall in love with musical theatre all over again.

EPISODE 1: SOUTH PACIFIC
EPISODE 2: ANNIE
New episodes every Wednesday

https://www.goodspeed.org/in-the-spotlight




March 30, 2020

"Spotlight on Broadway" Website

Shared with ITS by Michael Moran

If you're passing the time glued to your computer, perhaps now is as good a time as any to connect remotely with something we all love: The Theatre! More specifically, the theater buildings themselves. I happened to run across this website, filled with pics of (I believe) all of the Broadway theaters, inside and out. The rest of the site has interesting articles about Broadway history as well. I had a blast browsing through it and perhaps you will too!

https://www.spotlightonbroadway.com/theater-architecture

March 10, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven & Tchaikovsky

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
March 7, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

Though SSO music director Kevin Rhodes had planned this program, guest conductor Daniel Hege, who directs the Wichita (KS) Symphony and Binghamton (NY) Philharmonic orchestras, embraced it enthusiastically for a memorable SSO debut.

In a pre-concert talk, he called the opening work, “Radiant Circles,” by Augusta Read Thomas, “a ten-minute crescendo” and “less a traditional piece than a sonic experience.” He also cited a strong jazz influence in all the African-American composer’s music. Hege led the SSO in a vibrant account of the colorfully orchestrated 2010 score, which features unusual instrumental combinations, including vibraphone, glockenspiel, and crotales (tuned bells).

Photo by Angelo Xiang Yu
Next came the grandest of all violin concertos – Beethoven’s – in a thrilling rendition and sensational SSO debut by 29-year-old soloist Angelo Xiang Yu. Trained at the New England Conservatory, the Mongolian-born, Boston-based violinist received both an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award in 2019. He described the “challenge” of this concerto to Hege’s pre-concert audience as its requirement throughout of “perfect intonation and beautiful sound.”

That he achieved both tonight was evident in the standing ovation he received after a broad 25-minute opening “Allegro ma non troppo” movement, to which he added hushed delicacy in a radiant “Larghetto” and dazzling finger work in a headlong “Rondo” finale. Conductor and ensemble provided vivid support.

The concert ended after intermission with Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard first symphony, which he nicknamed “Winter Daydreams” and gave titles to the first two movements. While this early work lacks some formal cohesion, it abounds in the melodic invention of his popular mature symphonies. The opening “Reveries during a Winter Journey” is melancholy and folk-like; “Land of Gloom, Land of Mist” is tender and haunting; the Scherzo third movement is elfin and sprightly; and the Finale builds from a slow start to a triumphant close. Hege’s leadership and the SSO’s playing were inspired, especially in the galvanizing Finale.

Noting the concert’s place in observing the SSO’s ongoing celebrations of women composers and Beethoven’s 250th birthday anniversary, Hege also praised the high quality not only of the musicians but of Springfield’s Symphony Hall, insightful reminders from a welcome visitor.

REVIEW: Stageloft Repertory Theater, A Little Night Music

Stageloft Repertory Theater in Collaboration with the Greater Worcester Opera, Fiskdale, MA
through March 15, 2020
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Tatumn Coraccio Photography
Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are always peppered with edginess and wit, often making it difficult for less experienced singers to articulate rapid-fire tongue twisters and pointed barbs. In Stageloft Repertory Theater’s collaboration with seasoned opera veterans from the Greater Worcester Opera, these difficult lyrics come trippingly off the tongues, and humor and double entendres delight the appreciative audience.

Musical Director Aldo Fabrizi conducts the excellent three-piece orchestra with aplomb, and the vocalists rise to the occasion of telling the almost mythic story through allegory and expression with the dignity and poise representative of 1900’s Sweden. This production has a talented cast, most of whom have very impressive credentials and experience. Only space limitations prevent a listing of the entire ensemble, but it would be negligent not to mention both Elaine Crane in the role of Desiree Armfeldt and Todd Yard as Fredrik Egerman for their exceptional grasp of character and outstanding voices. There is chemistry between the two that underscores the story’s development, and they light up the stage individually as well as in the scenes they share.

Director Richard Monroe moves his 17 actors around the small stage with precision and poise. The very clever set, designed by Scott Taylor and Aldo Fabrizi, complete with movable panels is highly functional and appropriately spare. Elaine Crane’s costume designs add a layer of elegance, and Ezekiel Baskin’s lighting design creates an illusion of a much bigger stage and establishment of scene.

The intimate Stageloft Theater is a wonderful location to see a play and, in this case, to appreciate the natural voices of the performers without microphone distortion or over-amplification. Stageloft Repertory Theater has the ambitious goal of producing a new show every month, and the way they succeed is by partnering with other companies. If this production, featuring the talent of the Greater Worcester Opera, is any indication of the quality of the work, it is undoubtedly a venue to consider. Hopefully, these two artistic organizations will continue to collaborate on many future projects.