Since 1955, the Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) has brought classic plays with an innovative twist to the Berkshires every summer.
WTF was created in 1954 when Ralph Renzi ’49, the College’s news director, and David C. Bryant, chairman of the College’s drama program, teamed up to turn the Adams Memorial Theater into a summer residence for a theatre company. The goal was to produce 10 plays in 10 weeks for the Williamstown community with the finest actors and production crew. The project turned out to be so popular that Renzi, Bryant and the WTF board decided it was successful enough to continue for another season. Now, WTF is known for bringing America’s top-rate actors and production teams from across the nation to put on plays that are innovative and diverse.
This year, WTF is putting on seven shows in 10 weeks. The 2019 season is showing A Raisin in the Sun; Grand Horizons; Ghosts; A Human Being, of a Sort; Selling Kabul; Tell Me I’m Not Crazy and Before the Meeting. A Raisin in the Sun is celebrating its 68th anniversary while the latter six are making their world premiere. Grand Horizons is set to be the most anticipated play because following its appearance at WTF, it will make its debut in Broadway.
Spending most the their time creating these plays in New York City, these playwrights come to Williamstown to begin a collaborative production experience best described as “crazy.” For example, the time of productions is packed into two and a half months. The Manhattan Theatre Club produces the same amount of plays for a whole year with a $10 million budget whereas WTF does all that within 10 weeks at a budget of $5 million. This is also accounting for a staff of 11 that handles WTF during the entire year.
The creation of these plays occurs years before they actually premiere in WTF. In fact, the WTF board, at times, gives commissions to allow playwrights to develop their ideas. After a year or two, these plays flourish and with the help of many directors, interns and actors, they are set to premiere at WTF. Josh Martinez-Nelson, director of Development and Communications, said that the festival is a “great foundational place to make connections,” and fosters everlasting relationships between those who arrive and participate in WTF. This is one of the reasons why so many come to witness the wonderful plays that premiere at WTF. In the past, many well-known actors and actresses began their careers working as apprentices in the festival such as Peter Dinklage, Kate Hudson and Sigourney Weaver.
In fact, WTF accepts many students of the College as interns who are interested in working in the madness. For those interested in theatre, WTF is one of the best ways of gaining experience. Their staff of 11 turns to 400 during the 10 weeks.
The 2019 season of the Williamstown Theatre Festival is the product of years of collaboration, hard work from hundreds who work tirelessly during productions months and an audience that supports these innovative plays. The festival begins June 25 with A Raisin in the Sun on the MainStage and June 26 with A Human Being, of a Sort on the Nikos stage and conclude Aug. 18.