WCMA and WTF host summer arts programs

Benet Ge

Students engage in performance with the Williamstown Theatre Festival over the summer. (Photo courtesy of Casey Monteiro.)

This summer, students at the College participated in the inaugural cohorts of two new arts programs in Berkshire County’s thriving summer arts scene. The Williams Summer Arts & Museums Immersion Program, run by the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), and the Williams College/Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) Summer Intensive Training Program (SITP) each placed cohorts of roughly 20 students into internships that allowed them to make the most of the College’s continued engagement with local arts.

WCMA was able to coordinate museum internships off the beaten path of Route 2, which connects the Clark Art Institute through WCMA to MASS MoCA. Greta Gruber ’23, a history major, worked as an intern at the Stockbridge-Munsee Mission House in Stockbridge, Mass., where she fronted the Mohican Miles exhibit and spoke with visitors about the history of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe and the work of the Historic Preservation Office in Williamstown. 

“It was an interesting situation to be in, because there are few other situations where you have to be confronted with history and be talking to strangers about history,” Gruber said. “A museum space is almost the only space that you’d ever do that.” 

According to Gruber, her work at the Stockbridge-Munsee Mission House differed from the curatorial, finance, and studio positions offered at other institutions included in the Summer Arts & Museums Immersion Program. The work was distinctive thanks to the effect of recent repatriation efforts — certain cultural objects, which were previously housed in the Mohican Miles space, had been repatriated over the past few years back to the Tribe in Wisconsin.

“I had to negotiate prioritizing [the visitor’s] experience versus facing the actual history and realities of history today,” Gruber explained. “The flipside of you not being able to see this object is that it’s back where it belongs. It was pretty memorable.”

The two College interns at the Stockbridge-Munsee Mission House made the trip to Stockbridge four times a week with two other College interns at Chesterwood, the estate and museum of Daniel Chester French, who is most well known for his design of the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial. Sofia Stefani ’25 filled in a variety of roles while assisting the small team there, working in departments such as museum admissions, website design, contemporary art shows, Chesterwood’s archives housed in Chapin Library at the College, the gift shop, and a curatorial project cataloging all public monuments produced by French. 

Stefani, who also recounted regularly bringing College friends to the estate on her days off near the end of the program, enjoyed interacting with members of the public who came early to contemporary arts shows hosted at Chesterwood and explaining the estate’s unique features. 

“It was a very different vibe than when I go into a museum here — it was really site-specific,” Stefani said. “They had tableau vivant, which would have been performed when Daniel Chester French was living there in the early 1900s. I don’t think that’s something I could see at many other places.”

For Jackson Small ’24, a curatorial and collections intern working mostly on cataloging medieval art holdings at WCMA, the experience in the Summer Arts & Museums Immersion Program was valuable both in and outside the hours that he spent at work. 

In addition to participating in workshops with local leaders in the arts, the cohort of 17 interns involved with WCMA’s Immersion Program made a trip to New York City and met with an assistant director of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on a day it was closed to the public. 

“Not only was I working in a museum, but I was also getting exposure to people in the business that could give you valuable advice on where to go from here,” Small said of his experience in the Immersion Program. “This is the very first year that they’ve ever done this, so we were the guinea pigs. But I had a good time being a guinea pig.”

The Summer Intensive Training Program (SITP) run by the College and the Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) hosted a cohort of 20 students, half of whom were College students and the other half recruited by WTF from other institutions. The inaugural program commenced this past summer specifically because of the relationship between new WTF Interim Artistic Director Jenny Gersten and Kevin O’Rourke, the career program director and mentor at the theatre department at the College. 

Casey Monteiro ’24 and Eddie Wolfson ’23 both participated in STUDIO’62 last summer, the precursor to SITP. Monteiro participated in the program remotely and Wolfson lived on campus, though all activities were held online because of the pandemic. Both students described STUDIO’62, which was hosted solely by the College, as a less structured program organized around a single mentor and individualized learning experience. In contrast, SITP placed students into two specific departments working on the actual festival, according to their preferences. 

Throughout the program, Monteiro worked in stage management and at the box office. In addition, she found opportunities to act outside of the program — an unexpected bonus given the busy nature of a summer stock theatre like WTF. 

“Because all of us are just passionate about theatre and we were living in Greylock [Quad] together, on our days off people would text in our group chat and be like, ‘Hey, I have this play that I wrote a long time ago, would anyone be interested in going to the theatre and doing a reading of it?’” she said.

Gersten’s appearance at the performance of a WTF Directing Fellow’s show that Monteiro acted in was representative of the energized and constructive nature of the program atmosphere.

In previous years, WTF crew members reported feeling overworked, unsafe, and underappreciated. Many of the changes that SITP brought to summer student theatre programs, including the new emphasis on hands-on learning, reflect the complexities of a program coordinated by a WTF leadership engaged with improving working environment and culture for its staff in the wake of previous allegations of unsafe conditions. 

Wolfson said the conditions were improved even for students. “They made sure we stuck to 40 hours a week,” they said. 

Wolfson, who worked in costuming and producing, was especially engaged during the seminar with Michael R. Jackson, best known for his Tony Award-winning musical A Strange Loop. Wolfson noted that the chance to meaningfully engage with such an artist was incredible, made all the better by the chance to do so on a stipend. “As a young artist, there’s not many opportunities where you get paid to learn,” Wolfson said. 

Correction: This article was updated at 4:02 pm on Oct. 2 to correct the location of the Immersion Program’s New York City trip. They went to The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, not The Metropolitan Museum of Art.