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Williamstown Theatre Festival Aims for Safe, Outdoor Season
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:55PM / Thursday, April 08, 2021
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The lawn outside the '62 Center at Williams College will be the setting for one of the Williamstown Theatre Festival's three productions this summer.


WTF's Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield appears before the Board of Health on Thursday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mandy Greenfield's innate pessimism paid off for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the theater going public and the town.
 
On Thursday, the WTF's artistic director met with the town's Board of Health to discuss the summer season that the festival officially unveiled on Wednesday night.
 
Greenfield, who told the board that she always presumes "we're on the brink of disaster," said she committed to the idea of an outdoor 2021 season way back in August.
 
"At that time, I got some pushback from people saying, 'By next summer, we'll be ready to be back indoors,' " Greenfield said. "I thought, 'Maybe, but maybe we need to stay on the most conservative course imaginable so we can be back in Williamstown.'
 
"Risking the possibility of canceling, risking the possibility of not being in Williamstown in some form or another felt too scary for the economic viability of the town and for the essential spirit of what we are. The 2020 season with Audible was extraordinary, but we share a name with the town and want to be in it."
 
On Wednesday, the WTF held a virtual version of its annual gala where it announces the upcoming summer season.
 
This year, that season will include three outdoor, in-person, world premiere productions, starting July 6 with "Outside on Main: Nine Solo Plays by Black Playwrights."
 
The show, which runs through July 25, will feature nine different short works -- three different 30-minute performances each night -- presented on the lawn in front of Williams College's  '62 Center for Theatre and Dance on Main Street (Route 2).
 
Starting July 13 and running through Aug. 8, the WTF will present the world premiere musical "Row," near the reflecting pool at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
 
"Row" is inspired by the memoir of Tori Murden McClure, the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
 
The festival's third offering, "Alien/Nation," will be "an immersive world premiere theatrical experience that takes you on a journey throughout Williamstown," according to the festival's website, which also notes that audience members will be able to experience the outdoor production "by foot or by car."
 
"Alien/Nation" is slated for July 20 through Aug. 8.
 
WTF officials have been talking with members of the Board of Health since January about the 55 pages of COVID-19 protocols the festival developed in conjunction with Williams College.
 
Greenfield said Thursday that WTF also is bound by the protocols required by Actors' Equity, the union that represents the performers in the summer festival.
 
"The union's mandate for how we must be COVID compliant are more conservative and more onerous than the state of Massachusetts," she said. "Just as, frankly, Williams College's campus rules are more onerous. In two ways, we are beholden to two organizations that are going to hold us to a standard far above the state guidance.
 
"That's in our interest and the town's interest. It's a win-win. At every step, we'll have a set of rules we'll have to live up to. … Like the college, we'll be in a zero tolerance for breaking the rules atmosphere.
 
Greenfield said performers and backstage people for each of the three productions will be living in "pods," and it is coordinating with Williams to keep those groups in campus housing close to the venues where the performances will be held.
 
And there will be some other noticeable differences to this season beyond the truncated schedule of shows.
 
"We normally bring 500 people together to make the work of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in any given summer," Greenfield said. "This year, we're looking to bring 280 people together. Normally, we have an apprentice class of 70 college-aged students. We have suspended that program this year."
 
The only educational component to this year's festival will be an "Early Career BIPOC Theatre-Makers" program, Greenfield said. That will bring together 13 college students, graduate students and recent college graduates who will be overseen by a COVID compliance officer and a supervisor, she said.
 
The festival also this year will suspend its Fridays at 3 reading series, its cabaret performances and the social gatherings usually associated with the WTF.
 
"We will not be able to have opening night parties," Greenfield said. "We will not be able to have a big launch celebration. We will not be able to allow people to eat or drink near actors.
 
"We're focusing on putting actors on stage, creating a glorious piece of art and having people see it safely. We're hoping that between the work itself, the weather, the setting, the spirit of joy that will accompany being back with life performance, the frivolity will prevail even in the absence of some of those trappings."
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