Living & Working at a Theatre Festival

living working theatre festival

Today marks three weeks since I moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts to intern at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. When I say that it’s an entirely different world here, that’s putting it lightly. Call it summer stock, call it a summer getaway from the city, call it theatre camp for adults—it’s all true. Williamstown is a truly magical place, and there’s nothing else quite like it.

Where I live and where I work are approximately a one minute walk apart. So when I “go home” after work, I can still see my office from my room. I also hang out with the people I work with, and this all makes it tricky to separate the personal from the professional, as it all becomes one. Being friends with the people with whom you share an office gives the work, the theatre, a familiar quality, akin to hearing an old favorite song for the first time in years. Everyone is so passionate about what they do, even after I close my work email for the night, I’m still happy to dive into a conversation about the newest play on the Nikos Stage. 

williamstown theatre festival center for theatre and dance
Outside the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance on my first day!

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that there’s more to life than theatre, that there’s more to theatre than Williamstown. Being here is like being in a bubble—a marvelous, friendly, creative bubble—but a bubble nonetheless. You don’t need a car to get around town, since everything you need is a short walk or bike ride away. Even when I do take my car for a weekend trip to Vermont, there’s something about the Berkshires that just wraps you up in a warm, occasionally rainy hug, that gives you a sense of peace, a place to grow, an excuse to try new things. It makes you forget that there is life “outside,” which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Theatre in Williamstown is living and breathing and you’re fully immersed in it. Not only have I seen shows develop from script to rehearsal room to full production, but I’ve also met the playwrights and actors and stage managers and designers who are making it all happen from start to finish. And when you work, live, and play together, you get to learn about the theatrical intricacies and behind-the-scenes tidbits you might not know otherwise, the personal quirks that found their way into the production, and you can ask questions about the shows to the very people who conceived of them. 

Walking around Williamstown, you never know who you’ll bump into. When I was watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, I pet the dog of a Tony-nominated director who had two plays on Broadway this season. Where else would that happen? But meeting the talented creatives whose work I so admire for the first time in low-stakes, personal environments is wonderful. It removes any nervous energy or other barriers that could pop up, reminding me that, at the end of the day, they’re my peers, my co-workers, and they’re just people, too.

There’s something about being in a sun-kissed bucolic setting that gives the theatre festival experience a dream-like nostalgia, a wide-eyed wonder, a sense of endless summer. This makes it easy to meet new people and feel like old friends minutes into your first conversation. Everyone knows everyone, so any feelings of being a stranger are assuaged when you find out your interlocutor did a show with your friend from high school. 

berkshires williamstown massachusetts mountain
A sunny day in the Berkshires.

Everyone you meet has their own story, the reason they’re here. When you meet someone, you ask two questions: what do you do at the Festival, and what do you want to be doing? Everyone has come from unique previous experiences, and everyone has their own burning ambition for where they want to go from here. But, what they all have in common is that they’re all spending their summer at a theatre festival, and they’re all lending their own personal skill sets to creating the shows being put up. 

Not only are there the seven main season productions running throughout the summer, but there are also readings of new works, classes for the acting apprentices, workshops of directing apprentice shows, talkbacks, rehearsals, and interviews happening every day of the week. The work being done here is vital, it’s alive, and it’s constantly changing, responding to the world as it is, right this very moment. Everyone is learning from one another, and no one will leave here unchanged, be they actor or audience member.

The days here are long, I’m almost always tired, and the work never seems to be finished. I stay up late knowing that I have to wake up early the following day. But one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning is the knowledge that being here, I’m a part of something greater than myself, something important, something that is changing lives, and has been changing lives for decades. I walk down the front hallway of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance and see posters and photos from years of productions lining the walls, reminding me of the countless artists who have come to the Williamstown Theatre Festival before me. I see the 2002 Regional Theatre Tony Award the Festival won sitting in an office. I hear stories from summer’s past. And being here, I’m helping write a new chapter in the Williamstown history, leaving my own mark, my own, small legacy. 

 

What’s your favorite summer theatre festival experience? Let me know in the comments below!


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More about Kelly

Hi, I’m Kelly! I’m here to give busy college students a guide to navigating the modern theatre world. I’m passionate about spreading my love of theatre, traveling, and trying new things.

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