Kate Burton and Jared Bowen on location at the Williamstown Theatre Festival

Credit: WGBH

Williamstown Theatre Festival: Exploring The 'Granddaddy' Of Summer Theatre

July 9, 2013

Amid the lush landscape of Williamstown, the Williamstown Theatre Festival is where the stars come to summer on stage.

Kate Burton is one among a very luminous list of actors who’ve spent many a summer hitting the boards at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which is now in its 59th year.

At one time or another, the theater has drawn most of the greats. Burton said she did her first professional show at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with Frank Langella, her second with Christopher Reeve, and third with Colleen Dewhurst. 

“I’ve been coming here since 1980, so clearly I come with furniture, I’m in the grass, I’m in the trees. But I think what it is, is that we get to go back to where we came from,” Burton said.  

Which is acting in its purest form—from adventurous new works like last season’s musical "Far From Heaven" that landed on Broadway, to the classics.

Jenny Gersten is in her third season as Williamstown’s artistic director—programming an array of plays, musicals and revivals on a dizzying summer stock schedule with shortened rehearsal times and week and a half runs.

“The theater is a place where you get to do your best work, in some ways. Film and television, you only get to act in thirty-second bites. In the theater, you really lean into a character, you do it live, there’s nothing like it,” Gersten told Greater Boston's Jared Bowen. 

Williamstown is the granddaddy of summer theater, Burton says, but with it comes the pressure of working at the top of one’s game, without much time to do it. This summer she’s starring in Tom Stoppard’s rarely produced work, "Hapgood".

“It really uses all your flexor muscles, everything you’ve learned as an actor over years and years and years, and God knows, there’s been a lot for me, but it’s a really incredible workout.”

“The people who work in Williamstown, to me, are the actors’ actors. The working actors.”

Making a return appearance this summer in "Pygmalion", is actor Robert Sean Leonard who finds a particular appeal in veteran actors like himself fueled by the energy of the roughly 300 young theater types it takes to put on the shows.

“It’s a little bit like a teaching hospital almost feel for older doctors. It can be a pain in the ass, but at the end of the day it’s quite… it’s always great to be around people just coming into the field that you’ve been enjoying and discovering it,” Leonard said. “For a professional actor it’s great. For a young actor, it’s extraordinary.”

And for audiences, by and large, there’s just great fortune.

On Greater Boston, hear about the energy, history and reputation of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. 

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