When Mandy Greenfield, artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, pulled the plug on the 2020 season, there were those who thought she’d acted in haste.
"The prevailing notion was that in a couple of weeks it would all be over," she said in a recent phone interview. Undeterred, Greenfield teamed with Audible to do last season on the audiobook platform and immediately went to work planning an outdoor 2021 festival that, in Greenfield’s words, "is a celebration of theatrical imagination."
The 67-year-old Massachusetts festival is only one of the Northeast theater festivals going all out with world premieres, diverse programming, and innovative settings.
Here are highlights from some of the best-known festivals, all of them noting they will follow current state and CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of audiences and performers.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
It looks "very different" from what we normally do indoors, says artistic director Mandy Greenfield, noting the festival has "taken big, bold artistic risks." The season starts with "Outside on Main: Nine Solo Plays by Black Playwrights," July 6-25, laying bare, says Greenfield, "the breadth of Black imagination in the American theater." Following will be "Row," July 13-Aug. 8, an inspiring musical about a woman who rowed her hand-built boat across the Atlantic (performed in the reflecting pool at the Clark Art Institute) and ALIEN/NATION, an immersive, sight-specific experience directed by Tony winner Michael Arden that audiences can follow by car or on foot.
WHERE | WHEN: Williamstown, Massachusetts; July 6-Aug. 8,
INFO: Tickets on sale mid-June, wtfestival.org, 413-458-3200
Not only was Jacob’s Pillow forced to deal with the pandemic, the renowned dance institute also lost a performance space when a fire destroyed the Doris Duke Theatre in November. Rebuilding efforts are under way, but this season will be performed entirely outdoors (often with streaming options). Intriguing site-specific pieces will take place all over the 220-acre campus, including one called Eastern Woodland Dances, July 17, featuring indigenous dancers from several local nations. Highlights on the Henry J. Leir outdoor stage include Ballet Hispanico, July 14-18, and "Life Encounters," directed by influential social and street dancer Archie Burnett, July 28-Aug. 1.
WHERE | WHEN: Becket, Massachusetts.; June 30-Aug.29
INFO: Tickets for the Leir stage start at $45, site-specific performances start at $25; jacobspillow.org, 413-243-0745
Berkshire Theatre Festival
While most organizations called off their 2020 summer seasons, the Berkshire festival pulled off a live version of "Godspell," with actors performing behind plexiglass shields. This summer the theater is holding to the vision of creating work that "enriches, invigorates, transforms, and strengthens our community for the better," says artistic director Kate Maguire. A highlight of the season is "Nina Simone: Four Women," starring Tony and Grammy nominee Valisia LeKae, Aug. 13-Sept. 5 in the courtyard of the Unicorn Theatre. The Oscar Wilde classic "The Importance of Being Earnest" opens the season June 18-July 10. The theater will also do a reimagined "Wizard of Oz" under a tent (complete with carnival acts) at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield (July 23-Aug. 15).
WHERE | WHEN: Stockbridge, Massachusetts.; June 18-Sept. 5
INFO: Tickets: $50-$75, berkshiretheatregroup.org, 413-997-4444
This western Massachusetts festival is taking a leap and planning some productions indoors at its Boyd/Quinson Stage, including the world premiere of "Sister Sorry," Aug. 12-29, about a conceptual artist whose answering machine asks callers to confess their crimes. Outdoor performances are also scheduled, including another world premiere, "Boca," July 30-Aug. 22 — think "California Suite" set in Florida. For traditionalists there’s "Who Could Ask for Anything More?" a revue of George Gershwin songs, June 10-July 3.
WHERE | WHEN: Pittsfield, Massachusetts, June 10-Aug. 29
INFO: Tickets, $35-$100; barringtonstageco.org, 413-236-8888
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
The season, the last to be performed on the grounds of the historic Boscobel House and Gardens, opens with a departure from Shakespeare — "The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington," June 24-July 30, about the enslaved people of George and Martha Washington. But no worries Bard loyalists, it will be followed by "The Tempest," Aug. 5-Sept. 4.
WHERE | WHEN Garrison, New York, June 24-Sept 4
INFO: Tickets, $175-$20; hvshakespeare.org, 845-265-9575
The opera festival calls the coming season "Glimmerlass on the Grass.". Operas like "The Magic Flute," July 15-Aug. 17, and "Il Trovatore," Aug. 1-14, have been pared to 90 minutes. And if opera is not your thing, consider "To the World" July 16-Aug. 8, a program of musical theater hits.
WHERE | WHEN: Cooperstown, New York, July 15-Aug. 16
INFO: Tickets, $80-$350 for a "festival square" that seats up to four people; capacity limited but find the wait list at glimmerglass.org, 607-547-2255
The Berkshires, Massachusetts: The historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, is a mid-range hotel with a major charm factor and several types of accommodations; a midweek queen room in July was $236 when checked in mid-May, but things could change; redlioninn.com, 423-298-5545.
There's Blantyre in Lenox where a midweek room during the summer starts at $795. Chef Daniel Boulud has partnered with the hotel to open Café Boulud; blantyre.com, 844-881-0104. Hike Monument Mountain in Great Barrington (trails range from easy to challenging) for spectacular views of the Housatonic Valley and Mount Greylock; hikethehudsonvalley.com.
Cooperstown: The lakeshore Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown offers a midweek room in July was $381 as of mid-May; otesaga.com, 800-348-6222. Art lovers will want to investigate "Keith Haring: Radiant Vision," May 29-Sept. 6 at the Fenimore Art Museum; fenimoreartmuseum.org, 607-547-1400. Or visit the renowned Baseball Hall of Fame; baseballhall.org, 607-547-7200.