MANCHESTER — A new outdoor classical theater festival will launch this summer in Manchester.
Katharine Maness is bringing Shakespeare in the Woods to the area for an Aug. 22 to Sept. 8 run at Northshire Civic Center - Riley Rink at Hunter Park.
Maness, originally from Pawlet, was first introduced to acting at Long Trail School. She went on to build her acting career in New York City, where she has been training and pursuing acting professionally for 12 years. The last three years of her career have been focused on Shakespeare.
Maness has always wanted to come back to honor her Vermont roots and says she hopes "to give back to the community that put me on this path."
Maness is committed to creating a professional quality festival that feels like part of the community.
"It's important to me that we have exceptional art available in these areas," Maness said. "Theater shouldn't be excluded to the entertainment clubs."
The festival is built on the belief that the arts are an integral part of society that should be accessible to everyone regardless of geographical location or socioeconomic standing.
Maness knows it will take public interest and contributions to ensure this vision is achieved. With the season goal of $50,000, public outreach began in January.
As of early April, SitW has raised one-fifth of its budget with more than $10,000 in donations from early local business supporters including the Northshire Civic Center as venue host, the Northshire Bookstore, and Ye Olde Tavern, as well as support from more than a dozen individuals committed to supporting homegrown arts.
Every donation helps to ensure that the cast and crew receive fair wages for their time and hard work, quality of production, stage and tech materials, housing and transportation, and promotional work to gain visibility for the
In the spirit of its Vermont roots, SitW will engage with the community beyond performances, working with local schools in the area.
"I was 11 years old the first time I ever performed Shakespeare, at Long Trail School's summer camp, and that experience created an everlasting bond and passion for the material," Maness said. "I believe that providing kids access early on is essential to building a sustainable future for the arts right here at home."
In collaboration with summer camps and schools, SitW will host workshops for local children where they will be given the opportunity to work with the cast and crew. Maness hopes to encourage early involvement in the arts and help kids build comfort with classical texts.
However, the stagings will not be constrained by "classic" expectations for Shakespearean plays.
The lineup with feature "Much Ado About Nothing," "Romeo and Juliet," and "The Taming of the Shrew."
Throughout the three plays, Maness and the directors hope to explore "how we as a society, do and/or do not listen to women, and the repercussions."
According to an article about SitW on Backstage.com, Maness will explore this question through "an all-women identifying 'Much Ado About Nothing', an all-gender encompassing 'Romeo and Juliet', and a 'conventional' women and male identifying 'The Taming of the Shrew.'"
Maness hopes that the modern stagings will draw in a larger audience with myriad ages and backgrounds. She is especially trying to cater to those who do not usually see themselves represented in Shakespeare plays.
The brilliant thing about Shakespeare is that you can talk about the larger themes and troubles of humanity without being, as Maness says, "heavy-handed."
Maness selected the "bookends plays" because they feature women who either are (as in "Much Ado About Nothing") or aren't (as in "The Taming of the Shrew") listened to by the other characters — specifically their male counterparts.
She chose "Romeo and Juliet" as the middle performance because of Juliet — one of the quintessential female characters. Maness noticed that she is often "overlooked and played without agency." She is excited to change this.
Maness says "My hope is that SitW will become an area tradition, one that builds on the strength of community while continuously pushing boundaries through the magic of live theater."
Shakespeare in the Woods is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Shakespeare in the Woods must be made payable to "Fractured Atlas" and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Tickets will be available later this spring, for $20, or $12/children 12 and younger. For more information on performance dates, additional information about the festival itself, and how to become a supporter, visit www.shakespeareinthewoodsvt.com.