Photo of Laura Benanti from Shutterstock
Interim Artistic Director Jenny Gersten announced programming for the 2023 Williamstown Theatre Festival summer season. The season will feature a series of cabarets, readings, and special events that require minimal physical production and hold on to the summer theater festival’s inimitable vibe. The Tony Award®-recognized theater company has made the purposeful decision to take time over the course of the entire year to devote energy and resources to rethinking the Festival and its core operations for the future.
Gersten said, “Williamstown Theatre Festival’s economic model is steeped in a summer stock tradition that needs to be rethought in order for the Festival to continue to thrive for another 70 years. We have made the responsible, strategic decision to not produce full productions this summer, but instead are creating a very special season that requires a smaller footprint. We’re looking forward to using the found capacity to think about how we meet the future and sustain ourselves as an organization. This summer is the beginning of a wonderful journey. I’m full of optimism for the future, and I love that this summer we spend time with family and new exciting voices while we undertake this purposeful work in order to return in 2024 to full productions on the campus of Williams College.”
The WTF 2023 season will kick off with award-winning comedian Hasan Minhaj in Experiment Time as he showcases and prepares new material for his latest work-in-progress. Experiment Time will play a strictly limited six-performance engagement from Wednesday, July 12 – Saturday, July 15 on the Main Stage at the ‘62 Center for Theatre & Dance.
Minhaj is one of the most in-demand comedians on screen and stage today. Earlier this year, he was the host of “The Daily Show,” and he is also the host and creator of Netflix’s Peabody and Emmy Award-winning weekly comedy show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” and the Netflix comedy specials “Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King” and “The King’s Jester.”
Then on Sunday, July 16, for one performance only, Broadway legend and Tony Award winner Laura Benanti graces the Main Stage to share songs from her illustrious career. A long-time friend of the Festival, Laura also starred as Perdita in the WTF production of The Winter’s Tale (2001) and last performed for WTF audiences at the 2020 Gala. A star on stage and screen, Laura’s career spans over two decades since she took Broadway by storm at the age of 18. Laura has earned two Drama Desk Awards, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, and garnered five Tony Award nominations.
For the remainder of the 2023 season, experience the Festival in a new, uniquely created environment that puts artists and audience onstage in one intimate setting together. The 2023 Festival Stage, reimagined on the stage of the theater by designers Se Hyun Oh and Emily Schmit, is home to the inimitable WTF Cabaret and a new Main Stage Reading Series featuring popular plays and esteemed Festival artists.
Gersten said, “In rethinking the scale of the season, we have a wonderful opportunity to also rethink how the audience experiences our programming. This summer, audience and artists will come together in an intimate space, literally sharing the stage, to foster a greater sense of communion and conviviality. This one-of-a-kind Festival atmosphere is another way to make this season special and memorable:”
This summer, WTF is partnering with Tony Award nominee and Festival mainstay Christopher Fitzgerald to curate the return of the WTF Cabaret. Intimate, casual, and always surprising, these exhilarating evenings feature performances by Festival artists you know and love! No two weekends are the same, and all shows take place on the specially created 2023 Festival Stage, featuring a mix of premium cabaret-style tables and traditional seating, as well as a full bar.
The WTF Cabaret will take place over three successive weekends: Thursday, July 20 – Saturday, July 22; Thursday, July 27 – Saturday, July 29; and Thursday, August 3 – Saturday, August 5. Artists for each weekend will be announced shortly.
WTF MAIN STAGE READING SERIES
Paris, ACTORS! — July 22 and 23
By Hamish Linklater
Featuring Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe
Occupied Paris. 1944. Real life celebrity Nazi Werner Krauss is between projects. But the Party, desperate for a propaganda extravaganza in the City of Lights, has arranged a remount of his notorious Merchant of Venice produced by a French theater teeming with family secrets. Paris, ACTORS! is “The Last Metro” if Truffaut were unavailable to direct, but the Marx Brothers were.
Three Sisters — July 29 and 30
By Anton Chekhov
Featuring Louisa Jacobson
The beloved Prozorov family returns to Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer to recount their timeless and tumultuous tale of existential longing. In this Chekhov classic, sisters Olga, Masha, and Irina yearn for the promise of Moscow while grappling with the tribulations of unrequited love and family drama at home. In the wake of their father’s death and a changing Russia, the women must face the reality of their choices and take responsibility for their uncertain futures.
The Pillowman —August 5 and 6
By Martin McDonagh
They say life imitates art—but what happens when that art is horror? In a totalitarian dictatorship, young author Katurian is interrogated by the authorities after a string of child murders bears a striking resemblance to his grisly short stories. When his brother admits to the murders and implicates Katurian and their troubled childhood, more complicated questions arise—is it really possible to separate art from artist? Widely regarded as one of the greatest plays of the last 25 years, The Pillowman is as dark as comedies get and is sure to keep audiences glued to the edge of their seats.
FRIDAYS@3 READING SERIES
Chapters of a Floating Life — July 14
2023 L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award Winner
By Clarence Coo
Directed by Jennifer Chang
Two couples from China try to make ends meet in New York City in the wake of the Second World War. One husband and wife live uptown, obsessed with a past of poetry, painting, and gardens. Another pair face the day-to-day reality of keeping a Chinatown restaurant in business. Their worlds, previously separated by class and education, converge when the two women find each other in Central Park and fall under the spell of the Chinese language.
Plunder and Lightning — July 21
By Cindy Lou Johnson
Tina and George’s preparations for an important party are wildly derailed when their daughter Rikki shows up on the run from the cops, and Tina’s stepmother, Lola, threatens to levy charges of elder abuse. A dark comedy about greed and the urgent power of love, Plunder and Lightning examines the price to be paid for burying our sins—in the field out back.
Wipeout — August 4
By Aurora Real de Asua
Directed by Maggie Burrows
It’s Gary’s 77th birthday and all she wants to do is surf. The only problem? She’s never stepped foot on a board before. But with the help of a hot-rod teenage surf instructor and the company of her two best friends, Gary is about to go on the ride of her life. As the three women navigate the currents of the Pacific, they must confront seven decades of secrets and sacrifices, not to mention the odd jellyfish or two.
By Liliana Padilla (they/them)
Directed by Jack Ferver (they/them)
Dramaturgy by Desiree S. Mitton (she/they)
Produced by Breaking the Binary Theatre
Following their collaboration as a part of the inaugural Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival in October of 2022, playwright Liliana Padilla (they/them), director Jack Ferver (they/them), dramaturg Desiree S. Mitton (she/they) are reuniting with several of their BTB collaborators to further dive into the world of TWITCH as part of Breaking the Binary Theatre’s 2023 Falco and Steinman Residency Program.
By Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques
Society is part play, part participatory focus group, part collective fever dream, presented around a giant conference table. You can’t believe they still ask you back in for more sessions—it feels like you’ve been going there forever. But the money’s decent, and it costs so much to live in this city. And there are snacks. It’s supposed to be a different group in there every time, but a couple people are starting to look familiar. Maybe you’re just imagining things. But they’re staring at you, too, right?
Waterwell is a group of artists, educators, and producers dedicated to telling engrossing stories that deliberately wrestle with complex civic questions in unexpected ways. WW creates productions that are creatively daring and emotionally potent to cultivate connections across real and perceived divides. www.waterwell.org
Plate Spinner Productions is a production company working across entertainment media. PSP is committed to developing, nurturing, and producing unique and dynamic stories that challenge artists and audiences to question the status quo, and believe that a fair and equitable world is possible. www.platespinnerproductions.com
A Good Day to Me Not to You
By Lameece Issaq
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
A co-production of Waterwell and Plate Spinner Productions
Writer and actor Lameece Issaq teams up with two-time Obie winner Lee Sunday Evans on her riotously funny and gut-wrenching new play about a 40-whatever dental lab tech who gets fired and moves into St. Agnes Residence, a woman’s boarding house run by nuns. While there, she must come to terms with her unfulfilled path to motherhood, the untimely death of her sister, and earth-shaking news about her beloved nephew – all while fending off her unpredictable and sometimes deranged cohabitants. Performed by Issaq in a story-telling tour-de-force.