Williamstown Theatre Festival
History of 50 Years
A winner of a 2011 Massachusetts Cultural Council Commonwealth Award, the Williamstown Theatre Festival is a resident summer theater on the campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, founded in 1954 by Williams College news director, Ralph Renzi, and drama program chairman, David C. Bryant. The theatre was conceived as a way to use the Adams Memorial Theatre on the Williams campus for a resident summer theatre company. At the request of Renzi and Bryant, established Actress and Broadway Theatre World Award winner Marcia Henderson, who was raised in Williamstown, performed in the first play of the festival. She was the first major celebrity to perform at Williamstown. Nikos Psacharopoulos, a professor at Yale Drama School and a co-founder, became the executive artistic director and guided the company for over thirty years until his death in 1989. Psacharopoulos made certain WTF would not be a typical summer stock theater by focusing on such international playwrights as Chekhov, Shaw, Anouilh, Tennessee Williams, Bertholt Brecht, and Tom Stoppard. He mentored his associates and assistant directors, such as Tom Brennan, Arvin Brown, Keith Fowler, Peter Hunt, Paul Weidner, and Austin Pendleton. He nurtured talent, and his respect for his actors attracted such performers as E.G. Marshall, Frank Langella, Rosemary Harris, Blythe Danner, and Colleen Dewhurst. Christopher Reeve, once a WTF apprentice, told an interviewer: “By staying here thirty years, Nikos [did] what they couldn’t do in Brooklyn or Washington or at Lincoln Center. He has managed to achieve a national theater.” Nikos’ uncompromising vision of a world class theater amid the beautiful Berkshires continues to this day, prompting a succession of top artistic directors, and leading to the highest international recognition, honors, and awards for WTF.
In 2002, the American Theater Wing awarded WTF America’s highest theatrical honor, the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theater — the “Tony“–as an especially distinguished regional theater.
Throughout its over four decades in existence, many celebrated American artists—designers, composers, directors, choreographers as well as stage and screen actors—have worked as apprentices or company members at Williamstown. Recently, the festival transferred several successful shows to Broadway, including One Mo’ Time, Hedda Gabler, and The Man Who Had All the Luck.