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High School Group Raising Money For Shakespeare Festival

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GoFundMe.com: Save Shakespeare At Taconic
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Facing a funding cut, parents and students from a Pittsfield high school are in the midst of a fundraising campaign in hopes of maintaining their presence at an annual theater festival.

Shakespeare & Company’s Fall Festival draws about 500 students for nine weeks each year as they explore the language of the Bard and perform his famous plays. Ten schools from western Massachusetts and New York participate each year. Commonwealth schools pay $13,000 to take part while New York schools pay a bit more because of funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, according to the company’s school programs manager Alexandra Lincoln.

“Some schools have the festival fully budgeted in their school budgets,” Lincoln said. “Some schools raise all of the money themselves.”

Lincoln says each school’s program costs about $20,000 with the company bearing the remaining costs for sets, costumes and placing a director in each school for nine weeks. Before the November four-day showcase at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, each school performs its selected play in its own auditorium. On average, Taconic High School’s two-night performances draw a total of about 300 people, raising $3,000 through ticket sales and concessions. For each of the past five years, Taconic has provided about $5,000 overall and been able to take part in the fall festival. But Lincoln says the theatre company can no longer bear the cost as the program enters its 26th season.

“We want to support all of the schools as much as possible, but we at Shakespeare & Company don’t have the resources to help out anymore than,” said Lincoln.

Facing a funding shortage, students and parents at Taconic High School have formed the Save Our Shakespeare, or SOS, booster club. Sophomore Caroline Fairweather has been a part of the fall festival for the past two years.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear the news,” Fairweather said. “I think a huge part of fall festival is unity with the other schools in the county and it would be so sad to see a school not go. I think I’d feel the same if it were any school not just Taconic.”

The group formed a GoFundMe website about a month ago and has raised more than $3,000 so far. They need to raise an additional $10,000 by June 15th in order to participate in this year’s festival. The group plans to set up a booth at upcoming Pittsfield 3rd Thursday street festivals, take out an ad on community television and is considering showing one of its previous shows at The Beacon Cinema. Sophomore Marlaina Tremblay set up the fundraising website and has also been in Taconic’s Shakespeare shows for the past two years.

“Now that we’re reading Shakespeare in our English classes the other students look at me because I’m excited to read it and I understand the language,” Tremblay said. “I can grasp the concepts and what not to know and connect with it on a level that they may not able to because they haven’t had the exposure like I have.”

The school’s theater director, Jessica Passetto, is a 1997 Taconic grad and was involved in the fall festival as a student.

“They’re able to get common classes and that festival experience through Shakespeare that I can’t give them; that other schools can’t give them during that musical time,” Passetto said.

Lincoln says the Taconic group took ownership of the fundraising right away. Calling the fall festival the company’s crown jewel, she adds the program is meant for and driven by students as the directors decide which Shakespeare play to perform based on student personalities, talent and skills.

“It’s their festival and they create it themselves,” Lincoln. “We are just there to facilitate.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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