Every summer, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company brings the Bard to life on Boston Common. Some 100,000 people come to see the company’s free performances out in the open air. “Our mission is to make the plays vibrant to contemporary audiences,” says Steven Maler, the company’s founding artistic director. “It’s a very celebratory atmosphere. It’s like a rock concert in the middle of the Common, except it’s Shakespeare.”
This past fall, Commonwealth became Babson’s resident theater company, and Maler was named director of the Sorenson Center for the Arts. Commonwealth’s small staff now resides in Park Manor North and South, and in addition to staging its signature Shakespeare performances, the company is tasked with adding to the richness of the cultural and academic life on campus. “Every day is exciting,” Maler says. “There are so many possibilities here.”
To some, such an arrangement between a theater company and a business school might seem unusual, but dozens of colleges have resident companies, Maler says. And entrepreneurs and artists share a lot in common, namely creativity, plus a good amount of guts. “They both envision what’s not there and how to make it visible,” Maler says. “As artists, we are used to the leap off the cliff into the unknown, just as entrepreneurs are.”
At Babson, Commonwealth—together with Sorenson staff—will serve as a resource for students, organizing workshops, offering networking opportunities, and providing expertise. If the Babson Players or Babson Dance Ensemble experiences problems with sound before a show, the company can help. If students think of projects they want to do, such as a play about a social issue, the company can help with that, too.
Adam Sanders, associate artistic director of Commonwealth and Sorenson’s associate director, is meeting with all sorts of student groups, asking them to define their goals and how they will achieve them. He wants to push students, make them reach further with their work. “You can’t become stagnant,” says Sanders, who runs the many educational programs Commonwealth offers. “I want students to think outside the box.”
Maler and Sanders, along with Sorenson’s new faculty director, Beth Wynstra, also have assumed the scheduling of events at Sorenson’s theater. As the company brings dance, music, and theatrical acts to Babson, Maler wants to use the theater as a way to build relationships and entice people to come to campus, whether they are residents of surrounding communities or the many alumni who live in the area. “The theater is a big focal point,” he says. “I feel like there’s no greater bridge to community than the arts.”
One event Commonwealth initiated last fall was its new Theater in the Rough series, which is a script-in-hand reading of a play done without sets or costumes. “It boils theater down to the intersection of actor and author,” Maler says. The reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III featured Jeffrey Donovan of USA Network’s Burn Notice in the title role.
Another actor, Anthony Rapp, star of the Rent musical and movie, came to campus in January for a Q-and-A session and performance with the Rocket Pitches, a student a cappella group.
As events are scheduled at Sorenson’s theater, Maler wants them to reflect the Babson community in its entirety. “I am keenly interested in programming that celebrates diversity on campus,” Maler says. “I would like to see more and more of that.”—John Crawford