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Living the Shakesperience – Local Theater Group Sets Foot in Litchfield Hills

Back in 1996 Emil Mattina and Jeffrey Lapham had a mission—to educate and inspire students, families, and theater professionals through the arts. Thus Shakesperience was born—an organization that reveres and encourages a love of William Shakespeare’s work by bringing it to schoolchildren of all ages. The couple provides innovative, thought-provoking live theater programs rooted in classical literature. What better venue than the plays of the Bard of Avon that run the gamut from pure joy and hilarity to tragedy and murder? It is a celebration of language as well as an opportunity for children to explore the thoughts, motives, and social mores through the eyes of perfectly formed characters reciting perfectly formed sentences.

For nine months of the year Lapham and his coterie of actors and helpers do a school tour, performing and educating. In the summer months they present Shakespeare in the Park, which began in 2004 and has had 21 different productions since then. This year the event comes to the Litchfield Hills. For three weeks, beginning August 7, there will be five free outdoor presentations of The Comedy of Errors, created by Shakesperience Productions, Inc., and performed by professional equity actors. This inaugural performance will also mark the relocation of the company from Waterbury to Washington.

“Much of what is happening for us is the result of our new association with the Connecticut Community Foundation,” explains Lapham. “We were one of the four cornerstone organizations selected by CCF. These are successful establishments that CCF felt could benefit and grow through financial and other support systems. It has given us the opportunity to move to the next level.”

The move is part of the planning to have Lapham’s group reach out to a large part of Litchfield County’s population. While Shakesperience was spending eighty percent of its finances in Waterbury, only twenty percent of its revenue came from there.

One of the goals of this new association is to effectively publicize the organization.

“Litchfield has a voracious appetite for the arts,” Lapham says. “But the branding has been fairly difficult. Shakespeare takes the entire spotlight. People know they saw a show by the great bard but the name of the parent company gets lost. So we will now be known as Shakespeare in the Litchfield Hills: A Shakesperience Production.

Thanks to the efforts and involvement of CCF, Mattina and Lapham are confident that the company they have nurtured will continue to grow and reach an even larger audience. Their love for Shakespeare is contagious and they have brought that enthusiasm to countless students and their families.

“The response has been amazing,” says Lapham, “and it would not have happened without CCF. Prior to our joining forces we had exactly three donors who ever gave more than $1000 to Shakesperience. To date, we are upwards of $20,000 in donations for Shakespeare in the Litchfield Hills. Now with help in running the day-to-day operation, Emily and I can devote more time to developing our programs.”

Shakesperience can mean something different to everyone. Attend a performance, schedule a program for your school or event, enroll in their acting intensives, audition, or volunteer.

Sign up for their mailing list to learn about the latest programs. There are many ways to be involved. shakesperience.org




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