“The universe is a living creature,
harmonized by proportion, one whole
having every part entire.”
-Plato, The Timaeus
Mission: To create a great classical theatre company that interacts closely with its local community and attracts visitors from all over the world, on a site which, through architecture and landscape, reflects the generating principles of creativity, harmony, and proportion.
For 23 years Shakespeare & Company made its home at The Mount, the house and gardens built by novelist Edith Wharton. In 2000 we moved to our own site: a 30-acre campus with many existing buildings among woodlands and meadows, in the heart of the Berkshire Hills in Lenox, Massachusetts. On this property, Shakespeare & Company will put into practice its ideas about art, architecture, and the environment.
The Company believes there is a direct relationship between the development of the human mind and the landscape a human being inhabits. It is the search for the generative power between human thought, nature, and buildings that shapes the development of the master plan for Shakespeare & Company’s new home. The Company is committed to creating a physical environment that challenges, enhances, and inspires human endeavor. The theatres, rehearsal rooms, dormitories, eating places, and landscape are being conceived as a total environment which nurtures and fosters the creative spirit. The most exciting and inspiring landscape architects and garden designers will be invited to develop the grounds, to create an American masterpiece.
The impact of the grounds happens the moment the visitor crosses the boundary. The property will be a place apart: every aspect of it calling for a deeper understanding of the world. Landscape and nature draw the visitor; the gardens are the threshold and underpinning of the environment’s creative experience. Even if the activities on the property were not performance, debate, education, and training, the grounds would still live in their own right: a unique collaboration of American gardening sensibilities, a landmark in the history of landscape design, a place created at the beginning of the 21st century, standing for all time.
These campus buildings are to be joined by several structures of uncommon significance: primarily, an authentic reconstruction of an Elizabethan Playhouse, The Rose, the only sixteenth century playhouse whose foundation (with significant archaeological information) is extant today.
The Rose will sit in a small village composed of several mid-nineteenth century farm buildings, an original eighteenth century New England barn to be used as a rehearsal space, and a modern timber frame building that will house museum and exhibition space. These buildings will be a hive of activity: armorers will build the armor and swords for the actors, stitchers will be stitching clothes, printers will be churning out playbills from an Elizabethan press – the whole complex will be a place full of vitality and life.
In addition to sharing the architectural language of historic timber framing, the common denominator of all these buildings and others on the property is the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean creates the relationship between plants, human beings, and buildings, is the fundamental premise from which all design on the property will spring, and is the chief tool of alignment.
Just as the great medieval cathedrals in Europe, built collaboratively by many unknown artisans, drew the community together to know each other and be inspired by a greater spiritual understanding, so creating this environment will be a collaboration between many artists from many walks of life.
Shakespeare & Company is already a self-consciously collaborative institution (hence its name). It knows that the world of theatre takes its strength from collaboration. It knows that theatre itself only exists through layers upon layers of collaboration.
For example, Shakespeare used many sources for his plays – the Bible, Ovid, Horace, Seneca, Plato, Chaucer, Montaigne, Holinshed, Plutarch, and Apuleius – absorbing the voices and words of the best minds to help him construct his work. Shakespeare & Company’s training methods use many disciplines – voice, movement, clown, fight, text, Alexander, actor/audience relationship – to develop an actor able to play Shakespeare’s words.
There are many different programs – performances, symposia, education initiatives, public and private dialogues – being conducted on the property, and many people from many different disciplines – actors, designers, teachers, technicians, administrators, corporate leaders, students, visual artists, carpenters, builders, gardeners, scholars, and theatre audiences – using the property.
Different architects have built (and are building) on the property, and the site has both urban and rural qualities.
The question then is not whether to collaborate, but how to make this multiplicity of activities and spaces, with all their history and variety, into a coherence which surprises, enhances, and supports the art currently being created there.
We believe that this collaboration with past, present, and each other comes naturally to artists. We believe that all great art, and the practice of those disciplines necessary to create art, come from a connection to the spiritual. Therefore, by using artists of great power to collaborate on the buildings and landscape, we will harmonize the multiplicity of connections. It is this search for that spiritual connection and the intuitive understanding of the relationship between buildings, landscape, and human activity that will provide a home for Shakespeare & Company and its audiences.
William Shakespeare himself is a great guide. For him the sacred and the profane inhabit the same landscape. He knows the great force of nature equally mixes beauty and destruction – a place where opposites find harmony and harmony finds complexity. Just as William Shakespeare, so full of life and unfettered imagination, had a driving desire for the Renaissance idea of wholeness and balance, so Shakespeare & Company’s twenty-first century home will strive to provide the avid Shakespeare lover as well as the casual visitor with the same experience: a world in harmony with itself, with nature and the highest aspirations of humanity; a world vibrant with poetry, passionate philosophical discourse, groundbreaking educational exploration, cutting-edge classical theatre training, a sense of heaven and hell and the journey of life – all held in an American garden.
– Tina Packer
1 We still do not have a name for the property. Currently, we call it the Kemble Street property. Fanny Kemble was a famous English Shakespearean actress turned abolitionist/feminist, who settled for several years in Lenox. Her house, ‘The Perch,’ was situated 200 yards from our property. This seems synchronistic. So, maybe a name which involves Fanny Kemble, the transatlantic partnership, Shakespeare, life!
2 The original Rose sat 100 yards or so from the Globe. Both were on the south side of the Thames, and safe from Puritan prosecution, in a small village surrounded by meadows, with London and St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. The taverns, brothels, and bear-baiting venues immediately surrounding the playhouses mostly sat on land belonging to the Church of St. Mary’s (the Bishop of Winchester not having the same scruples as the Puritan city), and was known as ‘the clink.’ The gardens surrounding our Rose will evoke the rural/urban atmosphere of the Elizabethan south bank, but we will probably give the bear-baiting and brothels a miss.
3 The Golden Mean (phi=1.618) is a system of proportion derived from the pentagon that underlies organic life and natural patterns of order. Pythagoras in the seventh century BC found that tuned strings sound in harmony when their lengths are related by proportion. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, Bach, Beethoven, DNA, viruses, and quasi-crystals all pulsate to the Golden Mean ratio. It is a universal system linking natural phenomena with mathematics, music and art. Philosophers and artists alike are naturally drawn to it, for in many ways it is the pulse of the universe.
…In the human body there is a kind of symmetrical harmony between forearm, foot, palm, finger, and other small parts; and so it is with perfect buildings…Propriety is that perfection of style which comes when a work is authoritatively constructed on approved principles. It arises from prescription, from usage or from nature.
– Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture
“Of all the incommensurable proportions, the most elegant and efficient way to achieve harmony is the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean proportion appears in nature constantly, from sunflowers, apple blossoms and daisies in the plant world, to spiral shells beneath the seas. The spirals of pinecones exhibit this proportion as do artichokes, pussy willows, and pineapple husks. Many of the proportions of the human body also conform to the Golden Mean. The tradition of rendering the human body in this ratio dates back to Egyptian times and has continued in this century with Le Corbusier’s modular system.”
– Rachel Fletcher, The Human Side: Improving Design with Human Proportions