Center Stage With Daniel Elihu Kramer ’84
The Chester Theater Company artistic director and playwright is an integral part of the bold Berkshires theater scene.
Every summer, the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts blossoms into an internationally recognized hub for top-notch theater, drawing audiences, performers, and industry mavens from New York and elsewhere. Among the stars of this artistic Brigadoon is the small but mighty Chester Theatre Company (CTC), whose long list of world premieres and innovative reinterpretations of classics includes Pride@ Prejudice, a reimagining of Austen’s stately romance for the internet age written by Daniel Elihu Kramer ’84.
This summer marks Kramer’s first season as CTC’s producing artistic director, a job he stepped into last fall, taking over from longtime leader Byam Stevens. Although the run-up has been plenty busy, including meticulously planning the season, raising money, lining up artists, and taking local patrons on theater tours of Chicago and London, Kramer says the real trial by fire will come this summer, when the company stages four shows in just 12 weeks.
Before his appointment, Kramer served as the company’s associate artistic director and also directed several productions, including The Turn of the Screw, Tryst, The Amish Project, and Blink. According to Kramer, having worked with the company in different capacities certainly helped set him up for the leadership post—but nothing could have completely prepared him: “I spent the last few years throwing my two cents in about the season, which is a pretty riskfree enterprise. You can have any old idea and just toss it in and somebody else makes the decision. It was a really fascinating enterprise to put this first season together.”
That season includes the regional premieres of The Mountaintop, Katori Hall’s Olivier Award-winning, disarmingly intimate imagining of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night alive, and Anat Gov’s Oh God, a co-production with Israeli Stage, a Boston-based company specializing in new works by contemporary Israeli playwrights. Kramer will also direct John Kolvenbach’s dysfunctional-sibling drama Sister Play, set in a ramshackle cottage on Cape Cod. But the opening salvo of Kramer’s stewardship will be the world premiere of his own play My Jane, in which Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre comes to life through the stories of modern readers whose own lives intersect with both the narrative and their experience of the novel. (The show runs June 29 through July 10.)
Kramer says the programming is consistent with the kind of thought-provoking contemporary theater to which CTC’s audiences have happily grown accustomed: “They expect to see plays where there’s something to talk about on their long drive home—because it’s a long drive home to almost anywhere.” The work also needs to be suitable for an intimate production in the town hall the company takes over every summer in tiny Chester, Mass. “When we get it right,” Kramer says, “there is a transporting experience to be had.”
Looking ahead, Kramer has plans to expand the company’s relationship with the theater department at Smith College, where he has taught acting and directing since 2009. He has also set up a unique fundraising challenge: For anyone who donates $100,000, the company will create and produce a play based on either the donor’s life or the life of someone the donor wants to honor. It’s a promise that might justifiably terrify some theaters, but for Kramer, it’s an exciting opportunity to deepen the company’s relationship with its patrons, who often stay for lengthy postshow discussions and remain engaged with the company in the off-season. “One of the reasons it feels organic to me is because our audience is such a part of who we are, because their lives and their stories inform us,” he says. “I’d be thrilled to get one of their lives on stage.”