Riggs Theatre 37 to Stage The Merchant of Venice
by Aaron Beatty
For more than two decades, Kevin G. Coleman has been directing theatrical productions at Riggs Theatre 37, part of the Austen Riggs Center activities program, housed at the Lavender Door on Main Street in Stockbridge. He is also the director of education at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.
He comes to his role at Riggs Theatre 37 with a palpable enthusiasm and passion for theatre and for working with patients at Riggs that is at once striking and contagious. “It is just a really exciting adventure; I learn things every time” says Coleman of directing at Riggs Theatre 37. “Reading a play is one thing, but slowing it down and pulling it apart in the process of preparing a performance creates a space where a single word can turn the meaning and surprise you.”
Each spring for the past decade or so, Riggs Theatre 37 has staged a work by Shakespeare. Out of several options Coleman brought to the patients this year, the one chosen for production was The Merchant of Venice. Coleman acknowledges that this particular play “has a lot of charge” and is “a lightning rod” because of its perceived anti-Semitic content, but contends that the central themes of the play touch on universally human experiences including: the nature of agreements between people, the conflict between the spirit and the letter of law, reconciling outward appearances with internal realities and sorting out the meaning and expectations of vows.
Coleman directs a cast of both patients and community actors at Riggs Theatre 37 and speaks of the “wonderful” way in which the community actors and patient actors learn from each other; “community actors are often less inhibited and much freer to task risks in this environment, while the patient actors are immersed in an environment that lets them recognize and explore strengths they may not have known they had.” Over the course of 10 weeks the “very warm, supportive, playful and completely irreverent” rehearsal environment often elicits “some of the most funny and poignant moments,” relates Coleman. He continues, by noting this space creates a sense of community among all the players; “actors will come to a rehearsal just to watch their fellow actors work on a scene.”
Working in an environment deliberately separated from the intensive treatment atmosphere, patients take up the role of student when they participate in the activities program; like all aspects of the activities program, Riggs Theatre 37 is a space where patients can explore and develop their strengths.
This exploration and development of strengths will be on display nightly at 7:30pm from May 12-17 at Riggs Theatre 37. Tickets are $10 for younger patrons, $20 for older patrons and are available by calling the box office at  298.5519 x5606. Riggs Theatre 37 is located at 37 Main Street in Stockbridge, MA.