Shelton native brings Shakespeare’s ‘Winter’s Tale’ to the Valley

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Valley Shakespeare Festival will celebrate its 10th consecutive summer of providing free theater when actors take the stage in downtown Shelton later this month.

Valley Shakespeare Festival, founded by Shelton’s Tom Simonetti, will present William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” at Veterans Memorial Park July 14-17 and at Quarry Walk in Oxford July 21-24. All performances are at 7 p.m.

Simonetti said he takes pride in the work done since Valley Shakespeare Festival’s inception in 2013, and this year’s production he says will continue that tradition.

“Live theater is a way for audiences to connect with each other,” Simonetti said. “The words are coming from the stage and hitting the audience immediately. There is an immediacy to it all.

“Live actors are telling you as the audience, the topics that are in the play ... and yes, actors can see an audiences smile when they think something is funny, or an entire audience is with them,” Simonetti added. “There is nothing like it.”

He said he was excited to present “The Winter’s Tale,” which he said was a funny, yet thought-provoking play.

“While it seems like a fairy tale, as in most fairy tales, it usually has a much deeper meaning,” he said.

A play Shakespeare wrote later in his life, Simonetti said “The Winter’s Tale” tells the story of a lost princess raised by a shepherd and of her secret romance with a prince. As those in attendance follow Perdita’s adventure, he says they encounter wild beasts, a magic statue, a sheep shearing party, and an unexpected family reunion.

“What is interesting about “The Winter’s Tale” is that its time travels 16 years,” Simonetti said.

The VSF production is set in the 1950s to 1970s, he said.

“The cast and I have been looking at both these time periods through music, art, media, and politics and seeing how much change and growth were brought about,” he said. “We all agree that the 50s is a perfect time period to start, because it was a catalyst for some positive changes during the 60s and into the 70s.”

Returning this summer are Eric Bermudez, who previously performed in VSF productions, “Cyrano” and “Pericles”, Julia Lennon (Henry VIII), Matt Mancuso (Henry VIII, Pericles), Stephen Saxton (Our Town), and Kendall Segovia (Henry VIII, Pericles).

Joining the cast are a number of VSF newcomers including Siena D’Addario, Jordan Kaplan and Christie Maturo.

Kristen Kingsley is returning as stage manager.

“One of the reasons I was excited to perform with Valley Shakespeare Festival is because it feels great as an artist to be performing with a company that is filling a need for a community,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan said he knows many people in the community appreciate Simonetti bringing this Shakespeare festival to their park.

“As an actor who performs a lot in New York City, this is a sharp contrast, because you are used to performing in a place where there is a glut of theater, and you are performing for an audience that happened to choose your show over the hundreds of other offerings they could have gone to,” Kaplan said.

“It can make you wonder 'does anyone actually need this show?' To be able to perform for an audience that is excited to be there and experience something they don't routinely get to experience is a lot of fun,” Kaplan added.

Simonetti said the importance of theater has grown during the pandemic, when everything was shut down, including live arts events.

"One of my first productions back was a small production of Meet Me in St. Louis,” Simonetti said. “The musical was pure joy, and it was many audience members first times back seeing live theater. They could not stop telling me how extremely grateful they were to be together in a safe setting. They did not realize how much they had missed it.”

He said he shared “an emotional cry” with one audience member at the end of that performance.

“I personally did not expect myself to be sobbing, but there we were in the lobby holding each other for support realizing in our own ways how important live theater was, and what we had lost,” he added.

Shows are free with a suggested donation of $10. Mask wearing, for those who are not vaccinated, and social distancing are encouraged. For more information or weather alerts, visit www.vsfestival.org or call (203) 513-9446.

Kaplan said outdoor theater brings the actors and audience together.

“There are so many distractions during the show, whether it be heat, noise, or inclement weather,” Kaplan said. “Everyone at the park is banding together to put all of that aside and engage in the act of storytelling. Everyone has to actively will the story to get from beginning to end.

“Tom does a really fantastic job of carving out moments to include the audience, moments where actors are essentially saying ‘I see you,’ ‘I'm here with you,’ ‘I'm sweating in this horrendous heat with you,’” Kaplan added.

Simonetti said the performances are free to remove any boundaries for families to experience their first play together. He said children can be introduced to language, and adults can leave with questions that they can talk about from themes in the play.

“You don't need to understand Shakespeare,” he added. “Shakespeare never gives you a ‘nice and pretty neat package’ at the end. He makes you leave the theater and question or talk to each other.

“I have never left a performance of The Winter's Tale not talking about it with friends at the end or taking some time to walk around the block and process my thoughts,” he added. “And that is a good thing. Let theater be what makes you talk and share ideas.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com