Valley Shakespeare Festival under way in Shelton

Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage, and Tom Simonetti wants that to be true in Shelton.

In July, the first Valley Shakespeare Festival will be in the city.  Family and friends of the organizers recently came to celebrate their efforts, and to learn what play will be performed. For five days, a “Shakespeare in the Park” of William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors will be at Shelton Veterans Memorial Park.

“This is something I wanted to do when I was 17,” said Simonetti, a native of Shelton who now lives in New York City. He said that was the age when he saw a performance of a Shakespeare play and fell in love.

Simonetti said as a camp counselor, he was able to bring his students to the theater. He was able to get the youth into a play where he was the lead. “That’s when I knew I had to do this,” he said.

Loving the arts

Shelton is “a town that loves the arts,” said Simonetti. “This is something Shelton will stand behind.”

The excitement at Liquid Lunch on Howe Avenue Saturday night was definitely in the air.

“For me, [Simonetti] came and said this is something my area needs,” said Samantha Brittenham, who handles marketing for the Valley Shakespeare Festival. “I was more than happy to come up here and help.”

Brittenham is from Stamford and has known Simonetti since high school.

“You’re bringing arts to the public, you’re bringing it to the kids. … It’s very, very important,” Brittenham said.

“I did a show in Bridgeport and two little girls were off the stage talking,” Simonetti said of a recent experience on stage. At that moment, he didn’t have any lines to recite, so he listened a little. It turned out the two were talking intently about what was going on on the stage. “That has to happen somewhere in my hometown.”

Amy LaReau-Battaglia, originally from Shelton, is the director of education and a co-founder of the festival. She said that as an educator and having a background in opera and other arts, she has learned how important it is to keep art in children’s lives.

“As soon as we can, we will be putting together a program for kids,” she said. “Some of the research that I [have seen] is when students have access to the arts, they do exponentially better” in school and in their lives.

The third founder of the group is Stacy Carroll, originally from Derby, who has performed with the Strand Theatre, Youth CONNECTION and Shelton High School Drama club.

According to festival organizers, community benefits to the event include having high school and college students participate in internship and apprentice programs; a Shakespeare for Seniors program  with activities; and promoting the Naugatuck Valley’s economic resources and businesses.

The Valley Shakespeare Festival is currently applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. However, until the paperwork is complete, it is going through Fractured Atlas, which is sponsoring the festival.

“We want to make this an annual event,” said Simonetti.

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