Originally published Saturday, June 26, 2010 in the Winchester Star, Winchester, VA
Selected excerpts reprinted here with permission.
By Charlotte J. Eller
Special to The Winchester Star
Winchester — Amy Bennett Wratchford fell in love with 17th-century English playwright William Shakespeare in 1989 when she was an eighth-grader in the Frederick County Public Schools.
That’s when she saw her first performance of his play “The Taming of the Shrew” by the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express.
Amy Wratchford (left), managing director of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton and a former Frederick County resident, talks with Carmel Clavin, a member of the box office staff, at the theater.
This was the beginning of what would become her career path as a managing director of a Shakespeare group.
“I fell in love with Shakespeare and with language and the way words could make you feel,” she said. “After that, every time the group came to Winchester Little Theatre, I was there.”
In April, Wratchford, 35, was named managing director of the American Shakespeare Center, a nonprofit organization in Staunton which has evolved from the acting group whose performances she had seen — the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express.
The center has grown into a major center for “all things Shakespearean,” including Blackfriars Playhouse, a historically accurate replica of his original Blackfriars Playhouse.
“We chose to call this a center rather than a theater specifically because we have a dual purpose, the education and research arm and the amazing experience of performance within Blackfriars Playhouse,” she said,
Both arms work with Mary Baldwin College and other area colleges and universities, she said.
The center also continues to maintain a touring company. In September, it will open its 2010-11 season in locations across the nation performing “As You Like It,” “Macbeth,” and “Measure for Measure.”
In her post, Wratchford directs the theater’s business side. She is one of a management team that also includes artistic director James Warren and director of mission Ralph Cohen.
The men founded the acting company in 1988. In 2001, the theater was built using the design of Shakespeare’s theater. In 2005, its name was changed to American Shakespeare Center.
Her vision for the center is simple and enthusiastic: “I want us to be the center of all things related to Shakespearean performance,” including using staging practices from his era.
Amy Wratchford (center) met with her stepmother Rhonda Morris and her father Richard Bennett at the Winchester Little Theatre when Amy brought the production “The Song of the Simple Truth” to Winchester in 1999.
“We don’t build elaborate sets; we don’t have elaborate lighting or smoke effects or any of that sort of thing,” she said. “We do it by examining all the research . . . as close as possible to how we think Shakespeare’s company operated.”
Using his techniques allows the audience to be closely involved in the play. “It’s magical to watch,” she said. “When you see it performed, you understand it in a whole new way.”
Wratchford wants to make known nationwide and worldwide “what an incredible resource [the theater] is both for knowledge and entertainment. It’s just a gem.”
Her personal vision for the center is directly related to those of Warren and Cohen.
“I think we already make a great team,” Warren said. “We are driven to make the ASC the most sought-after destination in the world for performance and study of Shakespeare.”
He added that he is delighted to have Amy as the managing director. “She has a remarkable blend of business savvy and theater knowledge that’s matched by her infectious enthusiasm and passion for what we do here at the ASC.”
Wratchford came to the center from Atlanta, where she served as managing director for the Synchronicity Theater for three years.
Over the years, she continued to follow the progress of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express.
Late last summer, Ashby’s career took them to Richmond and Amy learned that David Dreyfoos, former ASC managing director, was leaving his post, so she applied for the job.
In March, she got a call from theater management, asking if she was still interested in the job.
“The timing couldn’t have been better,” she said. “It was really meant to be.”
The summer season at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton began this week and continues until the end of August. The productions include “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Othello.”
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