May is Jewish American Heritage Month in the U.S., recognizing the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture.
First declared in 2006, the month of May was chosen for Jewish American Heritage Month after the highly publicized celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first Jewish settlement in North America, in what is known today as New York. The announcement followed urging by the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida Jewish community leaders to celebrate Jewish American history.
In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we are proud to highlight the work of Amy Handelsman, Shakespeare & Company’s Managing Director since May 1, 2022. Amy is responsible for championing Shakespeare & Company’s artistic vision through the development of new and expanded income streams, expansion, and cultivation of the Company’s Board of Trustees; supervision of administrative, marketing, and fundraising efforts; and ongoing engagement with various constituents in the Berkshire County community.
Shakespeare & Company: You’ve been involved in many aspects of the performing arts industry from dance, to comedy, to film, to new play development, and much more. How do you feel your previous experiences have come together in your Managing Director role at Shakespeare & Company?
AH: My experiences had a good combination of creative and business. I have been in the position of supporting artists in what they’re doing, working directly with them, and also generating new projects and producing them. I feel like being responsible for the overall running of Shakespeare & Company, along with Allyn Burrows, the Artistic Director, embraces both the creative and business.
Also, in the arts now there is a lot more crossover between theater and film and television, the kind of crossover I’ve done, and while we’re not doing film and television here, we may in the future. Certainly, the artists that we work with go back and forth.
S&Co: What has been your favorite production at Shakespeare & Company?
I’ve only been here a year, but I would say I got a lot of enjoyment out of the production last summer of Much Ado About Nothing at The New Spruce Theatre. It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, the theater itself is magical, and it’s wonderful to see whole families witnessing a comedy outdoors.
I grew up in and spent a lot of time in New York City, and of course, Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is really kind of a seminal experience. To have something like that up here, experientially, makes me happy.
S&Co: May is Jewish American Heritage Month. Do you have any Jewish American heroes you’d like to mention?
AH: You know what’s so funny – and I mean this is really aging me – the first person that popped into my head was Sandy Koufax. I think it’s because he really did take a stand by not pitching on Yom Kippur, even though it was Game 1 of the World Series for the Dodgers against the Minnesota Twins. Also, there are so many great Jewish comics.
S&Co: One of our shows this season is Golda’s Balcony, about the life of Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir. Does that play feel especially relevant to you?
AH: It does to the extent that there just seems to be endless, continual strife in Israel. But also: Is there a difference between a female leader and a male leader? The play has relevance when I think about what’s happening with the Supreme Court here, and what’s been going on with Netanyahu perhaps upending the judicial process there, and most of all the activism that I admire so much of people actually protesting. That’s moving to me.
I think Golda Meir is just a tremendously great and complex figure, and since we can learn from studying major leaders in history, the play remains relevant.
S&Co: You teach aspiring b’nei mitzvah students.
AH: I do!
S&Co: What is your favorite part of that work?
AH: I’m part of a little avant-garde artistic pop-up synagogue in New York called Lab/Shul, and one of the things the leader, Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie says is, “talking back to Torah.” So what I enjoy the most about it is when somebody actually has the parashah, and starts to home in on what part resonates in a way they may not even know. Teasing out with them, “What drew you to this? What are the questions you’re asking? What are you arguing against? How does this have relevance in your life? What does this say about storytelling?” That kind of thing.
S&Co: Lastly, what advice would you give to young theater professionals?
AH: I would say to not worry about the career trajectory. Life is long and there’s a lot of one step forward, two steps back, or zig zags, where you’re thinking, “Am I doing what I should be doing? Why am I not doing this?” There’s an aspect of stumbling that is okay in life, and particularly okay when you’re younger, and you can kind of embrace some of the unknowns. I would say, I think it’s good to be exposed to different aspects of theater. The whole corny “Hey, let’s put on a show” thing, you learn a lot from. In some academic programs, you’re not just focusing on acting, but you may be doing some backstage work, some dramaturgy, some directing – all of that is really good.
At the same time, once you’re attracted to a particular craft, you have to really practice, practice, and keep practicing, because there’s always more to learn. I have actor friends who are taking classes well into their career! I grew up playing piano, and just had a return to practicing and taking lessons again. There’s just so much joy in being able to practice a craft. I would advise learning different aspects of the art of theater and at the same time practicing the one you feel you’re best at and that you’re most drawn to.
This interview is part of Shakespeare & Company’s #LiveinCompany social media campaign, an extension of its mission to live creatively, work collaboratively, and honor community. #LiveinCompany content highlights the words and work of visionaries in various disciplines and aims to answer the three questions at the heart of each of Shakespeare’s plays: What does it mean to be alive? How should we act? and What must I do?
— Eran Zelixon