Founded in 1996 by Emily Mattina and Jeffrey Lapham, Shakesperience is a nonprofit professional theater company in Waterbury, Connecticut serving students, working actors and audiences locally and throughout the region. It pursues its mission of helping people explore social constructs and fostering mutual respect by staging innovative theater rooted in classic literature.
All the world’s a stage
Stories do so much more than entertain. The stories we tell and the stories we hear shape our identities, providing a framework for understanding ourselves and others – and presenting valuable opportunities to promote empathy across ethnic, racial, economic and political lines.
Shakesperience stages productions that embrace this core purpose of storytelling – from the masterpieces of Shakespeare to new twists on timeless myths and children’s classics. Its programming includes outdoor and in-studio performances, residencies, private acting classes and in-school programs for youth.
Most Shakesperience productions feature young actors who are enrolled in one or more of its educational programs. Taking part in these programs helps students not only hone their skills as performers, but learn about themselves while developing fluency in the stories that shape the world around them.
“Shakesperience offers our community something really special. Not only do they keep the arts alive in our city, they strive to integrate all of Waterbury’s diverse groups and cultures into everything they do.”
–Frances Batista, Muni Insurance principal
To thine own self be true
As a college English major, Muni Insurance principal Frances Batista was herself a student of the bard – and never lost sight of her love for theater after moving on to insurance. When considering how to give back to her community, she hoped to find a way to honor that love while doing something that supported the less fortunate in Waterbury.
Shakesperience was a natural fit. You might say Batista was born to play the part of a board member of this unique nonprofit.
“Shakesperience offers our community something really special,” says Batista. “Not only do they keep the arts alive in our city, they strive to integrate all of Waterbury’s diverse groups and cultures into everything they do.”
For Shakesperience – and for Batista – theater should illuminate and bring meaning to the lives of those who witness it. Inclusive, culturally relevant theater can have a transformative effect, motivating people to get involved and build bridges between different groups within the community.
“During the pandemic, theater in any form audiences would recognize was essentially impossible.”
–Jeffrey Lapham, Shakesperience executive producer
The show must go on… then come down
The COVID-19 pandemic posed unique challenges for Shakesperience, barring it from using its studio and school-based teaching and performance venues as long as social distancing mandates were in place.
“During the pandemic, theater in any form audiences would recognize was essentially impossible,” says Lapham, Shakesperience’s executive producer. Like many organizations – agencies included – the solution was to embrace digital solutions.
For example, each year, the nonprofit puts on a 36-hour event featuring a medley of Shakesperience programming – performances, classes, discussions, sketching sessions and more. Its “Shakespeare-a-thon” typically takes place in person, but in 2021, that wasn’t an option.
With Muni Insurance’s help, Shakesperience was able to resurrect the event using Zoom, inviting its audience, donors and other supporters to participate from the comfort of their homes. Its board meetings also took place via Zoom when meeting in person wasn’t possible.
Muni’s support goes beyond Zoom meetings. Throughout the year, the agency helps Shakesperience with fundraising, event-hosting, professional services and even manual labor. In one recent instance, when the nonprofit was facing a tight timeline for taking down a set – something that usually takes days – Muni staff pulled together on a Saturday morning and finished the job in less than three hours.