During a flight to Tuscany with his wife Sarah by his side, Finn Wittrock spoke to The Berkshire Eagle via phone about what it was like growing up around theater at Shakespeare & Company. This Saturday, October 8, 2016, Finn will return to The Berkshires, along with brother Dylan, father Peter, and friends he grew up with, in a staged reading of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse. We will cover the event as soon as we are able to.
LENOX — When far-flown kids come home to visit, they look forward to spending time with family and friends. Berkshire native Finn Wittrock is no different — except his reunion will take place before an audience.
On Saturday evening, the Emmy-nominated TV, film and theater actor will headline a staged reading of “Hamlet” at Shakespeare & Company. Directed by Kevin Coleman, it’s a truly family affair, with Wittrock’s brother, Dylan, and father, Peter, joining him on stage alongside Kate Abbruzzese, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Kevin Bartini, Gregory Boover, Caroline Calkins, Tiger Coleman, Jonathan Epstein, Deaon Griffin-Pressley, Rory Hammond, David Joseph, Lizzie Ingram, Malcolm Ingram, Robert Lohbauer and Doug Selden.
“Almost everyone in it I’ve probably known since birth,” Wittrock said by phone recently from a plane bound for Tuscany with his wife. “Hamlet” script at hand for some light reading. “Rory is one of my oldest friends, she and my brother are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. My dad plays my father, the ghost of Hamlet.”
Wittrock was born and spent childhood summers at Edith Wharton and Shakespeare & Company’s former home, The Mount, part of a posse of “wild children” that roamed the estate while his father acted and mother, Kate Crowley, led the education department. At age six, his family moved to Los Angeles, but returned annually to the Berkshires; “like summer camp with Shakespeare,” he recalled.
Three friends and I [who] were born within a few months of each other started The Very Young Company, a take-off of Shakespeare & Company’s Young Company,” Wittrock explained.
“From age 8 until 16 we would rehearse Shakespeare scenes on our own and perform them for the company after a Mainstage show. Lots of times we made fun of the play that was happening. It started out as kids being cute and saying big words, but as we got older it actually became something pretty cool.”
Coleman recalled seeing them out in the yard, sitting in a circle talking about the plays. “They’d cut the play and divide up the parts and negotiate who was playing what,” he said. “Then they’d memorize their lines overnight.”
The troupe went on to perform on the Mainstage as fairies, pages and changeling children.
“Those kids had charmed childhoods,” Coleman noted. “It’s a rare thing for kids to see what adults are doing, what they’re passionate about. They were mature beyond their years because of that.”
Acting on stage and on screen was always in the stars for Wittrock.
“I knew pretty early on I had no choice,” he said. “I always wanted to do movies, it was on the back burner in my mind. But theater has been my home, one I’m always happy to come back to. It’s a fulfilling experience you can’t get through anything else.”
Following the reading, Wittrock will prepare for back-to-back plays directed by Juilliard classmate Sam Gold, performing with Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo in “Othello” then with Sally Field in “The Glass Menagerie” on Broadway.
His thriving on-screen career includes the recent Oscar-nominated “The Big Short” with Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.” Ahead is “La La Land” with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, and a third TV season with “American Horror Story.”
He spends what down time he has writing. He penned the 2015 movie, “The Submarine Kid.”
“It’s a big passion of mine, something you can do without anyone having to give you permission,” he said. “When you’re not working, it’s a way to stay creative.”
“I have a few screenplays I’m trying to get out there, and some plays in the canon, too. You haven’t seen any of them but maybe some day you will.”
He always keeps his close-knit group of Shakespeare & Company friends in mind when he’s writing, he added.
After years of traveling back and forth from New York, Wittrock has returned to Los Angeles.
“I have a different perspective than people that move there fresh,” he noted. “It’s not just Hollywood and the business, it’s a real city.”
“Of course, now that I’m living in L.A. I get a job in N.Y.,” he laughed.
He is looking forward to tackling the role of “Hamlet” for the first time.
“I keep reminding people it’s just a reading, so everybody calm down,” he quipped. “I’m up for the challenge at this point, it will be a good testing of the water for whenever I do actually play it.”
What: “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. Staged reading with Finn Wittrock. Directed by Kevin Coleman
Who: Shakespeare & Company
Where: Tina Packer Playhouse, 70 Kemble St., Lenox
When: Saturday evening at 7 (reception follows)
How: (413) 637-3353; shakespeare.org; in person at Shakespeare & Company box office on site