In July, the first Valley Shakespeare Festival will be in the city. The kickoff for this grassroots event was Saturday. Family and friends — old and new — of the organizers 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. “Shakespeare just knows.”
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.
Shelton is “a town that loves the arts,” said Simonetti. “This is something Shelton will stand behind.”
The performances will be July 16 to 21, and 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 information from the festival organizers, there are many community benefits to the project, including:
• High school and college students will be able to start a career in theater arts through internship and apprentice programs.
• Shakespeare for Seniors has activities, and conversations on Shakespeare’s theater and works will be explored.
• Surrounding towns and communities will rediscover the Naugatuck Valley and its 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.
For more information, including volunteering and donating, visit vsfestival.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to Facebook and Twitter.