When the Vermont Shakespeare Festival performs “The Taming of the Shrew” at the Shelburne Museum in August, residents of Wake Robin will see a familiar face.
Jena Necrason, a co-founder of the Vermont Shakespeare Company, works at the retirement community as the program and events coordinator.
Necrason and her husband John Nagle founded the Vermont Shakespeare Company in 2005. They lived in New York City at the time, but her mother was living in Vermont and was involved in a capital campaign to raise money for the Champlain Islands Parent Child Center.
“She asked for an arts event,” Necrason recalled, “so we grabbed a bunch of friends who were professional actors to put on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ We told them we couldn’t pay them. We had two weeks of rehearsal and came up for five days.”
The project struck a chord. “At the time, my husband and I had been thinking of founding a theater company and we also had our eye on moving here,” she explained.
For several years, Necrason brought New York City actors to join Vermont colleagues for annual Shakespeare productions at Knight Point State Park. It was 2012 when they expanded to do shows in Burlington as well as North Hero and they renamed the company the Vermont Shakespeare Festival.
These days, they host productions year-round but their large-scale shows still take place during the summer.
In 2014, Necrason and her husband moved to South Burlington but she continued to commute to her job teaching at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. “For two years I commuted to New York every week for two to three days,” she said. “It was exhausting and it was time away from my family.”
In the summer of 2016, Necrason left her job in New York and went to work at Wake Robin. “I was attracted to the job because it’s a very creative position,” she said. “I devise and implement programing from wellness to culture to lifelong learning including things on and off campus.” The 48-year-old Necrason said she enjoys the collaborative feel of the job, pointing out that residents drive programming choices at Wake Robin. “A lot of the job is about me listening to what people are interested in and passionate about, and then working to shape programs,” she explained.
Among the offerings Necrason has worked on is one called Inquire, which is a lifelong learning program including lectures, workshops and occasionally trips. A recent course centered around the workings of the Vermont judiciary and featured lectures by two professors and one attorney.
Necrason and her husband have both taught at UVM and she is a teaching artist at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. As part of her Flynn job, she does an annual workshop for adults which usually centers around physical acting.
Combining both aspects of her work, Necrason invited one of her Burlington theater colleagues to visit Wake Robin and it resulted in a four-week course ending in a Moth-style storytelling slam with eight Wake Robin residents.
Back at the Vermont Shakespeare Festival, Necrason had a hand in creating what has become a summer tradition for high school and college students to train with the company.
With performances Aug. 9-11, this will be the fourth summer the Vermont Shakespeare Festival has been onstage at Shelburne Museum.
“When we first moved my life was half in Vermont and half in New York,” Necrason said. “Now that I’m working here, it’s been great to be involved in the community.”