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Shakespeare & Company Co-Founder Dennis Krausnick Dies At 76

Dennis Krausnick (Courtesy Shakespeare & Company)MoreCloseclosemore
Dennis Krausnick (Courtesy Shakespeare & Company)

Dennis Krausnick, the co-founder of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and a well-respected stage educator who trained thousands of actors and left his mark in Boston-area theater after more than four decades, has died at 76.

Shakespeare & Company confirmed that Krausnick died peacefully in his home on Tuesday, surrounded by loved ones, after a long battle with prostate cancer. His wife, Tina Packer, the founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company, said messages of love and support had come in from as far as India, Australia and Canada.

An actor, director and writer, Krausnick co-founded Shakespeare & Company with Packer and Kristin Linklater in in 1978. There, he helped stage many plays, including three dozen plays he wrote inspired by Edith Wharton books. But Krausnick's most enduring legacy may be the prolific work he did to train thousands of actors across the country. For 25 years, he led Shakespeare & Company's Center for Actor Training and taught more than 5,000 actors using his unique training methods. Krausnick also provided residencies and workshops for theater companies and university theater departments throughout the U.S.

The ARTery's critic-at-large Ed Siegel remembers watching Krausnick teach. "I saw a video of him working with an actress using a Shakespeare & Company technique called 'dropping in,' in which they use words in the Shakespeare text and have the actor relate it to personal experience. She was in tears but he was a real guru in helping her through it. I saw Tina use a version of the process at MIT with college students and the results were amazing."

Not everyone praised Krausnick's techniques, thinking they were too psychodramatic and harsh on the actors, Siegel said. "All I can say is that I was knocked out by the transformations I witnessed."

Dennis Krausnick and Tina Packer (Courtesy Shakespeare & Company)
Dennis Krausnick and Tina Packer (Courtesy Shakespeare & Company)

Up until four months ago, when his prognosis became terminal, Krausnick still traveled to different cities every weekend to teach actor workshops. At first, Packer said she filled in for him, but stopped doing so in the last month of Krausnick's life, when she could no longer leave him. It was then that Packer said the two drew into each other more intimately than ever before.

"Something beautiful happened in the last month. There was a tenderness there that was not about us getting on with Shakespeare & Company. It was really about our relationship with each other and that had never really happened before — that it was just the two of us," Packer recalled. "And it was just lovely."

She said upon learning of his impending death, Krausnick began doing the things he'd always wanted to do but never got around to. He readied 80 poems he had written for publication ("White Flash" will be released in early 2019). He dictated his research and thoughts on Elizabethan era culture and actors, leading to 600 pages of recorded notes Packer plans to organize into a manuscript.

In the last few weeks, Krausnick urgently worked to complete these projects, at times frustrated over the uncertainty of his time left. "What he raged about more than losing his life was that he didn't know the timeline. And so he started getting angry that he didn't know exactly when he was going to die. It could be two months and it could be two days."

Dennis Krausnick taught thousands of actors (Courtesy Shakespeare & Company)
Dennis Krausnick taught thousands of actors (Courtesy Shakespeare & Company)

Krausnick and Packer met as theater students in the mid-'70s at New York University. He was a Jesuit priest sent by the order to New York so he could later lead a priestly theater department. At NYU, Krausnick served as Packer's stage manager for a few productions. And then, a serendipitous accident led to a relationship. Packer twisted her ankle. "He had to carry me everywhere. I had to hobble on his arm. So that was why our relationship became intimate."

She never asked him to leave the order. "I was not going to seduce a priest. You know I wasn't going there." But after NYU, she went back to her native England and Krausnick decided to leave the order. "So then after he started that process, then we became a couple. And of course his mother never forgave me. She's dead so I guess I can say that," Packer remembered with a chuckle.

Packer moved back to the states and they founded Shakespeare & Company together.

In the last few months of his life, Krausnick passionately worked on establishing the Dennis Krausnick Fellowship Fund to support and increase diversity within the Shakespeare & Company Actor Training program. His family asks that instead of flowers, friend show their support by donating to the fund.

Related:

Maria Garcia Twitter Senior Editor, The ARTery
Maria Garcia is the senior editor of The ARTery, WBUR's Arts and Culture Team.

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