Shantigar, located on a spectacularly beautiful old farm on a mountainside in Western Massachusetts

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Shantigar, located on a spectacularly beautiful old farm on a mountainside in Western Massachusetts

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NEW YORK; LOS ANGELES; and ROWE, MASS: “Acting.” “Being.” “Meditation.” “Awakening vision.” “Radiant health.” “Retreat.” These words and ideas leap out when one speaks of Shantigar, the educational foundation and performing-arts retreat founded by the playwright Jean Claude van Itallie in an old Davenport farm on a mountainside in Western Massachusetts near Vermont.

One of Shantigar‘s guiding principles is that the performing arts can be a fount for meditation, healing and cross-pollination. According to its official website, Shantigar seeks to be a “peaceful home for writers, directors, actors, visual artists, musicians, and dancers to develop and collaborate on pieces. Shantigar offers a splendid rural setting within which to create.”

Shantigar, located on a spectacularly beautiful old farm on a mountainside in Western Massachusetts
Shantigar, located on a spectacularly beautiful old farm on a mountainside in Western Massachusetts

So beautiful is the setting that visiting groups have not been limited to young theater or dance companies creating and rehearsing a new piece. The Ariel Group, which teaches communication skills to corporate groups, as well as Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leaders Chogyam Trungpa and Tulku Thondup have held retreats at Shantigar.

Shantigar, a retreat in in Western Massachusetts near Vermont
Shantigar, a retreat in in Western Massachusetts near Vermont

Spring and summer are unusually busy this year for Shantigar and Jean-Claude van Itallie. To wit:

  1. In New York City, Sunday April 1, April Fool’s Day, at Rubin Museum at 2:30 pm, there is a showing of the film Crazy Wisdom about van Itallie’s teacher Trungpa, Rinpoche.  Afterward he will talk with audience about Rinpoche.
  2. From April 12-15, van Itallie conducts a transformative retreat, entitled “Speaking From Your Heart,” at Ratna Ling Retreat Center, 35755 Hauser Bridge Rd. Cazadero, CA. 95421.Here is a description of the retreat:
    “Laying the groundwork through different kinds of movement and meditation, gently guided by Jean-Claude, you’ll center yourself according to his unique disciplines. Taking your time and staying in movement, you’ll address the circle of your encouraging fellow workshop participants. Slowly performing the powerful practice of speaking from your heart, your breath will be liberated from anxiety. You’ll easily enter remembered or imagined places, giving voice to what you see, hear, smell, touch and taste. An astonishingly muscular, personal language will spontaneously emerge from you. Words created in this way are visceral, rhythmical, and, if written down by a fellow participant, alive on the page too. Poets Homer and Rumi ‘wrote’ by spontaneously speaking and singing. Come if you write or perform, if you want to write or perform – or simply to deepen your ability to speak from the heart.” Cost: $425 (10% discount until March 22; If two people register at once, each gets 20% off. To register:
  3. At Shantigar, from June 16 to 23 – “Awakening Vision,” a meditation retreat with Shastri Ethan Nichtern and van Itallie.  “We’ll investigate mindfulness, compassion, karma, psychology & the Buddhist notion of emptiness through meditation, silence, talks, nature walks, yoga & and work practice,” the site says.  - click here
  4. At Shantigar, July 12 to 15 – “Acting and Being,” an acting and meditation workshop with Parlan McGaw, Rae C Wright, and van Itallie. This is a four-day retreat exploring connections between meditation and performance, and between body and mind. - click here
  5. At Shantigar, Aug. 3 - 5 – “Writing on Your Feet,” a writer’s retreat with Jean-Claude van Itallie. - click here
  6. At Shantigar, Aug 17 - 19 – “The American Musical as Spiritual Experience,” with Carol Fox Prescott and Stephen Kitsakos. The site says, “If singing frightens or delights, come to this workshop.  Lover of songs, undiscovered Broadway star — all are welcome, will benefit.” - click here
  7. At Shantigar, Sept. 3- 6 - “Moving Medicine/Radiant Health,” a Continuum workshop with Emilie Conrad, a movement pioneer whose technique incorporates Rolfing, Cranio-Sacral, physical therapy, dance, yoga, Somatics, movement education, therapeutic massage, kinesiology, psycho-neural-immunology and physical fitness.  - click here

Who is Jean-Claude van Itallie?
Van Itallie is a student of the late great Buddhist teacher Trungpa, Rinpoche and was a key figure of American theater of the 1960′s. Author of Playwright’s Workbook, his more than 30 works include acclaimed anti-Viet Nam war play America Hurrah; The Serpent (ensemble piece with Open Theater); Tibetan Book of the Dead; often-produced translations of Chekhov’s major plays; Light; Voltaire, the Mathematician, and the King of Prussia; and his one-man show, War, Sex and Dreams. He’s taught play writing and performing in colleges and retreat centers for many years. He’s currently co-writing the libretto for Mila, Great Sorcerer, an opera about Tibet’s singing yogi, Milarepa. (

Jean-Claude van Itallie's "Tibetan Book of the Dead"
Jean-Claude van Itallie's "Tibetan Book of the Dead"
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