Remembering Jayne Brookes, Former Theatre Director at Riggs



by Aaron Beatty

Remembering Jayne Brookes, Former Theatre Director at RiggsJayne Brookes, theatre director in the Riggs activities program from 1963-1983, passed away recently. 

Ms. Brookes came to Stockbridge, MA, in 1962 (toward the end of Dr. Robert Knight’s tenure as medical director at Riggs), recently divorced, with a 12-year-old son and not much of a plan. “I knew something would come along and something did,” she wrote in her blog Lavender Door Days, which chronicles her time at Riggs. 

It was chance that led her to Riggs – she was approached by Beth Rosenfeld, who was in charge of the Activities Department, to teach an exercise class for the patients living in the Inn, which she did. Then one could say fate intervened when, because of some involvement she had with the town players, she was asked to revive the theatre program at Riggs. She wrote of the “grave reservations” she had of taking on such a role, but thanks in large part to the enthusiasm and persistence of one of the patients at Riggs, Ms. Brookes found her calling and over the next 20 years directed 51 plays. 

A former patient who worked with Ms. Brookes in the theatre program wrote:

Jayne had no formal training in either theatre or counseling/psychology/communication, yet she molded a group of severely disturbed patients into a professional theatre company which attracted audiences from all over western MA, including professional theatre people, with whom she began to study. Many patients went on to professional careers in acting, lighting and set design, directing and theatre management. Many of the core group went on to establish life-long friendships. I can honestly say that Jayne saved my life and that of many others, by nurturing the creative, cooperative & life affirming qualities dormant in each of us. She helped us reveal inner strengths that were buried under depression & despair.

Throughout its history, Riggs has been the beneficiary of many talented individuals, patients and staff, who have shared their gifts with the Riggs community. Today, we take a moment to remember one who left an indelible mark on the activities program and well beyond. 

About the patients she worked with, Ms. Brooks wrote: 

I learned to direct by directing, working with actors and technicians many of whom were patients in a psychiatric hospital; most had never been on a stage or seen a light board before in their lives. Since then I have worked in different places and on different stages with both Equity and amateur actors, but I have never again witnessed the level of creativity and talent I saw on the stage of The Austen Riggs Ensemble Theatre.

Today, at Riggs, the theatre program remains a vibrant part of the activities program under the direction of Kevin Coleman, who also serves at the Director of Education at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. Two main productions are mounted each year, which are also open to outside actors and the public.