STOCKBRIDGE -- On Friday afternoons this summer loyal theatergoers, young and old, took part in a uniquely inclusive experience, as Berkshire Theatre Group’s Friday Series introduced new plays, new playwrights, and new actors.
The programs engages an audience in a hands-on experience.
The meat of Berkshire Theatre Group’s Friday Series is interactive staged readings of new plays by playwrights from all over the country. So many new scripts are sent in that, were they to attempt to workshop them all, they would not have enough Fridays in the year to do so. The selection process is not an easy one, but with the help of Artistic Director Kate Maguire, Gloria Miller takes on the challenging task.
Miller also facilitates the staged readings and the talkbacks, after thoughtful conversation with each playwright. It is her job to make sure the playwrights gets all they need out of each workshop. This is no small task.
BTG put together the entire Friday Series to give playwrights, from the Berkshires and beyond, a chance to receive feedback from actors and audiences on their new work. After BTG actors have dramatically read a play, Miller guides a talkback with the audience.
The audience becomes a more active player in the creation process. Playwrights have the opportunity to bring specific scenes or themes to attention, and then audience members and actors can talk over those specific areas.
"A lot of people are hungry for the discussion," Miller explained.
She described a surprising eagerness, from the audience, to give feedback. While most discussions contain mostly constructive criticism, it all feels like a team effort, she said. The audience genuinely cares that the playwright gets enough feedback to craft the best possible script.
"People [also] want that first taste of something new," said General Manager Liz Zieminski.
Most of the actors that join in the readings are a part of the company, and some are members of the Acting Apprenticeship program. Every summer, after applications, essays, auditions and interviews, the theater chooses 25 new, young actors to take part in the Acting Apprenticeship. Each have had at least one year in college and plan on pursuing a career in theater in the future.
Allison Rachele Bayles, Administrative director of education, who helps select these fine young actors, explained that the goal is to "create a company." Some actors come from a musical theater background, some from straight theater, and others actively engage in both. This makes for a diverse group of young artists.
The average day for one of these actors starts with breakfast and a physical warm up (stretching, yoga, etc.). Then they start their day of training. The Suzuki method is the main technique of study, but they also participate in several different workshops and master classes. After lunch, some actors must get ready for a matinee performance of one of the many shows in which they act each summer.
The other actors continue on with their training until dinner and then more preparation for shows. Actors who are not taking part in the stage portion of an evening performance are still engaged in some other aspect of the performance (parking cars, working concessions, helping backstage).
"They get the opportunity to experience many many different things -- on stage, backstage, strike," Bayles said. "it is really an all-encompassing program."