GREAT BARRINGTON -- On the heels of two successful fundraising efforts for enhanced programming, safety and equipment upgrades, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center plans to add more shows to its roster, organize full-year seasons and further diversify its mix of attractions.
A full house celebrated at the nonprofit's annual gala Sunday night, featuring a powerhouse 90-minute theatrical performance by Broadway stars Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
This week, Executive Director Beryl Jolly announced the hiring of the theater's first in-house artistic consultant, Arnie Malina, who retired recently after 15 years as head of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and the Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington, Vt.
The goal is to develop programs uniquely tailored to the Mahaiwe audience and dialogues with the community about artistic initiatives.
Though half of its audience is from outside Berkshire Coun ty, the theater retains the loyalty of longtime area patrons.
"I used to go as many of my classmates did on Saturday afternoons," recalled Christine Ramsdell Silvernail, now 94 and a resident of Kimball Farms in Lenox. "We'd settle into the theater and a woman would play the piano accompanying the silent films."
During the 1920s, Silvernail, who lived near Monument Mountain, took the trolley line downtown to see the movies. Now, she occasionally attends high-definition Metropolitan Opera telecasts on Saturday afternoons.
At Sunday night's gala, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, presenting honorary citations from Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Legislature to co-founder and major benefactor John Hoyt Stookey, credited the theater for revitalizing downtown Great Barrington. He extolled founding president and chairwoman Lola Jaffe for "her vision and her dream" as the driving force behind the restoration of the historic theater.
Patrick's citation honored Stookey for his "dedicated service" to the Mahaiwe and "commitment to the Berkshire community."
"The Mahaiwe offers us the opportunity to experiment, to try something new," Stookey told the audience. "I dare you to try something different."
According to Jolly, a nearly $100,000 John Hoyt Stookey Fund for Performing Excellence will be aimed at attracting top talent to the theater.
In an interview, Jolly explained that an additional $100,000 raised by the theater will match a state cultural-facilities grant to fund technical and structural upgrades.
Explaining the decision to hire Malina after a fruitful six-year collaboration with executives at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston, N.Y., Jolly said it reflects "an awareness that we've come so far, they've helped us build a foundation so strong that it's time to have a Mahaiwe-specific artistic leader."
The strategy, Jolly added, is to plan full seasons of programming well in advance and to package series of dance, comedy and music performances while adding more events, especially concerts.
"We hope to grow local participation," Jolly said. She putting an emphasis on affordability, especially through a $15 ticket available to people under 30 for any live performance.
Malina said he has already started booking events for a 12-month season beginning next July. Programming will continue to include a variety of musical genres, as well as theater, dance and film, a family series and student matinees.
"We'll collaborate with community organizations," said Malina. "There's an infinite range of possibilities."
Malina, 67, said he intends to "make the Mahaiwe an even greater part of the community by using the arts as an exploration of people's creativity and expansion of the social fabric. We'll be bringing clarity and more focus to the mix."
Malina will participate in focus groups on upcoming weekends to take the pulse of the public's feelings about the theater.
The musical menu will lean toward more popular events, especially jazz, he said. "Even in classical music, there are opportunities to present contemporary, edgy work," he said.
The Mahaiwe at a glance
History: Opened in 1905 as a stage for touring artists, a vaudeville house and movie theater. Renovated and reopened in 2005 after a $9 million rehabilitation.
Attractions: 145 shows a year, including 25 classical, gospel, jazz, country, folk, Broadway and world music concerts; 38 opera and theater high-def telecasts; 10 dance programs; 28 movies; three comedy shows; 14 lectures; 13 family shows; five education programs; and three master classes
Annual attendance: 35,000
Ticket sales: 75 percent of capacity
Annual budget: $1.6 million
Staff (full-time): Seven
Location: 14 Castle St., Great Barrington
Information: www.mahaiwe.org or (413) 528-0100
Source: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.