Bringing the Colonial Theatre back to life was a major victory in Pittsfield’s downtown revitalization, but the battle didn’t end with that victory. What has followed is a protracted battle to assure the Colonial’s economic viability, a fight that after some dicey moments appears to have turned in the Colonial’s favor.
Clarence Fanto’s story in Saturday’s Eagle portrayed a Colonial that in its third year as part of the Berkshire Theatre Group has increased attendance, whittled down debt and become a more active member of the Berkshire community. The Colonial sold 57 percent of its seats in 2012, a substantial improvement over past years, and according to Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire, is drawing better from north and south Berkshire. A theater that was dark too often following its reopening seven years ago now books around 280 performance dates annually, including events at the Garage and daytime events for students. The Garage and its educational efforts will help the Colonial connect with parents while building an audience for the future.
The Colonial is carrying bank loans and lines of credit of $144,000, a decline from the $337,000 debt load present in late 2010, when the merger between the theater and Ms. Maguire’s Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge was announced. Reducing debt further and filling open seats will continue to be a challenge as the Colonial has plenty of competition for the entertainment dollar in the county and from Northampton and Albany, New York. While the economy is improving it is far from raging, prompting residents and visitors to be cautious with their spending.
Expanding the donor base is an ongoing priority, according to Ms. Maguire, and the economy and donor fatigue pose twin challenges. Berkshire County’s population of full- and part-time residents, is small, as is its business community, and there are many worthy organizations, artistic and otherwise, making demands upon them. All that said, the Colonial Theatre is not the source of worry it was three or four years ago, and it can celebrate its 110th anniversary this year confident that it should have many years ahead of it.