Barrington Stage, founded in 1995 and currently based in Sheffield, has purchased the 625-seat Berkshire Music Hall and the adjacent Octagon House from its owner, Raymond D. Schilke, for $785,000. According to Schilke, the negotiations began in February. The two sides came to an agreement this week, and the closing took place Thursday afternoon.
"Our commitments to public service, public safety, education and neighborhood revitalization all tie into what we all want," Ruberto said during a news conference in City Hall yesterday morning. "A successful Barrington Stage is a major building block in the economic revitalization of the city of Pittsfield."
Julianne Boyd, Barrington Stage's artistic and executive director, said that the company, which currently operates only in the summer, drew a total of 28,000 people last year. It has an annual budget of around $1.7 million.
"I think we can do a lot for the economy in Pittsfield," Boyd said.
The nationally known theater company plans to continue the renovations begun by Schilke, who purchased the then vacant Music Hall, constructed in 1912, in October 2003 for $160,000. He spent more than $400,000 on renovations and opened the Music Hall
"He had a vision that I'd like to continue," Boyd said. "I'd like to take the baton and carry it on to make it a truly professional theater."
Boyd said that Barrington Stage plans to renovate the Music Hall in three phases, and that the entire project will cost about $2.5 million, a figure that includes the purchase price. She said Barrington Stage will be seeking state and corporate funding "to really pull this off," and is looking for support from the local business community.
As a not-for-profit theater, Barrington Stage also is eligible for tax exemptions, Ruberto said.
Barrington Stage first plans to bring the Music Hall "up to code" by making the structure handicapped-accessible and by improving the heating and cooling systems. The second phase will be to make the theater accessible for viewing performances, and the final phase will consist of esthetic improvements to the building.
But the company's main goal is get the facility "up and running and get people in the theater."
"I don't want the renovations to overwhelm our creative energy," Boyd said.
Barrington Stage will use the Music Hall to host its "main stage" performances, which currently take place at the Thomas A. Consolati Performing Arts Center at the Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield.
She said the company is looking for additional performance space in Pittsfield for its second stage, "so we can put on works in progress."
Those productions are currently held in the Mount Everett cafeteria. One of last year's second-stage productions, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," moved to Broadway this year and won two Tony Awards.
"If we didn't have a stage two, we wouldn't have a 'Spelling Bee' today," Boyd said.
The Octagon House, which is also on Union Street, will house the company's offices, Boyd said. She said that the house "needs a lot of work" to be renovated as office space, and that the work may not be completed until next spring. She said Barrington Stage has 10,000 square feet of space in Sheffield and needs help finding room for a set and costume shop.
Barrington Stage almost purchased the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington a few years ago, but Boyd said that the Music Hall is a good fit for her company's needs.
"The first time I saw the Berkshire Music Hall was during a production last year," she said. "I loved the space. It's very warm and inviting.
"One of the things that's so appealing about it is that the first row to the last row on the ground floor is close to the stage," Boyd said. "That's important for the intimacy of theater. To really experience theater, the audience has to be close."
Boyd said the company hopes to expand its audience by relocating to Pittsfield.
"We've really had a wonderful time in South County," Boyd said. "They've been very, very supportive. Without their help, we couldn't have gotten off the ground. But I think we'd love to include more of Berkshire County in our audiences. ... I think we will be able to gain a larger audience, not only in the Pittsfield area, but in Albany and Williamstown and so forth.
"It's really opening up horizons for us," she added.
Boyd said Barrington Stage will honor commitments to any events already scheduled to take place at the Music Hall, including a concert by Rickie Lee Jones on July 28.