Friday November 19, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Representatives of the Stockbridge-based Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Pittsfield-based Colonial Theatre have unveiled plans to merge operations under a single director and coordinate programming, a unique collaboration that's believed to be a first in the Berkshires.

BTF Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire will lead both organizations, effective immediately. The Colonial's executive director, David Fleming, retired in August and had been replaced on an interim basis by the theater's general manager, Seth Keyes.

BTF and Colonial officials say they have reached a nonbinding agreement that sets forth principles and guidelines to establish the formal collaboration. The venture was outlined on Friday at a press conference held at the Colonial.

The collaboration will help both venues deal with the economic difficulties facing perfoming arts organizations in the current economy, while allowing them to utilize their three stages to provide content that is more appropriate for their sizes.

"I don't think we ever want to be in competition with each other," Maguire said. "What we want is to feel the support and provide the opportunity for the audience to see diversity of styles."

In the collaboration's initial phase, Maguire will oversee a combined staff of Berkshire Theatre Festival and Colonial Theatre employees, while both organizations begin programming their three stages interchangably beginning in June.

The BTF, located in Stockbridge, has two theaters -- the 408-seat Main Stage and the 122-seat Unicorn. The Colonial has one, 810-seat stage.

"The Berkshire Theatre Festival will produce and present on the Colonial stage certain plays, and the Colonial Theatre Association will present groups on both the Colonial and BTF stages," said Michael MacDonald, the chairman of the Colonial's board of directors, "We can coordinate those in a way that is best suited for the size of the venue as well as the audience."

The collaboration's second phase, spelled out in the nonbinding agreement, calls for representatives of both organizations to form a committee that will work toward a formal merger.

According to MacDonald, the current plans, which are subject to change, call for the formation of a holding company that would seek tax-exempt status and would be comprised of board members from both performing arts venues. That process is expected to take between six to 12 months, Maguire said.