Berkshire Theatre Group: A matter of enhancing lives
BERKSHIRE THEATRE GROUP
Colonial Theatre / The Garage, 111 South St., Pittsfield.
Fitzpatrick Main Stage / Unicorn Theatre, BTF Campus, 6 East St., Stockbridge.
(413) 997-4444; thecolonialtheatre.org
The year-round-operating Berkshire Theatre Group comprises the 85-year-old Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge and the newly restored 110-year-old Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield.
The Colonial presents national and international artists and groups in popular and classical music, dance, theater and family entertainment, augmented by special events sponsored by area organizations. In addition, the Colonial is home to BTG's summer season-opening professional musical production.
The Garage, in the Colonial lobby, is a year-round performance space featuring primarily local and regional indie bands and singers.
Originally known as Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, the Fitzpatrick Main Stage and the Unicorn Theatre, both of which operate late June through late August on the BTF Campus in Stockbridge, house BTG's professional theatrical productions of contemporary, classical and new works for the stage.
Ticket prices: Vary depending on venue and type of show.
• All venues house well-stocked concessions featuring snacks, hot and cold beverages, wine and beer.
Low-cost or free events highlights:
• Ellenoff Musical Theatre Series. The Ellenoff Musical Theatre Series turns the spotlight on beloved shows from the American musical canon. Featuring members of the BTG Acting Apprentice Company, these performances include sing-throughs of the full musicals. The Colonial Theatre. Select Mondays at 2 p.m. $10 donation suggested.
• Friday Series. In addition to staged readings, the series will include guest lecturers and BTG's Acting Apprentice Showcase. Fitzpatrick Main Stage and Unicorn Theatre. Select Fridays at 2 p.m. $10 donation suggested.
• "Just So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling. Adapted and directed by E. Gray Simons III. The Neil Ellenoff Stage, BTF Campus. July 18-Aug. 10. Adult $15; child $10.
• 8th annual BTG Children's Theatre production: "Peter Pan." A musical based on the play by James M. Barrie. Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne. The Colonial Theatre. Aug. 8-18. Tickets: $30-$15.
DID YOU KNOW?
1. When the Three Arts Society acquired the old Stockbridge Casino in 1928, they dismantled the building and hauled it in pieces by horse-drawn wagon from the western end of Main Street, where The Mission House now stands, to the far eastern end of Main Street at the foot of Yale Hill Road. The Society renamed the casino the Berkshire Playhouse, and thus began the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
2. Acting legends Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman all got their start at BTF. In 1967, Pacino played a juvenile delinquent and drug addict in "Does A Tiger Wear a Necktie?" which went on to Broadway where the young, virtually unknown Pacino won a Tony for his performance. In 1966, Murray Schisgal's "Fragments" featured two old friends and former roommates, Hoffman and Hackman. A year later, Hoffman would receive an Oscar nomination for "The Graduate" and Hackman would receive one for "Bonnie and Clyde."
3. BTG's Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield opened Sept. 28, 1903, at a cost of $70,000. Tickets for the opening night attraction, a production of "Robin Hood" by The Bostonians, were $2.50 on orchestra level, $2 for rear orchestra, $1 for the first five rows of the first balcony, 75 cents for the rest of the first and all of the second balconies, and $18 for a box seat. Tickets for the second night's presentation, "The Lilly and the Prince," were $1 for box seats, 75 cents for orchestra, 50 cents for first balcony and 25 cents for second balcony.
For Berkshire Theatre Group CEO and artistic director Kate Maguire, running a not-for-profit theater is about building and enriching community.
"If you are not-for-profit, it means you are there to educate," Maguire said during an interview in her office at BTG's Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield's Upstreet Cultural District.
Education, Maguire suggests, means exposure to the arts, up-close-and-personal, not only through a variety of affordable-admission events but also through programs in the schools; engaging people in discussion; and involving community members, especially young people -- including at-risk and/or economically disadvantaged youth -- in BTG's classes and productions.
"We want to offer children [and youth] the discipline the arts provide," Maguire said.
"This building," Maguire said, referring to the Colonial, "was built for the community. Every day, the question we ask ourselves here [at BTG] is how do we enhance the enormous population out there? How can we transform people's lives?
"How do we get people to understand that the arts are life-changing?"
Janine Bunin lives in Holyoke, but she thinks nothing of driving an hour each way to see something at any of BTG's theaters.
The 62-year-old Bunin, who works in the financial departments of Baystate Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice Care of Western Massachusetts, first came to BTG's Berkshire Theatre Festival campus in Stockbridge in the 1990s with her church group.
The attraction the first time was a production starring Richard Chamberlain. But the appearance of her favorite actor, "Sex and the City's" Mr. Big, Chris Noth, in "American Buffalo" in 2005 sealed her fate.
"I had just graduated from Elms College," Bunin said during an interview at BTG's Colonial Theatre. "I had a little spare money so I bought a ticket just to see him."
She's been a Stockbridge subscriber ever since. And she's made the leap from audience to stage. She's appeared in BTG's community productions of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Oliver!"
She comes to BTG with an open mind. "Most of the plays l've seen here I've never seen before," she said. "My life has been so enhanced."
While she's been to other theaters, she says she feels most comfortable at BTG.
"Everybody at work knows when I've seen a show here," Bunin said. "I walk in with this gorgeous smile on my face."