Berkshire Theatre Group: Casting community into the spotlight

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PITTSFIELD — Just in time for the start of fall season, Berkshire Theatre Group applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, to support its year-round education program, "BTG Plays!"

This branch of the company offers 10 different programs that reach more than 13,000 students and young adults annually.

"Each program has its own story," said Travis Daly, an associate artist who works in various BTG education programs.

"But we need to do better with telling our own story of what we do and how we do it," said Artistic Director/CEO Kate Maguire.

She continued, "Our task is getting society to recognize what theater arts can do. The arts will probably not be mentioned in the [presidential] debates, but the arts teaches young people how to communicate effectively and is a means to become more civilized."

"Our programs give kids life skills and show them that they have a voice, and that it's important for them to be heard," said Administrative Director of Education Allison Rachele Bayles.

The BTG Plays program offers a high school mentoring program, touring shows, summer camps, in-school residencies, after-school programs; discounted performance tickets; annual community theater productions; a local high school musical revue; a summer performance training apprentice program and the new monthly "Happimess" creative playtime series which adds an early childhood component to BTG's programming.

A portion of the new TD grant funds will likely be used to explore how to better support youths in the programs who may face various adversities in their lives. Maguire said she's become even more involved with finding solutions to community challenges through her work on the Executive Committee of the Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s Board of Directors.

"Our theater was built by a community to better serve a community. That doesn't mean just having shows," Maguire said

"We're able to identify what the community needs and to create and evolve different things to bring it all together," Daly said.

In the past year, BTG highlighted local youth success stories, such Taconic High School graduate and Williams College freshman, Caroline Fairweather, who has been involved in 15 BTG productions since she did her first BTG program in the summer of 2008. In a BTG interview, she said here experience there, "Has not only included the hallmarks of community theatre — a sense of family, countless friendships, and loads of fun — but also a haven for my education and growth as an artist."

Another young man spotlighted for success is Ray White, who made his BTG debut this summer in the title role of Beast in the community theater production of "Beauty and the Beast." This fall, White will continue to develop his skills by portraying the father in the new touring production of "Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade," which is a theatrical adaptation of a book by the same name penned by Pittsfield author Ty Allan Jackson.


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