Bringing 'Beauty and the Beast' to stage an act of caring and daring
Photo Gallery | Beauty and the Beast at The Colonial Theatre
PITTSFIELD — The beauty of the annual community theater production by Berkshire Theatre Group is more than spectacle. Equally spectacular are the relationships, mentorships and camaraderie forged in rehearsals and gatherings that go on behind the scenes, leading up to the performances.
This year's production, "Beauty and the Beast," opened on Friday at the Colonial Theatre. It involves more than 100 youths and adults from Berkshire County, surrounding regions, and visiting talent from as far away as Texas and Toronto.
The Eagle caught up with Director Travis G. Daly, and four cast members before one of the final rehearsals this week, to hear about their experiences.
While the show is inherently a love story, it also explores characters' journeys to find love and acceptance for themselves, their own unique personalities and attributes.
"I'm really trying to pull the hope theme out of there and the pursuit of living happily ever after," Daly said.
While the director said he has his own strong artistic visions for the show, he also makes an intentional effort to invite actors, technical and stage crew members to add their insight and expertise to the production.
"It's about me doing my job as the director but at the same time, it's really not about me at all," said Daly who's directing his fifth community production on his own. "It's about collaboration. ... There are thousands of little decisions that are made along the way, but I trust people to help make them."
Pulling off "Beauty and the Beast" also demands an artful ability to suspend an audiences' disbelief and make inanimate objects like dishes, wardrobes and clocks come alive for them. The physically demanding choreography by Kathy Jo Grover and Michael Callahan involves twirling, leaping, dipping and flying in elaborate costumes, which also requires a lot of Olympian-like focus, confidence and trust.
And that's where the importance of relationship building comes in.
At age 11, Alexa Hilts of Pittsfield is one of the show's younger cast members. While she's been a part of BTG's after-school program at Herberg Middle School, this will be her first performance on the Colonial stage, serving in an ensemble as an enchanted spoon. She said as much as she likes being able to perform, she spends much of her off-stage time talking with other cast members and making new friends.
"Connecting with other people is something theater allows me to do," said Hilts. Her connections are continuing to grow, as she was recently cast in this fall's touring production of "Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade," a stage adaptation of book by Pittsfield author Ty Allan Jackson.
Mollie Posnik and Christy Coco, both 21, return to the Colonial stage after serving last year as acting apprentices. They say they've benefitted from being around working theater professionals who have made the time to talk to them one-on-one, lending them advice about the field and opportunities they might pursue.
This summer, Posnik of Longmeadow portrays Mrs. Potts, an enchanted teapot and castle matriarch who soothes and mentors Belle — portrayed by Coco of New Canaan, Conn. — "a bright and beautiful bookworm" who becomes a captive of The Beast in a brave gesture to save her father. The latter title role is performed by Ray White, 20, of Troy, N.Y., a 2014 Taconic High School graduate, who landed the role by chance.
Daly spotted White while he was working at The Marketplace Cafe on North Street. Having seen White in some Taconic and Barrington Stage Company shows, Daly encouraged White to audition. The director's decision to cast him in one of the main roles surprised White. The aspiring young actor said taking on such a big part has been a powerful learning experience.
"I think the Beast has a lot of growing up to do as a character. In the show, he's learning how to dance or pull out a chair for a girl, the kinds of courtesies we could all learn, especially nowadays as the world seems crazy," said White, who has had to learn as an actor how to properly waltz his co-star Coco into a dip. "It's interesting for me to go back and learn all these things as the Beast, but I'm having fun, lots of fun."
Fun is a critical aspect in Daly's approach to directing. This summer he purposely scheduled time for the core cast members to go miniature golfing and take a day trip to Shelburne Falls to build bonds.
"There's a lot of opportunity in this production for mentorship and leadership. Part of my role is identifying the group and figuring out what they need and what I think they can do," said Daly.
"Chemistry," he began.
"Is everything," Posnik finished.
Coco agreed, and said, "It's really important for everyone to be able to trust each other, so that everyone in the room can be best able to work together."
In her role of the motherly Mrs. Potts, Posnik said she's been able to recognize the greater essence of her character. "It's about taking care of people ... which is something we all should do in life. No matter the circumstances, we're all in it together."
Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.
If you go ...
What: "Beauty and The Beast," the 11th annual community musical theater production presented Berkshire Theatre Group. Directed by Travis G. Daly, with music direction by Mark Gionfriddo, choreography by Kathy Jo Grover, and additional choreography by Michael Callahan.
When: Opens Friday, Aug. 12 and runs through Friday, Aug. 19. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. on Aug. 12, 15 and 19; and at 2 and 7 p.m., on Aug. 13, 14, 17 and 18.
Where: The Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield.
Tickets: Prices range from $20 to $50, at BerkshireTheatreGroup.org, by calling 413-997-4444, or stopping by a BTG box office in person. Ticket proceeds benefit "BTG PLAYS!," Berkshire Theatre Group's year-round arts education program.
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