Celebrating Berkshire arts makers at 'Made in the Berkshires'
By this time Hilary Somers Deely and Barbara Sims know the drill. They know it very well.
Resourceful and clearly imaginative, Deely and Sims are the returning co-curators of the second "Made in the Berkshires" Festival, a celebration of local arts makers that will take center stage, in fact two center stages, throughout this weekend under the auspices of the Berkshire Theatre Group.
The artists' names will be familiar to many, for they are neighbors and, characteristic of our homeland, their events embrace what the curators call the festival's eight genres -- music, dance, long plays, short plays, film, other visual arts, poetry and short-story reading and occasionally, even interdisciplinary activities involving more than one of those pursuits.
The festivities begin in earnest this evening at 6:30 at the Colonial Theatre in conjunction with Pittsfield's First Friday Arts Walk.
Appropriately, door-busters will enjoy first glimpses of a joint lobby exhibition of eight well-regarded Berkshire painters assembled by curator Suki Werman; Michael Sinopoli and Nick DeCandia's film loop, "Facing Berkshire Heritage," and a performance by Fran and Lisa Mandeville, The Beeline Ramblers, in the portion of the Colonial's lobby known as The Garage, named affectionately for an earlier business use.
Gov. Deval Patrick, the festival's honorary chairman, is expected to join Kate Maguire, BTG's artistic director/CEO, Deely and Sims in welcoming first-nighters to the big gala at 7:30 in the Colonial's ornately handsome auditorium. The gala will be embellished by a two-hour extravaganza of film, dance, music, a short story, and a play.
Thereafter, the crowd will adjourn to the lobby for a "Taste of the Berkshires," a sampling of food and beverages that, like the expressions of art, are produced in Berkshire County.
Maguire is credited with conceiving the weekend celebration of local achievement.
"I thought it was important to highlight all of the remarkable talent that is here, and that a festival would give everyone a chance to celebrate together," she explained in an interview. "During the summer, we bring artists from all over the country -- indeed all over the globe -- but I think it's great to have the time in the fall to reflect and enjoy all that we have that is our own."
Maguire tapped Deely for the project soon after the merger of the Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Colonial, and Deely agreed with one condition: "I will do it if I can do it with Barbara," she said. Both, like Maguire, are actors, and recall a happy experience when Sims directed a production of "Tartuffe" with Deely in the cast.
"I don't think she had a clue how we were going to do eight genres and make it a big festival," said Deely, speaking of Maguire's invitation, "and to make a relationship to the Col onial and the Unicorn. I don't think she knew how grandiose our ideas would turn out to be."
400 at opening
Last year's festival gathered nearly 400 for the opening-night performances, and several of the Unicorn events filled all 110 seats, reported Sims.
That event, over two weekends, proved so well attended and generated such enthusiasm among its participants that its curators and Maguire proclaimed it an unquestioned success.
Sims and Deely suggest that second annual is not an unreasonable descriptive prefix for this year's festival.
Among changes is the contraction to one three-day weekend.
"We had some down time last year between blocks of performances," explained Sims. "This year, since we have The Garage, people can move directly from the theater to the lobby Garage as the music is starting, and it will create more of a festival atmosphere."
Saturday is busiest
Sims and Deely suggest the number of events remains virtually the same as last year, about 49, with more than 140 arts makers taking part.
Saturday will be festival's busiest day with 39 performances at the two locations.
They also point out that, unlike film festivals in which counter-programming often is employed, spectators can attend every event, since only 20 driving minutes separate the Colonial and the Unicorn.
For BTG, this provides an ancillary benefit, according to Sims, in introducing first-time visitors to either the Unicorn Stage or the Colonial.
"One of the really moving things about this festival is the validation of some artists' work," noted Deely.
"We have several people who have said something like, ‘I felt so happy; I worked on this for 10 years.' "
Sims hailed what might be called initial networking among artists. "I think that in places like the Berkshires people stay in their own little niches, very locked in their own pockets.
"We've had artists exchanging phone numbers and business cards, saying to each other, ‘I'd love to work with you some day,' " suggesting intriguing interdisciplinary poss i bilities.
The budget is modest as festivals go -- between $15,000 and $20,000, a BTG spokes person estimated. To keep ticket prices as low as possible, donors are especially significant, according to Deely.
Opening night price is $25; $50 for the performance and after-party; each block of other performances is $15, and the ambitious and energetic can attend everything for a $100 Festival Pass, "a steal," ex claimed Deely.
Among other changes from last year, seats for all events will be unreserved, making it easier on box office workers, Sims explained.
And after some discussion with members of last year's audiences, Sims said she and Deely will share introductions of performers.
Flowed like opera
"Last year," Sims said, "it flowed sort of like an opera -- everything was in the program, but we got some feed-back suggesting that everyone should be introduced up front."
Parties are important elements in any festival.
In addition to the opening-night gathering, a closing-night party promises Bronte Roman with "vocal stylings that will have you dancing in the street," or dance ‘til we drop," mused Sims, "although Hilary and I may be dropping before that."
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