Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center: Putting out the welcome mat



14 Castle St., Great Barrington.

(413) 528-0100;

A 690-seat restored theater that presents national and local artists and groups the year round in classical and popular music, dance, theater, comedy, performance art, family entertainment, film programs, and HD simulcasts and broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, National Theatre in London and, new this year, art galleries and museums.

Season: Year-round.

Tickets: Varies depending upon event.

Low-cost or free events highlights:

Mahaiwe ArtSmart Tix. Makes $15 tickets available for patrons ages 30 and younger, year-round. Ticket quantities are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis for each show.

• A-HA! Mahaiwe education program. Provides school-time matinee performances by multicultural companies from around the world. These are field-trip enrichment opportunities for students from Berkshire County and the neighboring tri-state region. In addition, the Mahaiwe provides artists for in-school residencies and workshops.

• Sing-a-Long "Grease." July 6 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $15-25.

Lecture: "Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History." Michael Cassin, director of the Clark Art Institute's Center for Education in the Visual Arts, will discuss the museum's summer exhibition. July 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets: Free.

• "Copperhead" (PG-13). Western Massachusetts premiere of Ron Maxwell's new Civil War era drama. Q&A with director following screening. July 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $10.

• Free Fun Friday with "Magic Tree House." A program and related activities celebrating Mary Pope Osborne's "Magic Tree House," including a 25-minute tribute to the magic of reading involving a performance by characters Jack and Annie, audience participation, and original songs. Throughout the day, there will also be arts and crafts, movement explorations, and Spanish-language activities offered for the entire family. The author will be in attendance. Aug. 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; performances at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets: Free.

• Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" (PG). Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $7. 


1. George Church of Pittsfield is a living link to the Mahaiwe's history. His grandfather, John H.C. Church, was one of the business leaders who built the Mahaiwe Block in 1905. He has fond memories of the theater from his childhood.

2. The Mahaiwe has screened "The Wizard of Oz" over Thanksgiving weekend every year since 1980, and Paul Kakely has been the projectionist almost every one of those 32 years.

3. The Mahaiwe's executive director, Beryl Jolly, and director of production, Matthew Adelson, are married and have two daughters who attend school in the Berkshire Hills district. The couple first met at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the summer of 1991, when they were both in their early 20s. Beryl was an acting apprentice and Matthew was a lighting design intern.

There's a welcome mat outside the front doors of Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. You can't see it or touch it, but it's there nonetheless, says Beryl Jolly, executive director of the year-round performing arts venue.

"We are eager to invite and welcome everyone," Jolly said by telephone from her office.

"Being open the year round makes us accountable year-round for diverse programming."

It also makes Jolly and her staff accountable for encouraging those who are reluctant to sample the theater's programs -- either because tickets are too expensive or they regard the arts as something remote or elitist -- to overcome their reluctance and take a chance.

That is why, Jolly says, for every ticket at the high end of the scale, you can find tickets at the low end, ranging from $7 to $35, depending upon the event. That is why the Mahaiwe is active in the schools; why the Mahaiwe brings school groups to the theater on special field trips; why the Mahaiwe schedules so many family-friendly events. It's all a way of opening eyes and demystifying the arts.

"It's just a question of [understanding] what you're afraid of and realizing it's not so fearsome after all," Jolly said.

Joey Chernila credits a water drip for his devotion to the Mahaiwe.

For his first visit to the Mahaiwe, Chernila took his wife's then-4-year-old sister to see "The Wizard of Oz" on the theater's big screen.

The seat in front of the girl was empty, giving her a clear view of the screen. She was beguiled. So was Chernila.

"It was before the theater was remodeled," the 34-year-old Chernila recalled by telephone from his home in Great Barrington. "I found out later the seat was empty because of a water drip."

The drip may have damaged the seat but it did nothing to dampen Chernila's enthusiasm for the theater. He and his family -- his wife, Alana, a Great Barrington native, and their daughters, Sophie, 10, and Rosie, 8 -- are Mahaiwe regulars.

"It took a while to get used to more refined theater," said Chernila, a pre-school teacher at Montessori School of the Berkshires.

It helped that Chernila won the Mahaiwe's 2012 "Dream Season" contest which got him a season pass.

"That season was remarkably close to my own choices," Chernila said, referring to Mavis Staples, Blind Boys of Alabama, Judy Collins, The Temptations.

His girls love the family movies.

"We take them three or four times a year," Chernila said.


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