New arena ACTORS

Friday July 29, 2011


There’s a new theater company in town and while "Actors" may be its middle name, actors come first in the mind of founding producing artistic director Clover Bell-Devaney.

"We’re a theater for actors, Berkshires-based actors," Bell-Devaney says proudly of her new company, Berkshire Actors Theatre. That’s why she chose an actors’ play for the company’s inaugural production -- John Patrick Shanley’s "Four Dogs and a Bone," which begins previews Wednesday at 7:30 at New Stage Performing Arts Center, 55 North St., where it is scheduled to run through Aug. 21. Press opening is next Friday.

"Four Dogs and a Bone" is a lacerating, raw, visceral four-character comedy about Hollywood -- specifically the clash of egos among a producer, a screenwriter and two manipulative actresses as they each vie for control of a failing project.

"The play really checks off a lot of boxes for us in terms of an inaugural play," the play’s director, Andrew Volkoff, said during a late afternoon interview, where he was joined by Bell-Devaney and Berkshire Actors Theatre artistic associate Deann Halper.

"It showcases local talent (in addition to Bell-Devaney and Halper, the cast includes Daniel Popowich and Michael Foster); it won’t break the bank in terms of production costs; and it introduces a new theater company through a highy entertaining script."

"We read a lot, a lot of scripts," Bell-Devaney said. "We also auditioned our hearts out. I’m really pleased we ended up with all local people."

That, Bell-Devaney says, is a primary goal of Berkshire Actors Theatre.

"Although we’re not against bringing in people from outside the area," Bell-Devaney said in a news release, "we really want to focus on Berkshire performers and artists," onstage and off.

The idea, she added, is to mount high-quality shows in terms not only of the acting but also production values. "We’re not an Equity company," Bell-Devaney said during the interview, "but we’re trying to do professional quality work."

Bell-Devaney, who runs Impeccable Events, a Berkshires-based events planning business, is no stranger to theater. The Carnegie-Mellon graduate comes from a family of theater folk. Her father is an actor, her mother is a founding artistic director, one of her sisters is an actress in New York, another manages a theater in Pennsylvania. And her 8-year-old son is showing signs of following in his mother’s acting footsteps.

Volkoff knows the Berkshires well. He was associate artistic director at Barrington Stage Company for five years and directed several productions there (among them "I Am My Own Wife," "Underneath the Lintel," "The Laramie Project," "Fully Committed" and "The Fantasticks"). He directs at theaters in Boston and New York.

Volkoff initially became involved with Berkshire Actors Theatre in an advisory capacity.

"Clover and Deann were talking to me about theater, play selection, what they had in mind, how you start a theater," Volkoff said. "I love the Berkshires and what the Berkshires have going on. I’d love to stay on board."

Bell-Devaney is thinking long term about Berkshire Actors Theatre. She wants to find a place the company can call its own. She’s hoping to incorporate Berkshire Actors Theatre as a non-profit some time in the next 12 months

"I see us doing two plays a year," she said. "I really want to work with local actors and directors producing actor-friendly plays in an intimate space."

For now, however, all the energy is focused on "Four Dogs and a Bone."

Bell-Devaney realizes that starting a theater company at a time of year when theatergoers face an abundance of choices is a challenge but it’s a challenge she and her collaborators are more than willing to take on.

"I wanted to start at a time of huge visibility, when there are a lot of people in the Berkshires," Bell-Devaney said.

"I know there’s a lot of formidable (theater) companies around. But I think there are enough nights to go around for us all."

"I think there is always room for another theater," Volkoff said.

"We have a great marketing team," Bell-Devaney said. "The most important thing is to get the word out.

"Even more important, we have to prove ourselves in order to stay."


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