Town Players returns to BCC spaces

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PITTSFIELD — Town Players of Pittsfield is celebrating its 97th season by returning to the place it once called home — Berkshire Community College's Koussevitzky Arts Center with its big 500-plus-seat Robert Boland Theater and smaller K-111.

Town Players will be going all out in the Boland theater in late October with Richard O'Brien's "Rocky Horror Show." But this Sunday afternoon at 2, Town Players makes its first foray of the homecoming season in K-111 with a staged reading of "Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays," six short plays by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Kevin McGerigle, a former member of the Town Players board and a member of the theater faculty at BCC, where he is technical director.of the Boland theater.

The return has been long sought. BCC had been Town Players home since the early 1970s, when the theater opened, and remained Town Players home until 2008, when the cost of continuing to rent the theater and K-111 for its three productions each season became prohibitive. Productions at BCC became intermittent while Town Players began performing primarily staged play readings in a variety of spaces around the city, among them St. Charles Church Parish Hall; a banquet room that is now part of the restaurant Eat at Hotel on North; the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts; Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage and, since 2013, the Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue.

"We've been looking to expand," Town Players president Ryan Cavanaugh said in a recent interview in a backstage lounge at the BCC theater, where he was joined by Town Players vice president Rob Dumais.

"We were outgrowing the Whitney Center," Dumais said.

"The college approached us with an incredible offer to use the big theater, K-111, rehearsal space, meeting rooms," said Cavanaugh. "It kind of came out of the blue."

"BCC is always looking to strengthen its community bonds and find ways to connect our students to the arts," McGerigle said in an email. "As the theater program advisor, I am always looking for new partnerships." McGerigle says he worked with the Town Players board to fashion an arrangement that would be a win-win for BCC's theater students and for one of the oldest continuously operating community theaters in the country.

As a result of the bonanza, Cavanaugh and Dumais say that Town Players is reshaping its season model, which used to place a big musical at the end of the season in spring. Now, Cavanaugh and Dumais agree, the musical will be shifted to the fall to get things underway with a bang with another big non-musical set for spring. K-111 will host a smaller show in winter. In addition, Town Players will continue to present staged readings, which have become its stock-and-trade since moving into The Whit.

Indeed, Cavanaugh says, the readings have developed a loyal, solid audience.

Sunday's reading, McGerigle said in his email, is something that's been "near and dear to my heart. The play reminds us just how magical love can be. This collection of short plays is just bursting at the seams with joy."

Interspersed with the readings at The Whit have been full stagings of intimate plays — among them last season's "The Whale" and "The Shape of Things," "Love, Loss and What I Wore" which attracted younger audiences and newer faces on stage and in the director's chair.

"Actually," Cavanaugh said, "those two shows did remarkably well."

A Pittsfield native, Dumais, 41, works full time at General Dynamics. He worked on his first Town Players show in the early '90s when he was still in high school. Cavanaugh, 31, also a Pittsfield native, does the technical side of theater at Pittsfield, Taconic and Lee high schools.

"I started doing technical theater here at BCC," Cavanaugh said.

"I remember the golden age of Town Players as a kid with my parents," Dumais said. "It's exciting to be at a point at which I can help move the theater forward."

Indeed, he and Cavanaugh see themselves as part of a changing tide at Town Players that is seeing newer, younger faces on the board.

"We've had a lot of turnover on the board," Cavanuagh said. "We are all excited about the prospect of getting people in the seats."

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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