NEW MARLBOROUGH — Stirred by the plight of theaters and music halls during the coronavirus pandemic, a local filmmaker has produced a series of shorts to remind viewers that the pain is temporary — and that the arts are coming back.
Tim Newman, a former Hollywood director, released the first installment of "The Arts are Coming Back to the Berkshires" on YouTube at the end of September and soon will add five installments that focus on some of the county's largest arts institutions.
A poem by playwright Michael Brady, who lives in the village of Southfield in New Marlborough, inspired the film. A local crew that works in the industry produced it, all on their own time. It took three-and-a-half days during the summer.
"When the pandemic hit, it didn't take much imagining to realize that it was going to destroy our arts community," Newman said. "I'm not sure the film will help, but I hope it will do something."
Newman, who is the brains behind rock videos burned by MTV into the '80s zeitgeist — think ZZ Top, and his cousin Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." — felt the pain of the Berkshires' high cultural season cut down by the pandemic.
Show goes on
After his Hollywood years as a director of TV commercials who made music videos on the side for the love of it, Newman says he never has lost his desire to make films.
This time, it was the poem by Brady, who lives five doors down: "On Learning of the Closure of the Theaters by Government Decree."
When pandemic lockdowns hit in March, Brady stirred. He knew the history of pandemics and the devastation they bring to theaters. But, he didn't know how bad it could be. Then Broadway shut down.
"That's when it came," he said of the poem.
What Brady says in the poem is that the actors always "come back."
Ghost lights — Dim inscrutable sentinels — burn low on empty stages. And yet... we can feel them. Just off-stage. / Summoning lines, marking pace, movement, inspiration. They are on fire, ready to burn again. / 'This is life,' they whisper. 'This is the secret we carry. This is the never-ending song we sing.
Actors from Barrington Stage Company held a reading of the poem on Zoom.
In the film, local actors like Karen Allen and David Atkins also read from the poem. Arts leaders speak in the film of hope following extraordinary losses.
And they spoke recently in interviews with The Eagle about what has happened, and what is next.
One is Pamela Tatge, executive and artist director at Jacob's Pillow, who said the shutdown of the dance festival sparked an "outpouring of love and support from audiences around the world." She said this support is propelling the Pillow forward as it plans for next season.
"What would people feel if there was no Jacob's Pillow? We got to hear that," she said.
Allyn Burrows, artistic director at Shakespeare & Company, said its pivot to a drive-in with the Berkshire International Film Festival was gratifying and drew capacity audiences most nights.
For actors, lockdowns have allowed time for study and training not always possible within a typical season, he said.
"It does allow you to step back and dig into all those scripts that were lying fallow and talk about the meaning of it all," he said. "Conversations have gone to a deeply fruitful level about existence and humanity."
Burrows said the theater is "re-energized" and planning the next season.
Janis Martinson, executive director of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, spoke of the fragility of the arts, how crucial they are to the human soul, and how elusive that fleeting interaction is between artist and audience.
"The performance arts play across time, and we're losing time," she said. "Performance happens and then it's gone."
Martinson thinks the arts will be stronger on the other side of the lockdowns, "enriched by what we're going through now."
"The show always goes on," she said.
But, for now, the show looks like this: In the film, Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Owen Young plays Bach alone on the grounds of Tanglewood, surrounded by the Berkshires countryside that always has drawn artists.
From his home in Boston, Young said he found the lonesome performance "eerie, sad," having played at Tanglewood since he was a teenager.
Technology can't replicate what happens between humans, he said. "You can feel the audience, the energy, the connectivity. That is how you are communicating. That's what I miss."
Newman says the film can remind audiences of the bonding that art makes possible. And that it will return with force.
"It's really the people who don't live in the Berkshires who need to see it," he said. "Especially those in New York City."
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.