Breakfast with Kate Maguire, Berkshire Theatre Group's artistic director and CEO
STOCKBRIDGE — The Red Lion Inn is a grand dame of hostelry; the kind of welcoming, centuries old establishment — it's been around since 1773 — that's not so easy to find these days.
"The place is really in my bones when it comes to the Berkshires," Berkshire Theatre Group artistic director and CEO Kate Maguire said as she settled into a seat at a table for two in a back corner of the inn's spacious dining room.
"Before I ever worked at [what was then Berkshire Theatre Festival], we had a home across the street," Maguire said after placing an order of oatmeal, a side of fresh berries, maple syrup and iced tea.
"My family has a history of high cholesterol, so I eat my daily oatmeal," she quipped in a later email.
"My girls walked every day to Plain School. We'd have burgers in the Lion's Den," she said while waiting for her order to arrive.
"My husband [theater director and teacher Eric Hill] and I were staying here when I got hired by Berkshire Theatre Festival.
"When I'm here, I'm reminded constantly of Jane and she all she did for me," Maguire said. She was referring to the late Jane Fitzpatrick — philanthropist, owner of Country Curtains and The Red Lion Inn and, for 22 years, chairman and then honorary chair of the Berkshire Theatre Festival board — who died on Nov. 9, 2013, just short of her 90th birthday.
"She was my most important mentor. I have so many meaningful memories here. It really is a most gracious place to have breakfast," Maguire said.
That from a woman for whom breakfast is not the most meaningful meal of the day.
"I actually love supper time," she said in the later email. "Once Eric and I became empty-nesters, we moved a small, but pretty, French provincial table I inherited from my mom into our living room. We make ourselves simple meals. We enjoy ... good food and our time spent together ... "
Despite meetings, rehearsals, being at the theater, Maguire and Hill have more alone-together time at their Richmond home these days in large measure because their 23-year-old son, Alexander, who was born and raised in the Berkshires, is living in Harlem and working as a videographer for MLB Network. Alexander's 37-year-old fraternal twin stepsisters — Emma and Isadora, from Maguire's previous marriage — also live and work in New York, where Emma is director of intergovernmental affairs for the city and Isadora is a dancer and choreographer with Punchdrunk, an immersive theater company from Britain, now operating in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, that made a name for itself with its production of "Sleep No More"
Isadora and her husband have given Maguire and Hill a grandson. Maguire couldn't be happier. His name is Theo. He'll be 2 in October. "The world goes away when I'm with him," Maguire said, beaming.
Family means a great deal to Maguire. She comes from good solid working-class origins. Her father was an Irish cop in Lowell. Her aunt, she says, was the first female cop in Massachusetts. Her mother was a Greek immigrant from the Mani region, which Maguire and Hill visited not that long ago.
"The word 'maniac' is derived from that region and when you visit you understand why," Maguire said with a laugh.
None of the children in her mother's family could speak English before they began school.
"Pronunciation and diction were most important to her," Maguire said. "For my mother, it was all about communication. The more powerfully one could communicate, the more confidently one could walk through life."
Small wonder that theater held a special attraction for Maguire.
"The ability to communicate, to tell our stories," she said as she sprinkled a spoonful of fresh blackberries and raspberries over her oatmeal.
"The world is wider than we think. For me, theater was a way of looking at the world. I could learn about everything through theater. Since I was 4, theater and my personal life have been together.
"Theater is about telling stories about a community. Our education, Eric's and mine, was through theater."
That's why BTG's education programs are important to Maguire; ditto BTG's big community productions — "A Christmas Carol" in December; a musical in the summer (this year it's "The Music Man").
Maguire believes that life and theater are inextricably bound. Both are driven by sheer force of will.
"The will to live is so strong," Maguire said, her spoon gently swirling around the inside of the cereal bowl, gathering the last of the oatmeal. "To take that will and do something with your life ...
"My job is to urge people to understand that that will inside us can support great things.
"Theater is all make believe based on sheer will that leads us to understand each other's place."
Maguire says she realizes just how worthwhile the challenges of running Berkshire Theatre Group are when she watches her dedicated young staff at work; sees the reactions of audience members or the look of pride on a board member's face after a performance of "Mary Poppins"; remembers a card given to her several years ago by her husband, "supporting our life in the theater. I have a partner who believes in the same things."
She paused for a moment, sipped the last of her iced tea.
"Theater has made me a better person," she said reflectively.
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