'Potluck and a Play': Mill City productions invites everyone to read plays

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ADAMS — Staged play readings have become increasingly popular across The Berkshires in recent years. During all seasons, theater companies assemble casts of seasoned professionals to present cutting-edge new works and beloved classics.

Now, Mill City Productions is offering community members the experience of reading the roles themselves as characters in the play.

MCP board members Kari Daly and Jackie DeGiorgis sat down in a longtime Adams gathering spot, The Daily Grind, to explain what's involved.

"We started doing it in 2011 just for fun, as a group, to read more scripts in a low-key setting, and we opened it up to the public," said Daly, secretary of MCP.

After a couple of years, personal matters, including new babies and new jobs, sidelined several key organizers, resulting in a long hiatus.

A few months ago, they decided to revisit the program. "We thought, now is a good time to pick it up," Daly said. "We're starting to coalesce as a group again, and we want to bring our profile up without engaging in difficult projects, as we don't have a space for full-scale productions at this point. But we want to keep active in the community. It seemed like a good short-term solution."

"We're actively looking for a new home," DeGiorgis, MCP artistic director, said. "Having something like this that invites the community in allows us to keep fresh in their minds."

The evening's format is straightforward. Plays are chosen for the season, based on member suggestions. "This time 'round we decided to go with comedic plays," Daly said. "We just wanted to have some fun nights."

The series began in February with Larry Shue's "The Foreigner," and is scheduled to continue with Oscar Wilde's classic "The Importance of Being Earnest" on March 19 (please check ahead due to possible COIVD-19 precautions). A sing-along reading of "Mary Poppins" is slated for April 16, and the season concludes May 21 with Noel Coward's "Private Lives."

Scripts are provided, and casting takes place after all participants arrive, with a short discussion of what the play is about.

"There's usually a printout sheet of what each character is and a quick synopsis," Daly said.

Board members and regulars happily offer newcomers first choice of roles, with substantial parts often split between several readers. Gender assignments are flexible, based upon attendance.

A break midway through the reading allows for role changes and refreshments.

Those who prefer not to read are always welcome as audience participants.

The next show, "The Importance of Being Earnest," will be a lot of fun, Daly said. An upper-crust English comedy full of disguised identities, misunderstandings and family secrets, it includes one of Oscar Wilde's most iconic characters, fearsome Lady Bracknell.

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Previous readings have been preceded by a potluck supper — hence the event name, "Potluck and a Play" — with contributions, such as chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, and brownies. In light of current health advisories, however, only food, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages for personal consumption are allowed until further notice.

Readings take place in the former Firehouse Cafe on Park Street, an old firehouse occupied by the non-profit Adams Anthony Center as a meeting place and event venue.

DeGiorgis, a longtime high school biology teacher in the local school district, regularly came into contact with students interested in theater. Twenty years ago, when the actor playing Aunt Em in her daughter's school production of "The Wizard of Oz" had to withdraw, DeGiorgis was approached about stepping into the role — something she had never done before. She took the plunge.

"I ended up falling in love [with acting] and getting bitten by the bug," she said.

Shortly after she helped create MCP with fellow founding members and former high school students Michael Grogan, Marissa Carlson and Liz Urban, planning its future at meetings in a local coffee shop.

"Our mission was to bring affordable theater to communities that don't have access to it," she said.

After initially renting halls in area churches, in 2008 MCP moved into its own theater space in Building 4 in Heritage State Park in North Adams. A decade later, a proposed model railroad museum at the site prompted MCP to vacate the space on its own schedule and put stage equipment and materials into storage.

"We needed some downtime," said Daly, a Ph.D. candidate, former fine arts and theater major, and county-wide box office professional.

"At our height," Daly said, "we were doing a straight play, a musical, a kids' show, a cabaret and a holiday show. I look back and think, 'How did we do that?' "

"And we were all working full-time jobs," DeGiorgis added.

MCP currently has a multi-generational core membership of around two dozen.

Nowadays, along with smaller projects, they continue to stage the musical cabaret every summer around July 4 — essentially a week-long intensive "theater camp" experience for grown-ups. Around 20 people participate, including teachers on the long summer break.

"It's so much fun, and we get the same people coming back year after year," DeGiorgis said.

The popular cabaret remains an important fundraiser for the group, augmented by donations and the occasional grant.

As they look for a new long-term location for stage productions, MCP would like to remain in North County. "We've lost a lot of community theater groups in this area," DeGiorgis said.

Hopefully, next season's "Potluck and a Play" series will see them reading in their own space.


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