by Mark G. Auerbach
Spotlight: Berkshire Theatre Group’s Education Programs
by Mark G. Auerbach
Our creative economy in Western Massachusetts is anchored by some major performing and visual arts non-profits, who do so much more that provide entertainment. Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) is one, with performances and programs in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, MA. BTG is one of the majors, with a $3.4 million budget. Approximately $2.4 million of the annual budget touches community outreach and education directly or indirectly. The number of programs and participants is staggering.
Each year, BTG presents two community productions–last year, it was Beauty and The Beast and A Christmas Carol. Professional directors and musical directors put the shows together. Fifty local adults and children were featured in A Christmas Carol; this year’s musical, The Music Man, will feature over 100 locals. 4,000 people came to see A Christmas Carol; 5,000 showed up for Beauty and The Beast. BTG just took a touring production of Danny Dollar into 27 schools for 37 performances, reaching 7,360 kids. The BTG school performances reached over 2,000 students; 50 kids joined the BTG school vacation programs, and 100 will study theatre this summer. And, 75 interns and apprentices join BTG for on-the-job training in acting, production, stage management, administration, and technical theatre.
As Allison Rachele Bayles, BTG’s Administrative Director of Education explains, “We offer education programs for children, teens, and adults in the hopes that they will value theatre and see its opportunities for communication and creativity. The original Berkshire Theatre Festival was founded in 1928, and by 1929, there was an apprentice education program. Jane Wyatt and Katherine Hepburn were part of that in the early years.
Other now recognized theatre talents have emerged from BTG education programs. Tara Franklin, a major presence in regional theatre, was an acting apprentice in 1997. She returns to BTG as a master teacher, and will star in Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo (Zoo Story) this season. Rylan Morsbach, a young actor from South Hadley, worked with Eric Hill onstage in The Homecoming, and later played “Ben” in the BTG production of Fiorello, which moved Off-Broadway. He returns to BTG to star in The Music Man. Michael Wartella, another young actor who grew up in the Pittsfield theatre scene, got noticed at Goodspeed in Chasing Rainbows. He’s co-staring on Broadway in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory with Christian Borle. Still, others have gone on to study theatre, work backstage, start their own companies, or become arts patrons in the cities where they work and live.
Bayles says that there are diverse education programs that reach out to people of all ages in Western Massachusetts, from “talkbacks” with actors and directors after a performance, to an actual community opportunity being a part of the companys community productions–The Music Man and A Christmas Carol this year. Bayles spends a lot of time in tandem with the BTG development people to find funds for the program. “We get some government support, grants and foundation funds, and individual and corporate contributions”, says Bayles. “In a region with a rich creative economy base, we’ve found start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurs who want to collaborate and partner, whether it’s providing printing, computer support, or desserts for an event.”
BTG’s “family” serve as mentors to the program. Eric Hill, former Artistic Director of StageWest, and a master director and teacher at UConn and Brandeis, works with acting professionals and first-timers. Educator Travis Daly directs community productions, and brings Berkshire County high schools to The Colonial to showcase the best of their musicals. Jazz Ensembles of Mount Holyoke’s Mark Gionfriddo works as music director for community shows.
BTG is not unique in providing a diverse educational component to its cultural portfolio. Shakespeare and Company, Jacob’s Pillow, Barrington Stage, The UMass Fine Arts Center and The Springfield Symphony also believe in education programs. But, Berkshire Theatre Group’s is one of the most diverse.
For details on BTG’s Education Programs. https://www.berkshiretheatregroup.org/education
Keep in Mind…
Next To Normal is one of TheaterWorks’ big hits, and Hartford’s hot ticket. It’s been held over through May 14. For my Westfield News Group review: http://thewestfieldnews.com/review-next-normal-theaterworks. For details: 860-527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org
Lies You Can Believe In, Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s new contemporary ensemble series, returns to Real Art Ways in Hartford on
April 27. Carolyn Kuan leads a group of musicians who will perform in the galleries of the hip Hartford arts center, which is hosting the exhibit Nothing to Hide ? Art. Surveillance and Privacy. For details: www.hartfordsymphony.org.
Memories of Patsy: The Patsy Cline Tribute Show visits Springfield’s City Stage as part of its national tour on April 22. Courtney Shayne, backed up by a quintet, perform over two dozen Cline hits including: Crazy, Walkin’ After Midnight, I Fall to Pieces, and She’s Got You. For details: 413-788-7033 or www.citystage.symphonyhall.com
Songs From The Heart, an evening of cabaret with Linda Mironti and Bobby Peaco, is the second of three cabaret performances produced under the auspices of Westfield on Weekends,April 28 at the Westfield Senior Center. Mironti spent ten years performing on Italian television. Peaco has graced the club and cabaret circuit of New York City with nine MAC awards and six Backstage Bistro Awards to his credit. For details: 413- 579-5967 or www.westfieldonweekends.com
Shrek The Musical, based on the DreamWorks animated film, closes the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s season at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the UConn campus in Storrs, CT. Margarett Perry directs; John Pike is Music Director, and Will Mann stars as Shrek. Performances run through April 30. For details: 860-486-2113 or www.crt.uconn.edu.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.