Posted on May 10, 2022Written by Jaclyn C. Stevenson
Berkshire Performing Arts Venues Re-emerge on the Scene with New Perspectives
Emerging from unprecedented times with guarded joy, four theaters in the Berkshires are embarking on widely diverse seasons that, nevertheless, hold some through lines.
The names Tony, Pulitzer, and Obie appear often, but so does the phrase World Premiere. New titles shelved due to pandemic closures have returned, poised to take shape in theaters that are also raising the lights for the first time in more than in two years.
On all stages, new ways of reaching audiences have evolved, and as in life, the changes continue. New venues have risen; others are in the midst of rejuvenation. New attention has been turned to the diversity of our world, and how the performing arts might best reflect it. And new leadership is on the horizon, while the wisdom of experience remains in the wings.
In every case, the results are clear. Berkshire theater has persisted, survived, and emerged – triumphant.
Berkshire theater is here.
Indeed, Barrington Stage Company of Pittsfield is on the precipice of its own sea change, as it embarks on Founding Artistic Director Julianne Boyd’s final season.
“It has been a glorious 27 years,” said Boyd, “and I look forward to a summer of superlative theater to fill the magical Berkshires nights.”
Opening in June on the Boyd-Quinson Stage, BSC will present a new adaptation of the 1978 Tony-award winner for Best Musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Fats Waller Musical Show from June 16 – July 9, followed by 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winner Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz July 16 – 30 – originally planned for the 2020 season, but canceled due to the pandemic.
BSC will celebrate the extraordinary life and career of the late Stephen Sondheim with a revival of his exquisite 1973 Tony Award-winning musical, A Little Night Music August 6 – 28, directed by Boyd, and conclude the Boyd-Quinson’s season with the world premiere of All of Me September 21 – October 9, a new play by Laura Winters and winner of the Burman New Play Award.
The Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center will reopen its doors after two seasons of silence due to the pandemic, with the world premiere of Andy Warhol in Iran June 2 – 25, a new play by Brent Askari, and continue with yet another world premiere: ABCD by May Treuhaft-Ali, July 1 – 23.
Following its 2020 premiere as a virtual reading, The Supadupa Kid, based on local author Ty Allan Jackson’s children’s book series, will be staged after a long, pandemic wait at The Youth Theatre July 29 – August 13.
BSC’s season concludes with a revival of Waiting for Godot August 19 – September 4, one of the great absurdist classics of the 20th-century by Samuel Beckett.
Berkshire Theatre Group, with theaters in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, is fast approaching a notable milestone. Formed through the merger of two of Berkshire County’s oldest cultural organizations, Berkshire Theatre Festival and The Colonial Theatre, BTG will celebrate its 100th-anniversary in 2028 and is currently in the midst of plans to honor the past and prepare for the future.
“A newly formed, 100th-anniversary committee will consider how to reach this milestone celebration and develop a home for the next hundred years of theatrical history to be created,” said BTG’s Artistic Director and Kate Maguire, noting that renovating BTG’s Playhouse in Stockbridge as part of developing plans.
BTG’s summer season features a Tony Award-winning musical, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and a world-premiere play, as well as the first musical penned by a Tony-award winner and a classic, Gothic tale for good measure.
BTG’s season begins on a high, musical note with the 2022 Colonial Concert Series: Featuring Broadway Luminaries. Tony-award-nominated song-and-dance man Tony Yazbeck kicks off the series on Saturday, May 28, with Tony-award-winner Chita Rivera appearing on Sunday, May 29, and Smokey & Me: A Celebration of Smokey Robinson featuring Tony-nominee Charl Brown on Saturday, July 30, all at The Colonial Theatre.
Once – the winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical, inspired by the Academy Award-winning film – will appear at The Colonial Theatre July 1 – July 16. From August 11 – 27, Bram Stoker’s Dracula takes the stage, with Tony- and Pulitzer Prize winning director David Auburn at the helm.
At The Unicorn Theatre, B.R.O.K.E.N code B.I.R.D switching by Tara L. Wilson Noth will have its world premiere June 23 – July 9, while Songs for a New World will present a series of songs composed by Tony Award-winning Jason Robert Brown July 21 –August 20. Edward Albee’s Seascape, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, closes The Unicorn’s season September 29 – October 23.
Shakespeare & Company celebrates its 45th year of theater in the Berkshires in 2022, with a season of both modern and classic titles, and the theme “Sigh no more…one foot in sea and one on shore,” chosen to symbolize an emergence from difficult times.
This season both opens and ends at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, shuttered for two years due to the pandemic, with The Approach by Mark O’Rowe, winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, May 6 – May 29. Performances will be presented both in-person and online via live stream and recorded broadcast.
Hymn by Lolita Chakrabarti, Charles Wintour Award-winner for Most Promising Playwright,
will be presented in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre July 22 – August 28, with Golden Leaf Rag Time Blues by Charles Smith – a play developed by American Blues Theatre Company and the HBO new writers workshop – closing Shakespeare & Company’s season with a September 23 -– October 30 run.
An Iliad, an adaptation of the epic poem by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, will be staged at the scaffold-and-canvas Tina Packer Playhouse June 3 – July 3. The Playhouse is also well-suited for Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure – a work with timely parallels as well as elements of comedy and tragedy – appearing August 19 – September 18.
Shakespeare’s celebratory Much Ado About Nothing takes the New Spruce Theatre stage, a 500- seat amphitheater constructed in Summer 2021, July 2 – August 14. Allyn Burrows, Shakespeare & Company’s Artistic Director, noted that 2022 will be The New Spruce Theatre’s first full season in operation, and like the Tina Packer Playhouse, was designed with history in mind.
“We’re thrilled that this venue can serve present and future generations of theater-lovers,” he said, noting that the stage pays homage to both Greek amphitheaters and the Company’s own history on the grounds at Edith Wharton’s The Mount in Lenox, Mass. “Now, Shakespeare’s words resonate among these spruce trees, as they have in the pines at The Mount, and the lilacs of our Roman Garden Theatre.”
Those lilacs will serve as backdrop to the cold-war-era’s A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing July 16 – September 4 at The Roman Garden Theatre. Depicting the relationship between two negotiators — one Russian, one American – A Walk in the Woods will close outdoor theater at the Company and herald a period of renovation on its campus.
The 2022 Williamstown Theatre Festival summer season, the Tony Award-winning theater company’s 68th, will be a return to indoor performances on the Main and Nikos Stages of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance at Williams College.
“We are thrilled to be returning to our home at Williams College,” said the Festival’s Interim Artistic Director Jenny Gersten. “While this homecoming marks the Festival’s return to a familiar setting, it does not mean a return to ‘the way things used to be.’ This season will feature the same artistic excellence audiences expect from the Festival, but we are in the process of evolving and reimagining the way we engage our community of artists and theater-makers. The season will feature three productions that I hope will intrigue and enthrall. We look forward to bringing joy this summer—to our audience, to our Festival community, to our generous hosts at Williams College, and to the local residents, all of whom support Williamstown Theatre Festival in bringing these shows to life.”
WTF’s season begins on the Nikos Stage with Man of God (July 5 – July 25), a new comedic thriller written by Anna Ouyang Moench, produced in association with Geffen Playhouse. Next up on the Nikos Stage is a tender autobiographical world premiere WTF commission titled we are continuous (August 2 – August 14), written by Harrison David Rivers.
The Main Stage bursts back to life with Most Happy in Concert (July 13 – July 31), an evocative new meditation on an American musical masterpiece from the director of Broadway’s boldly reimagined Tony Award-winning Oklahoma! Featuring songs from Frank Loesser’s magnificent and lush score for The Most Happy Fella, performed by a company of 20 actors and musicians, Most Happy in Concert draws on a broad range of musical genres, reinvigorating the musical form to evoke thrilling new ways to experience and connect with this stunning music—a deep dive into love, desire, isolation, and connection.
Additional programming, including the return of the [email protected] new play readings series, special one-night-only events, Sunday Lawn Talks, and more, will be announced in the coming weeks.
Of Community, Cast, and Crew
At all venues, work continues toward making theater more accessible for all, in all senses of the word. New ticket discounts have been devised for several populations, including frontline workers, active military, and Berkshire residents, and partnerships have been strengthened with programs such as the EBT Card to Culture, which offers discounted admissions to many cultural venues in the Commonwealth through a collaboration of the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Mass Cultural Council.
Strides have been made to make both theaters and the information that is shared with the community accessible to people of all abilities, through changes in seating plans, new assisted-listening technologies, ASL performances, sensory-friendly performances, and many other efforts. And Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility training continues across all Berkshire theaters, often in collaboration – designed to create new policies and resources, and to break down biases at the organizational level.
BTG’s Maguire summed up the work, and the many reasons why its pursued by theater-makers around the world, with a statement that ends in an invitation.
“We are more confident than ever in our belief that the theater is the place where we may all recognize our common humanity,” she said. “One decision can change the course of your life. Join us as we travel a new path together.”
Written by Jaclyn C. Stevenson