Berkshire Fall Arts Preview 2007

Theater - Dance - Music - Film - Visual Arts

By: - Sep 01, 2007

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The TV and film actors who make their summer homes in the Berkshires are gone, the dancers have begun digging out their favorite frayed leg warmers, and the last truck bearing musical scores and instruments has made it safely back to Symphony Hall from Tanglewood. Summer may not be officially over, but for the Berkshires, the drop in arts activity is noticeable.

The fading summer days have always signaled more limited offerings but three of the region's most gifted artistic directors will keep things humming right into the fall. What did we do to deserve the brilliance of Julianne Boyd (Barrington Stage Company), Tina Packer (Shakespeare and Company)  and Kate Maguire (Berkshire Theater Festival)? They have been pushing the edges of the important Summer season into the Fall and Spring, and those of us who live in the Berkshire are the beneficiaries.

A "shoulder" season has emerged.  Encouraged by the growing number of arts lovers who have made the Berkshires their year-round home and supplemented by the urban warriors who return each weekend to rest and recharge, the arts are beginning to evolve into a year-round business.

In time, even the most dour nay-sayers will have to acknowledge that Mayor Rubino of Pittsfield, and Mayor Barrett of North Adams were on the ball when they saw culture as the engine of choice for economic growth. For every dollar spent in a theater or gallery, other ones rain on the local restaurants, shops and lodging operations. Old houses are snapped up at affordable prices, get refurbished and the new occupants become active in the community. Or at least try to. The old ways die hard.

In any case we have a lot to look forward to this fall, so let's start with the offerings from the Berkshire's Three Great Ladies of Theatre!

Barrington Stage Company - A Top Pick

From October 3 to 21 "The World Goes 'Round" promises to be an unabashedly enthusiatic celebration of Broadway music. The prolific Broadway songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb worked together even longer than Rogers and Hammerstein.  Their collaborations include:

The Happy Time  (1968)
Zorba (1968)
70 Girls 70
Chicago (1975).
The Act (1978)
The Rink (1984)
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993)
Steel Pier (1997)
The Skin of Our Teeth
Woman of the Year  (1981)
Funny Lady (1975)

This musical revue will spotlight unforgettable songs from Cabaret, Chicago, New York, New York and others. Julianne Boyd will direct with the sort of fun and razzmatazz we have come to expect from her gifted company.

Barrington Stage took a big risk when it moved their company to Pittsfield from Sheffield. The bold vision of Boyd and her visionary Board of Directors led to the company's renovation of a former 1912 vaudeville house, a move as risky as wise. There is the matter of a mortgage to pay.

Compared to the opulence of the Colonial Theater, the venue is somewhat plain, but when Julianne is at work and the curtain goes up, it excels in every other aspect. The theater is remarkably intimate, boasts great sight lines,  and very comfortable seating.  The company makes very creative, almost magical, utilization of limited production space. Best of all, its audience has grown, as has the length of its season and the diversity of its offerings.

If you have not yet visited this company, this Kander and Ebb treat is a fine appetizer to begin with. Hopefully you'll be back for their full menu of substantial offerings next season! At the height of the season they have three productions running at once - The Main Stage, the Bill Finn Musical Theatre Lab and a talented company of locals who gave us one spirited "High School Musical."

Barrington Stage 413-236-8888 (Box Office)
30 Union Street, Pittsfield

Berkshire Theatre Festival

The BTF's smaller Unicorn Theatre lends itself to the details of "Educating Rita". Based on Shaw's Pygmalian, the bittersweet Willy Russell comedy features two local favorites, the immensely talented Jonathan Epstein, and a homegrown 31 year old treasure, Tara Franklin. Epstein was brilliant in the company's earlier production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest," and his role as Frank will also linger in your memory. The direction is by Richarrd Corley, and I will say that the scene changes have been quite cleverly managed.

The production made its initial debut in August, but is slated for an extended run from September 27 to October 20.  Busy people are grateful for the second chance. Leaf peepers too, I hear.

Founded in 1928, Berkshire Theatre Festival is the longest-running cultural organization in the Berkshires.  Now under the helm of Artistic Director Kate Maguire - who also excelled as an actress in The Glass Menagerie - and Administrative Producer M.  Edgar Rosenblum, BTF presents theatre that matters—world premieres, contemporary works, and classics that speak to who we are in our world today.

I particularly admire them for having tackled the rarely produced "Love, Valour, Compassion" in July, complete with "tasteful" nudity. Not only did it give the growing Berkshire gay community a reason to get out more, it was wonderful theater. My theater partner Shirley thought it the best play of the Summer, though I have to declare a tie, the highly authentic Barrington Stage production of "West Side Story" having won my heart. I saw the original Broadway production 50 years ago and found the BSC recreation so true to the original that I actually returned for a second performance. My only quibble: more strings in the pit orchestra were desperately needed to fill out the sound. (I know, I know...and someone to pay for them, too.)

Speaking of the past Summer's musicals, the Weston Playhouse's production of "Hairspray" had the incredible energy level of a Steppenwolf production. I swear they could have shut down Vermont Nuclear during the performance, There was enough power on that stage to light up the whole state.

The Berkshires are sizzling, but we all would be well advised to keep an eye on the doings up there, too.

Berkshire Theatre Festival 413-298-5576
Main Street, Stockbridge

Shakespeare and Company

I am not sure if I like Tina Packer more as a person, a performer or a producer. She excels at all three and that she has chosen to make the Berkshires her home is a gift we should all treasure. This fall we will have to share her with other communities and countries, but she does not travel far without leaving us something to contemplate.

That being the "Secret of Sherlock Holmes". Commissioned by Jeremy Britt as part of the 1987 Holmes Centenary celebration, this mystery is on the docket in the Founder's Theatre from September 28 to October 28. With Michael Hammond as Holmes and Dave Demke as Dr. Watson, fans of the mystery genre will have much to figure out in this retelling of the inviolate friendship at 221B Baker Street.

Mystery, action, secrets, and the best of the Sherlockian canon  will come to life once again, including a visit from the arch-villain Professor Moriarity and a replay of Holmes' demise. With such ingredients, how can this production fail!

Shakespeare and Company 413-637-1224
70 Kemble Street, Lenox

South Mountain Concerts

Since 1918 the early fall air has been filled with music from South Mountain Concerts. They consistently present some of the finest chamber music available in a historic and properly scaled historic 440 seat concert hall. If I had to pick one, it would be the season's final performance. The Saint Lawrence String Quartet is known for their hot-blooded performances, so the October outing with the legendary Menahem Pressler promises to be very exciting.

These concerts often sell out, and even reserved seats can be in short supply if you delay too long, so make arrangements early. They will take phone reservations and call back if tickets are available.

Sunday, September 9 - Takacs String Quartet
Sunday, September 16 - Emerson String Quartet
Sunday, September 30 - Juilliard String Quartet
Sunday, October 7 - Saint Lawrence String Quartet and Menahem Pressler, Piano

South Mountain Concerts 413-442-2106
South Street Rtes 7 & 20

Colonial Theater - Music 

This beautifully restored gem of a theater is offering its usual eclectic array of year-round performances, and is clearly a welcome addition to the Berkshire arts scene. It also provides endless excuses to explore Pittsfield's booming international restaurant scene.

I look forward to Arlo Guthrie's Solo Reunion Tour on November 16,  and have a story to share, the statute of limitations having expired long ago.

"Alice's Restaurant" was opening in Boston at the old Cheri Theater Complex. Guthrie was also performing that evening at Harvard Stadium, and getting him from the gig to the opening on time was my job.  I arranged for a limo and a police escort to accomplish the task. As we rode along Storrow Drive, Guthrie insisted the motorcycle escorts turn on their sirens, and broke into a devilish grin as they did so. "I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time," he said as he lit up a joint.

It was a supreme moment of irony.

Back to work. Folk singer, musician, and composer Arlo Guthrie gave his first solo concert way back in 1961 and has been on a remarkable musical journey ever since. In 1967, he penned nothing less than a cultural touchstone, "Alice's Restaurant," his bitingly satirical protest against the Vietnam War draft, and two years later, he appeared at the seminal Woodstock music festival.

Over the last four decades, Guthrie has toured the world, winning a broad and dedicated following. He has rarely performed alone since those Woodstock days, but now he hits the road solo, playing the piano, six- and twelve-string guitar, harmonica, and a dozen other instruments, with hilarious tales and anecdotes woven seamlessly into his performance. "Guthrie is philosophical in a naturally funny and folksy way and, as with great storytellers such as Will Rogers and even his own father, he always manages to pluck a gem from a lot of dirt" (Los Angeles Times).

Colonial Theater - Dance

If you love spectacle, the colorful and spirited Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez is a best bet on October 21.  The company is considered a living museum of the folk traditions of Mexico, with an immense repertoire of brilliant dance, hot music and gorgeous costumes. Hernandez began traveling with her company of 50 half a decade ago, and hasn't stopped since. She is to Mexico what Alicia Alonzo is to Cuba, a prima ballerina assoluta..

With such a huge troupe of dancers and musicians, this company will look great on the Colonial's large stage. This is one production that might be as delightful to see from the balcony as from the floor. A very good choice for families.

Of course, this is one show that will require dinner at Pancho's, La Fogata or Hot Harry's in Pittsfield.  I prefer the family run Pancho's though any one of the three would be in keeping with the event..

Order early. This is going to sell out.

Colonial Theatre 413-448-8084
111 South Street

Visual Arts - North Adams Open Studios

Last October saw the first tentative steps for this effort, and it was so enjoyable that it is being reprised, expanded and enlarged for 2007. Scheduled for the weekend of October 13-14, this is a chance to visit the lofts, galleries and studios where our local artists work and sweat.

The website linked below has a good retrospective on last year's Open Studios, and hosts an enticing preview of what you will be able to see - and buy! - this year. The list of participating artists is truly impressive. There is a free shuttle bus between the downtown galleries on Main and Eagle Streets and the many artist studios and galleries. Venues include the Eclipse Mill Artist Lofts, Historic Windsor Milll, Heritage State Park and others. All told 75+ artists and upwards of a thousand works of art will be featured. The event is supported by the Cultural Council of the Northern Berkshires which is state funded and locally supported.

Note: A few of the artists are perplexed by the Mayor's hostility to installing park benches downtown due to problems shopkeepers had two decades ago. Keep your eye out for sketches of sidewalk furniture ideas, and a new underground publication too, as the North Adams "battle of the benches" continues to escalate. All I can say is make sure some are placed in the shade!

North Adams Open Studios
General Information 413-664-8085
Various locations

Mass MoCA - Theater

"9 Parts of Desire" is a revelatory solo show -- combining contemporary, political and feminist issues with both the ordinary and extraordinary of daily life. It played for a remarkable nine months in New York City. It was created in London in 2003 and hailed as a bold work of theater, dealing with a succession of characters: Iraqi women, sexy artists, and radical communists. The conflicts grow out of situations which you would expect to find in a war zone, but others are far more personal, the conflicts that grow within ourselves at such times. Unlike the New York run, there will be one performance only, on December 1.

Mass MoCA - Exhibits

On October 20 Mass MoCa will become the new home (albeit temporary) for a selection of monumental works by Anselm Kiefer. Included is the enormous concrete sculpture Etroits sont les Vaisseaux, which will snake down the center of the gallery.

KidSpace will host "It's Rude to Stare", a collection of drawings and sculpture by Richard Criddle, opening October 4.  The collection includes six larger-than-life sculptures of people who scared Criddle the artist when he was a boy.

So much happens at Mass MoCA that a visit to their website is a monthly ritual for me. However, it is worth noting that expansion of their huge campus is always on their minds, and so we welcomed the news of a future collaboration with the Clark Art Institute.

The Clark and MoCA have had a long and happy relationship, dating back to the initial installation of bio-sculpture Tree Logic. Clark is looking at three buildings to lease, including Building 12 which has the big sign atop it. Scheduled for completion by 2011, there is a lot of work to be done to create a conceptual package that serves both institutions well. Clark's Director Michael Conforti and Mass MoCA's Joe Thompson deserve support and encouragement in their efforts.

We also hail the less publicized Mass MoCA-Yale University Art Gallery collaboration which will convert a three-story 27,000 square foot building in the heart of the campus to house a long-term exhibition titled Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, which will feature 50 monumental wall drawings created by the artist from 1968-2007.

The project will take place in Building 7 and some 75% of the needed renovation funds have been raised to date. The building and exhibition are scheduled to open in Fall 2008.

North Adams Mayor John Barrett III has supported these initiatives. "The concept of a 'museum within a museum' is full of color and visual excitement, and will greatly increase visitation to our city, and further enhance the economic impact of MASS MoCA," he said.

Synergy is a wonderful thing.

Mass MoCA - Jacob's Pillow Dance

MoCA's performing arts series is always interesting and innovative.  On October 6 and 7 they welcome Karole Armitage and her company in a co-presentation with Jacob's Pillow.

Known for the stunning originality and beauty of her work, she is the founder of Armitage Gone! Dance, a company whose poetic dream-like productions combine new dance, music and art -- a unique vision of ballet technique wedded to the modernist vocabulary. They'll perform two recent works: "Ligeti Essays", a suite of concise, jewel-like movements choreographed to music by the Hungarian composer György Ligeti; and "Time Is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood" which the New York Times called "one of the most beautiful dances to be seen in New York in a very long time." David Salle's set for Ligeti Essays was described in the Times as "breathtakingÂ…it takes on the look of a remote icy pond in the middle of a dream".

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art 413-662-2111
87 Marshall Street
North Adams

Buchel Controversy

On September 21, perhaps the most compelling Mass MoCA event of the year will occur. It will only take a few minutes, or could last for hours. It will have limited seating, and no applause will be allowed.

It is the next couple of events in the lawsuit by MASS MoCA against Christoph Büchel. The Court will take a view of the pertinent parts of Buchel's work at MASS MoCA's facilities on September 18th.

Motions will and/or have been filed by both parties, and on September 21st the Court will make an effort to rule on any dispositive motions made by either side from the bench. This could be dry as dust or as fascinating as the controversy itself. Hard to preduct. A dispositive motion is a motion seeking a trial court order entirely disposing of one or more claims in favor of the moving party without need for further trial court proceedings. "To dispose" of a claim means to decide the claim in favor of one or another party.

This should be one of the more fascinating moments of the fall for arts observers.

If you are unfamiliar with this artist vs. museum battle, here is an earlier article by Charles Giuliano.

Gallery at North Adams Antiques

As someone who likes to walk through the forests and hills surrounding our daily lives, I had a personal reaction to a very small and understated exhibit, one that has struck a chord within me. Henry Klein is a native of these parts, and mounted a modest exhibit of paintings at a relatively new North Adams shop, owned and operated by residents Jeff and Jane Hudson.

Titled, "Plain Aire Intime" his works will be on display through September, and are landscapes, but not of the panoramic variety. Rather, they are smaller studies, capturing the sort of close-up details I would admire in a bubbling brook tumbling over rocks scattered like yarrow sticks, replete with mysterious specularities and shadows that undulate and shimmer in the water. His simple work captures both the dynamic tension and tranquility of the Berkshires, showing how well the yin/yang of nature can live on canvas. I imagine more than one of his works will end up in a special place at someone's office or home as a reminder of places to revisit and promises to keep.

Small galleries in retail shops are to be encouraged for the transcendenetal moments they bring customers, and the ancillary income and exposure they can produce for artists.

Note: You too can explore the world of plein-air landscape painting with John McDonald sponsored by the Clark Art Institute in collaboration with Northern Berkshire Creative Arts. There is a fee. Class dates are September 22 and 29 and October 6 and 13. Call 413-663-8338 for more info. The classes are inspired by the works of Monet, Pissarro and others at the Clark, and will be held outdoors, weather permitting.

North Adams Antiques 413-662-2221
49 Main Street
North Adams

Note: There is only a short time left to see "The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings" at the Clark. The special exhibit closes on September 16.

Clark Art Institute 413-458-2303
225 South Street

MCLA Gallery 51

The Mass College of Liberal Arts under the leadership of Mary K. Grant, President, has created an innovative arts outpost on Main Street in North Adams. It could be mistaken as just another gallery which features lots of local artists.  It deserves applause for that. But it is more than a gallery. It is a meeting hall, a classroom, even a performing space. I have been to performances, readings and other cultural and public events there.

Arts Management Workshops

I participated in a series of arts seminars and workshops last Fall in a makeshift classroom they set up amongst the art. It was a wonderful experience, and Jonathan Secor, MCLA's Director of Special Programs,  deserves a round of applause for his insight, as does the College for supporting it wholeheartedly.

I just got word that this educational series will continue again this year.  It features workshops  in non-profit management, delivered by leaders and
working professionals from the arts-rich Berkshire region and beyond.

The nine-week seminar series will run every Tuesday, Sept. 18 - Nov. 13,
from 12 to 2 p.m. at MCLA Gallery 51. For more info, call Veronica Bosley, Berkshire Cultural Resource Center's  program coordinator at 413-663-5253. Or go to:

Secor's previous job was as performing arts impresario for Mass MoCA.  He knows what attracts audiences and what does not.  Mayor Barrett is fortunate to have resources like Secor and many others to explore the Mohawk Theater's future role in the community, its shared use and potential programming. It would be a shame if theater restoration "experts" from out of town made all the plans, spent all the money and the actual users found it inadequate or unaffordable. The arts community should have serious input into the planning process to be sure that a practical and flexible venue is created.

Still, theaters are only the jewel boxes, the jewels are what the artists create inside them.


Here are some of the scheduled Gallery 51 openings over the next few months. Drop by and see the future of North Adams in microcosm. Receptions are held from about 5 to 7 PM.

September 27 - MCC Grant Winners 2006 exhibit of paintings. In collaboration with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, this exhibition will celebrate the diversity and creativity of painting in Massachusetts today.

October 25 - Leon Peters Retrospective. MCLA's Graphic Designer has been at it for 37 years and created an immensely diverse and colorful body of work.

November 29 - The MySpace Show. Yes, Gallery 51 has a MySpace page with hundreds of friends whose contributions will beam down from cyber-space to the walls of a physical gallery.

Gallery 51 - 413-664-8717
51 Main Street
North Adams

Williamstown Film Festival

The much buzzed 'Grace is Gone" is one of the first films to be announced for the Williamstown Film Festival which runs from October 25 to November 4.  Starring John Cusack it won a couple of awards at Sundance, and is likely to be the biggest commercial success from that festival. It tells the story of loss in the Iraq war, but in a way that is human and deeply touching, yet not political. Also on the docket, in collaboration with MASS MoCA is the classic silent film Nosferatu, with an original score by the popular Alloy Orchestra.  I find these film-music events to be highly creative and oddly hypnotic. Lots of other interesting things are TBA in late September, so a later visit to their website is advised.

The WFF is a solid festival under the long time leadership of many Williamstown notables, most particularly Bob Ware, President of their Board and dedicated veteran of the annual scramble to find the most promising films. Season passes are already on sale.

Williamstown Film Festival  413-458-9700
Images Cinema, Mass MoCA and other locations
Williamstown and North Adams

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I hope this somewhat personal look at the coming months has been helpful and perhaps pointed you towards some events you might have overlooked. It is by no means complete. If you haven't yet signed up for e-mail notification of new Berkshire Fine Arts articles, why not do so now? You'll get lots of interesting news in your mailbox and no spam. Promise.