Berskshire ‘Godspell’ opens as a test for COVID-era theater – Los Angeles Times

Nicholas Edwards in Berkshire Theatre Group’s “Godspell” production designed for the COVID-19 era. (Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware)

Can in-person theater return, safely, now? This ‘Godspell’ is the test case

Read the article at the Los Angeles Times

By JOSH GETLIN – <em>Los Angeles Times</em>

PITTSFIELD, MASS. — Prepare ye.

It’s a musical theater production like no other, in a summer season like no other.

Masked audience members had their temperatures taken. Actors had their noses swabbed three times a week during rehearsals.

Now, opening night for Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell” is finally here. Except not in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s 780-seat Colonial Theatre but in a 100-seat tent in a parking lot next door, with plenty of room to breathe easy.

You want a program? Look it up on your phone. Same for your tickets. And please don’t get up from your socially distanced folding chair until intermission.

Welcome to COVID-19 theater. Although the pandemic has taken a brutal toll on live performance, darkening Broadway and canceling regional shows from coast to coast, the Berkshire Theatre Group’s gutsy production of “Godspell” in Massachusetts has a unique distinction: It is the only musical in the U.S. approved by Actors’ Equity, the union representing 51,000 actors and stage managers.

For the artists, it’s a brave new world. (Full disclosure: My daughter is in the cast.) They perform six feet apart in the musical about Jesus and his disciples, flanked by plexiglass shields on wheels that protect them and the audience as they sing. For good measure, in their pockets they also have masks, which they put on periodically during the show.

In their 20s and early 30s, the 10 cast members have been quarantined in a house less than a block away. They never touch onstage, a predicament that veteran Broadway choreographer Gerry McIntyre has dubbed “choreography with a condom.”

So how did they go on with the show, in a season when so many other theaters folded their tents?

“The idea of a summer in the Berkshires without any kind of culture was just not acceptable,” said Lee Perlman, a New York healthcare executive and copresident of the Berkshire company’s board, who spearheaded the bid for Equity approval. “I thought it was important to see if a new model could be created, as this is not a short-term situation we’re facing. It seemed intellectually lazy not to try and make this work.”

If it does, the new production of “Godspell,” a much-loved 1971 musical by the composer of “Wicked,” with the book by John-Michael Tebelak, may offer eventually an outdoor model for live theater in California and elsewhere.

“The message is that theater can still happen with more than one person on a stage at a time, and it can happen before a [COVID-19] vaccine,” said Kate Shindle, Actors’ Equity president.

So far, audiences seem confident to return. The company characterized advance ticket sales as strong for the show, which runs through Sept. 4.

Getting to opening night was a struggle, however, because the union initially nixed the “Godspell” proposal. Undeterred, Kate Maguire, the Berkshire Theatre Group’s chief executive and artistic director, argued that her production met state and Equity guidelines for opening a show, including strict protocols for masking, testing and social distancing.

Crucially, Berkshire County — a rural area with about 125,000 residents that’s home to the Tanglewood festival — has an infection rate hovering at 1.2%. But the key to winning approval was a 30-page manual that Maguire wrote to protect performers and audiences.

“We worked collaboratively with Equity and showed that we could do this,” she said. “We couldn’t just throw up our hands and do nothing. I wouldn’t be dismissed.”

The union’s green light for her show as well as a one-man play by the Barrington Stage Company (another Pittsfield troupe) came in July. That gave “Godspell” less than four weeks until Friday’s opening, a high-stakes pressure cooker for everyone involved.

The production, suddenly attracting national media attention, is set during the pandemic. And the actors have forged a remarkable bond.

“I’ve never seen a cast so together, so dedicated,” said Emily Koch, whose Broadway credits include “Wicked” and the national tour of “Waitress.” “We’ve run through lines together as a group even in hours when we’re not working. That doesn’t happen a lot in professional theater.”

Driven by a folk-rock score, “Godspell” tells the story of 10 people whose lives are in chaos, and their search for community through love and understanding.

From its rousing opener,“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” an old story is told in new ways: Director Alan Filderman stages a socially-distanced crucifixion with Jesus extending his arms, as rose petals fall from his dying hands.

Near the end, Jesus sings “Beautiful City,” a heartbreakingly beautiful anthem that Schwartz updated with new lyrics after the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

“It was another time when there was great anger and division, which led to great destruction,” he said, quoting some of the lyrics: “‘We can give up bitter and battered, or we can start to build a beautiful city.’

“We’ve had the vision, strength and courage to do that before in America,” said Schwartz, who plans to attend the show. “I have to believe we still do.”

Plan Your Visit

Read our suggestions on where to dine, and where to hang your hat.

Get Started
Did You Know?
Just like NPR, Berkshire Theatre Group depends on the generous giving of its members!
Join Today!
We believe the performing arts can transform a community.
Learn More
Of the 16,000 Berkshire County school children, we serve 13,000 through our BTG PLAYS! Year-Round Educational Programs.
Learn More
Theatre is the place where we go to understand what lies in the human heart.
About Us
BTG's buildings, on two campuses in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, are historic treasures.
Theatre Info
Berkshire Theatre Group believes that the creative arts encourage freedom of speech and debate.
Get Involved
"Out of need will come the way. Once the pandemic ebbs, whenever that is, there will be an incredible need to gather again." - Artistic Director, Kate Maguire
Join Today!
The theatre has existed from the time of the Greeks. We will go on.
Learn More
Join Our Mailing List

Receive the latest BTG News, Updates, Special Offers, and more right to your inbox.

Subscribe

News & Articles

From the Archives: Two Dead Crows

By: Scout Swonger (They/Them/Theirs) As the spookiest of days approaches and everyone is getting into the Halloween spirit with jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, and graves about the yard, we at BTG are … Read On

Have you heard about #GivingTuesday? Giving Tuesday reimagines a world built upon shared humanity and generosity. 🌍 Over the next couple of weeks we will share some of our favorite ways to participate in the movement and how you can be a part of Giving Tuesday by donating to Berkshire Theatre Group! How will you join the movement?
16 0
Voting is open for Broadway World’s 2022 Regional Awards! Follow the link and drop your vote for Berkshire Theatre Group! 📩
.
link in bio!
35 0
Our very own Kate Maguire hosted Governor-Elect Maura Healey as she met with Berkshire County Lawmakers at BTG's Colonial Theatre on Thursday!
.
link in bio for the full story!
80 2
On behalf of everyone at Berkshire Theatre Group, we want to say thank you to everyone, past and present, who has served our nation.
26 0
When the audience asks for it, you give an encore! 👏 Due to popular demand, we are extending our Theatre Pass deadline for ONE week! Hurry- this offer now ends November 18th!
.
link in bio!
14 0
Don’t forget to vote for Berkshire Theatre Group! ✔ BTG has been nominated for Awards in the categories of Live Music Venue, Live Theatre, and Performance Space. You can vote every day until November 14
.
link in bio!
19 0
🎵There is no doubt that this show will have you strolling down memory lane and tapping your toes to some of your favorite tunes! Grab your tickets today and join us for the final performance of the show, back where it all began at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA.
.
Link in bio!
20 0
🎸Whoooa! We’re halfway there! 🤘Don’t forget to grab your tickets to BonJourney for November 12th! This high-energy show has sold out the last two times it’s been in town and we can’t wait for another night of rock! 
.
Check the link in our bio for tickets!
16 0
⏰There are 6 days left to purchase your passes! Visit the link in our bio and grab yours today! 🙌🏼
20 0
⛷We are back with Warren Miller’s 73rd annual ski and snowboard film, “Daymaker”! Whether you’re joining us for the first time or coming back for a yearly tradition, the fun is guaranteed to be extreme! 🏂 How many Warren Miller films have you seen? Comment below!

Ticket link in bio!
16 0
BTG has won Best of the Berkshires for Best Live Theatre! 🎉
63 2
We are so excited to announce The Things I Cannot Change: A Staged Reading in Collaboration with the Roundabout Theatre Company! 

This staged reading will take place at the Unicorn on November 6 at 2pm. Tickets are free; a $10-$20 donation is suggested.
21 0
The holidays will be here before you know it! 👀🎄🎁

Back by popular demand after this summer’s hit “Smokey and Me: A Celebration of Smokey Robinson”, Charl Brown returns to the Colonial with The Doo Wop Project featuring stars from Broadway hits Jersey Boys, Motown: The Musical and A Bronx Tale! Ticket link in bio! 
.
.
.
#theatre #broadway #doowop #holiday #intheberkshires #charlbrown
23 2
Your favorite annual film tradition is back, this November 3 at the Colonial! ❄️ Warren Miller's 73rd annual ski and snowboard film DAYMAKER will take you on a journey to peaks that replace the mountains in your mind with ones that free your mind. 

Ticket link in bio!
14 0
It's Time To Vote! ✨The Rural Intelligence Voting Round is now LIVE! BTG has been nominated for Awards in Arts Organization, Live Music Venue, Live Theatre and Performance Space.

 You can vote every day until November 14! Link in bio 🗳
21 0
Join us for the annual celebration that crosses generations and connects us to the comforting constant of snow with Warren Miller’s 73rd annual ski and snowboard film, Daymaker, November 3 at the Colonial! ❄️☀️⛷🏂

More info and ticket link in bio!
19 0
Announcing a limited time offer: A Three Show Theatre Pass for $120! Hurry– this offer ends November 11!link in bio! 

📷: @ekrwcreative
25 0
This error message is only visible to WordPress admins
Error: Connected account for the user berkshiretheatregroup does not have permission to use this feed type.
Follow Us