Live theater returns to the Berkshires in a changed world – The Boston Globe

Nicholas Edwards (center) as Jesus in the Berkshire Theater Group’s socially distanced production of “Godspell” in
Pittsfield. SARA KRULWICH/NEW YORK TIMES

Read the article at The Boston Globe

By Terry Byrne Globe correspondent

PITTSFIELD — The pre-show atmosphere in the outdoor theater tents in Pittsfield was subdued. Masked audience members were ushered to seats grouped together based on the number of people in their party. The gaps between those clumps of two, three, or four chairs was a healthy 6 feet or more Still many of the pre-theater rituals remained Staff encouraged the audience to visit the refreshment stand, musicians sat on their distanced stools and briefly warmed up. Friends exchanged waves of recognition from their seats.

“I was a little nervous,” said Kimberly Clark, who, with Tracey Aaronson, was attending a performance of Barrington Stage Company’s “Harry Clarke” last weekend in the parking lot of the former Polish Community Club. “I don’t know much about the play, but I read up on all the precautions the theater was taking and now that we are here, I feel like they’ve created a really safe environment.”

Ticket holders for Berkshire Theatre Group’s “Godspell” in the tent in the Colonial Theatre parking lot and “Harry Clarke” in the Tartell Family Outdoor Stage were greeted at the entrances with a temperature check, a requirement to wear a mask at all times, a request to use hand sanitizer, directions to immaculately clean restrooms, and guidance to seats.

Those safeguards reflected a new reality since the last time live theater was performed in the Berkshires. The musical and the one-man show that opened this month were the first to have been approved by Actors’ Equity, the union representing more than 50,000 performers and stage managers in the country, since the coronavirus outbreak. In Pittsfield last weekend, audiences for both shows were eager to welcome theater back.

Denyse and Harold Adler of Otis debated whether to make the 45-minute drive to Pittsfield for “Harry Clarke.” But the couple didn’t want to miss a Barrington Stage production. “We’ve been coming to everything they produce since they started, and I am so proud of how thoughtful and careful they have been before inviting audiences in,” Denyse said.

“We’re also so excited to be at a live performance,” she said. “Normally, this time of year, we are out three nights a week, and we also usher at Tanglewood. It feels good to be seeing a live performance again.”

Each production came with its own set of challenges. For “Godspell,” director Alan Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre accommodated safety protocols by weaving the placement of rolling plastic screens around singers into a nearly natural part of the show. Ensemble numbers became showcases for talented individual performers, as the story of Jesus and his quirky band of disciples moved briskly through the familiar score, which includes “Day by Day,” “By My Side” and “Turn Back, O Man.” Highlights included turning the top hat-and-cane number “All for the Best” into a pointed comment on coronavirus safety measures, with a soft-shoe hand-sanitizing moment, and yardsticks replacing canes (to ensure proper distancing while dancing), as well as an extraordinarily energetic tap number for “Learn Your Lessons Well,” delivered almost entirely in place. The musical opened with the actors briefly sharing their experiences during the early days of the pandemic, expressing the fear and sadness of isolation. The camaraderie and joy of uniting on stage was unmistakable.

Productions of “Godspell” can easily drift into sentimentality, but the poignancy of the social distancing requirements, both onstage and off, only made the musical’s plea for kindness more powerful.

Berkshire Theatre Group artistic director Kate Maguire said she worked for two months with Actors Equity Association and local health officials to develop what became a 35-page manual designed to protect the artists and the audiences. The hope, she said, is that it might provide a roadmap for other theaters.

“We had four guiding principles as a starting point,” she says. “Masks, screens, distancing, and testing.” (Performers are tested three times each week.)

The effort was worth it, she says, “to see these young performers sing ‘Beautiful City’ and ‘Save the People’ and see how this virus is affecting them and their view of the world.”

“Harry Clarke,” a one-man show performed at Barrington Stage by Mark H. Dold, required finding a way to draw the audience close in this intimate thriller, when even the nearest masked patron was at least 15 feet away. With an Adirondack chair and side table as the only set pieces, Dold cast an utterly engrossing spell, building the tale of dangerous duplicity with an understated performance that delivered more than a dozen characters with just the right vocal distinctions. The enchantment was so complete, there were several moments when it felt like every member of audience was leaning forward, hanging on every word together.

At intermission for “Godspell” and in post-show conversations after “Harry Clarke,” audience members expressed enthusiasm for the quality of the productions, and a feeling of being part of something special. “The production makes clever comments about where we are now, and I was moved by the personal fears each of the actors revealed in their own situations,” said Linda Alder at “Godspell.”

“The direction and choreography comment on the novelty of this experience, which brings us all closer together,” said Jim Bredeson, who came to the show with Alder.

“Live theater allows us a chance to share an experience and share our humanity,” said Julianne Boyd, founder and artistic director of Barrington Stage, and the director of “Harry Clarke.” “At the same time, we respect our audiences and sought the advice of medical professionals to come up with strategies to protect our audiences and our performers.”

Boyd and her company created a comprehensive plan for a safe return to indoor performances, including removing seats at its mainstage theater, electrostatic chair sanitizers, and a state-of-the-art air filtration system, but statewide limits on indoor gatherings have stalled that effort.

When “Harry Clarke” closes Sunday after its string of sold-out shows, the Tartell Family Outdoor Stage will host “The Hills Are Alive With Rodgers and Hammerstein” (Aug. 19-29), a musical concert with five singer-actors performing songs from “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music,” and others. Meanwhile, “Godspell” continues through Sept. 4. All of its performances, at $100 a ticket, are sold out.

Barrington Stage and Berkshire Theatre Group are both working closely with the mayor of Pittsfield and state health officials to keep the productions running, but even the bestlaid plans aren’t immune from the uncertainties surrounding COVID. Earlier this week, over concerns that cases in Massachusetts could spike again, the governor rolled back a cap on outdoor events, from 100 to 50 people (those limits include performers and crew). Barrington Stage sought a waiver but was denied.

The Hetsberger family made the four-hour drive from Rahway, N.J., to see their daughter Najah Hetsberger perform in “Godspell.” A rising senior at Montclair State University, Hetsberger joined Actors’ Equity in January and received several call backs for shows, only to have everything canceled when COVID hit. Her parents and teenage sister were excited to see her onstage, especially after a long separation. After the show, the family enjoyed a physically distant, masked reunion in the nearby parking lot that was both heartbreaking and heartwarming to witness.

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