BTG Blog

Stories of Stockbridge: Matthew Penn's Summers among the Stars

Table read of BTF's 1966 production The Skin of Our Teeth with Anne Bancroft, directed by Arthur Penn. Photo courtesy of the Penn family.

Table read of BTF's 1966 production The Skin of Our Teeth with Anne Bancroft, directed by Arthur Penn. Photo courtesy of the Penn family.

Matthew’s Journey with Berkshire Theatre:

My first experiences with the Berkshire Theatre Festival date back to the summer seasons of 1966, ‘67, and ‘68. My father (Arthur Penn) and Bill Gibson were close friends and collaborators. They’d worked together on Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker, which were both Broadway successes. The Miracle Worker had also become a successful film.

Arthur Penn: Photo courtesy of the Penn family.Dad got involved with the BTF when Bill was the artistic director. [Pictured to the left: Arthur Penn. Photo courtesy of the Penn family.] I believe The Skin of Our Teeth (1966) starring Anne Bancroft was the first production Dad directed there. Annie and Bill and Arthur had become dear friends and artistic colleagues with a number of Tonys and one Oscar under their belts.

My first memories of the BTF were my occasional visits to the rehearsal room during that production of The Skin of Our Teeth. The theatre was an amazing place and seeing a play come to life was truly incredible. I remember darting in and out between the seats and aisles as they did their tech rehearsals for the production. [Pictured to the right, Anne Bancroft in The Skin of Our Teeth at BTF, 1966.]

Anne Bancroft in The Skin of Our Teeth at BTF, 1966.

The following season Dad and Bill had become co-artistic directors. Together they produced a number of plays, but one in particular stayed with me. It was a play titled Next by Terrence McNally starring James Coco whose performance was original in its tone and accomplishment. He was both funny and heartbreaking. It was a profound anti-war play about a man’s experience during his army induction examination. Watching a play that dealt with the draft and the war in southeast Asia as our country was being torn apart was a powerful event.

BTF was my first experience around the magic of theatre. It was the confluence of both family and dear family friends coming together to create some memorable theater with the Berkshire Theater Festival at the center.

Berkshire Theatre will always have a soft spot in the Penn family’s hearts. Interestingly my wife, Candace, who is a theatrical sign-language interpreter, was hired to be both the rehearsal interpreter and the performance interpreter for last summer’s production of Children of a Lesser God. In April, Children will open on Broadway and Candace will be interpreting the Broadway production as well. That’s one more connection that exists between the Penn family and the Berkshire Theatre Group. While I’ve had the great good fortune to direct many wonderful television series and plays, my own love of theater began at BTG.

Favorite Show:

Scene from Berkshire Theatre Festival's 1968 production of Terrence McNally's Next.

It’s impossible to compare the many fine productions that have been created at BTG over these decades. For me it is hard to compete with that first blush of seeing the theatre first-hand and being in the theatre during those years. Next [pictured to the left] was a simple little one act, and yet it’s quite a profound play by Terrence McNally who would become one of the significant American writers of his generation. Likewise seeing Annie Bancroft as the maid for the Antrobus family in The Skin of Our Teeth was not a memory easily forgotten by a 9-year-old boy! That was a special time in America, a special time in the arts, and a special time at BTG and my recollections of those days are very dear.

Favorite Story/Memory:

Rehearsal for The Skin of Our Teeth at BTF, 1966. Photo courtesy of the Penn family.

I remember during the tech of The Skin of Our Teeth. I had a free run of the theatre. So like any 8-year-old I took it upon myself to explore every possible place, going downstairs, upstairs and all through the house. There was something incredible about that. At one point, the lighting designer took me up to the catwalk that surrounded the lighting grid and together we looked down at the stage. To be able to look down and see all these gifted people was an unforgettable experience for a young lad. Those images and those experiences have always stayed with me and doubtless have been part of my own affection and participation in theatre. [Pictured to the right: Rehearsal of The Skin of Our Teeth at BTF, 1966. Photo courtesy of the Penn family.]

Today:

Matt Penn Headshot

Matthew Penn has directed and/or produced over 200 episodes of television dramas such as Law & Order, The Sopranos, Damages, House, and Royal Pains. He has also directed Beauty Queen of Leenane, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Mother of the Maid at Shakespeare and Co. Last year he directed in the 10x10 festival at Barrington Stage, and will be directing there again this year. Matthew Penn is also a co-Artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab entering its 11th season.

David Adkins’ Story of Stockbridge

David Adkins in Thoreau at BTG, 2015. Photo by Michael J Riha.

David Adkins in Thoreau at BTG, 2015. Photo by Michael J Riha.

My Story

How did I find Stockbridge?

Maybe it was just good luck. Or was it chance? Or was I just ready?  I tell my students, luck will be of no use to you if you’re not ready when your chance comes. So work hard, do everything you can to be ready for luck, and if you get the chance—­ready or not—say YES!

It was about 1983, I guess. I had been at Dartmouth College for two years and really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I liked reading. I liked the outdoors. And I liked acting: I certainly wasn’t going to be an actor, though. 

On a break, back home in Baltimore I visited my high school theatre director and on one of the coffee tables in the teachers’ lounge was an application for the Berkshire Theatre Festival. On a whim, I filled out the application and sent it in. Weeks later, after I had all but forgotten about applying, I got a call for an interview, and in June I found myself driving from Maryland to Massachusetts. I arrived at the Lavan Center on route seven and entered a world I’d never seen before: professional theater.

I was suddenly thrust into all aspects of theater—particularly the technical side—with hours spent in the scene shop, the costume shop, working concessions at the main stage, giving tours to patrons, and parking cars. We had acting classes in the morning and that was a whole other world I’d never experienced. I met teachers who approached the work in ways that were wondrous to me—with such commitment and passion and years of dedication to the work.  I saw that acting took work and potentially years of training—not just training for acting, but training for the voice and body. And it was that summer that I began to understand from the professionals surrounding me in all departments what it meant to have a single-minded determination. To have a singular focus that requires an intense examination of life, and the discipline it takes to explore, sculpt, fail, and then get back up and refine a performance.

It was that first BTF summer in Stockbridge where I began to learn that a life in the arts isn’t just something a person does or just a way of life. It is in fact a way of viewing the world: a way of viewing one’s place in the world and realizing I have a responsibility to that world as an artist.

That same summer, there was a hilarious production of Beyond Therapy (1985) on the Main Stage. It featured the great actors: David Schramm (Wings, and frequent BTG alum), Julie Hagerty (Airplane), David Rasche (Sledge Hammer!), and the wonderful Peggy Cosgrove. The cast had been invited to an apprentice showcase and afterward David Schramm asked if I had ever thought of going to a training school for acting. He told me he had gone to Juilliard. I said, “Juilliard? You mean the music school?”

Cast of Beyond Therapy at BTF, 1985. Photo from BTF Archive.

 Cast of Beyond Therapy at BTG, 1985. Photo from BTF Archive.

And as luck would have it I secured a last-minute audition at Juilliard, because as chance would have it, the incoming Juilliard acting class had lost an actor. On a Wednesday I got a telephone call from Juilliard on the hall payphone in the Lavan dorms offering me an audition for that Friday!

Well I had one monologue which I’d been working on that summer. But I needed another. I went to my acting teacher, the great James Luce, and he said, “You need Shakespeare.” I said, “I don’t have a Shakespeare monologue.” He said, “do you know any lines from Shakespeare?” I answered, “to be or not to be…” He replied, “no that won’t work. Anything else?”  I said, “oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt.” I’m sure he winced, but that’s what we went with.

That Friday, two days later, I stood in front of the head of the Juilliard Drama School and the third year acting teacher and did my monologues. I didn’t know that both of them were famous: The late Michael Langham—who would later hire me for a job on Broadway—and Michael Kahn who is the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C.—he’s never hired me, ahem!

I finished my monologues and Mr. Langham wrote something on a piece of paper, handed it to Mr. Kahn, and walked out. That didn’t seem like a good sign. Michael Kahn then wrote on the piece of paper and said, “take this to the office.” Another bad sign. I went down to the office and handed it to an administrator. She looked at the paper and then said, “Welcome to Juilliard. Do you have a place to live?” I said “No.” She told me to try the YMCA because they might still have rooms. They didn’t.

I walked down to the corner of 65th St. and Broadway and called my mother from a telephone booth. I told her, “I’ve gotten into Julliard.” “The music school?” she said. I replied, “I’m going to be an actor.”

I went back to Stockbridge and several weeks later my first summer at the Berkshire Theatre Festival had come to an end and I was on my way to New York City to be an actor at the Juilliard School. The Artistic Director, Josie Abady, had been keeping track of me and introduced me to the late Don Roe who worked in the BTF offices. Don said he would put me up in his apartment in NY for as many weeks as I needed until I found a place to live.

I would graduate from Juilliard four years later and go on to have many great experiences—and many heartbreaking ones as well—in my life as an actor. I would make my professional debut on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage under the direction of the late Artistic Director Richard Dunlap. I would travel the country performing in many of its great cities. I would work on and off Broadway, do some television, and hammer out a life in what some of us call “Show.” I would meet and work with a number of famous actors (and I would work a number of times with my now beloved David Schramm). The best part has been working, and learning from my fellow actors and writers and designers and technicians. I would return many summers to Stockbridge.

Oh, Stockbridge. The stories you can tell.

Today

David Adkins HeadshotIn addition to his work on stage, Mr. Adkins is the Director of the Acting Intern Program at Berkshire Theatre and helps to shape the next generation of theatre artists.

 

Soap Stars in Stockbridge: Fred Rutberg Reminisces

 

Watercolor of the Unicorn Theatre (before its 1990s renovation) by an unknown artist from the BTF archives.

Watercolor of the Unicorn Theatre (before its 1990s renovation) by an unknown artist from the BTF archives.

 

Fred’s Journey with the BTF:

I began my association with the Berkshire Theatre Festival as a lawyer. I was very excited about being able to represent the theatre. After a while, I was invited to attend an Executive Committee meeting in 1975 when I was 29 years old. Ann Straus was the President of the Board, and after I gave my little report she kind of jokingly said, “if we put you on the board you won’t charge us, will you?” Someone suggested that the secretary should be a lawyer and a local person, and suddenly I was elected to the board. Jane Fitzpatrick became the President of the Board shortly after I joined. She always had me sit next to her because she said I had a good memory, and she could call on me if needed. I stayed on the board for about 30 years. I only left because they instituted term limits, and so I was asked to serve on the Emeritus Board.

 

My Most interesting Show:

I remember when we brought in the Proposition Workshop [Theatre] and they did improv in the back of the Unicorn, the old Unicorn, what may be the prop or costume shop now. Allan Albert was in charge of that, eventually he became the artistic director. His specialty was an interesting form of theatre that he called “nonfiction theater,” which was based on first person accounts of things. Before he got here Allan had put together The Whale Show. He researched journals of whalers who were out at sea for years. It was a series of monologues with the cast on stage just telling these amazing stories. It was very compelling. One summer when the Proposition was here, they did the same type of thing based on truckers. They went to truck stops and gathered all of these stories and created Night Riders, that included original music. It was incredibly successful, and we brought it back later that summer because it was so popular.

 

My Favorite Story:

Michael Zaslow as Roger Thorpe in Guiding Light.

Josie Abady, [the Artistic Director in 1979] brought Michael Zaslow (pictured to the left) to the theatre [for Petrified Forest], it was the first play of the season. He was a big soap opera star at the time, so his name was pretty well-known in and around the area. Grais Rider was a woman in Stockbridge, who used to do my shirts. She did laundry, and I’d go to her house and pick up my shirts.  She was the sweetest person. I went there one day in the spring and she said “Did you hear? One of the actors from one of my stories is going to be at the Playhouse. [Roger Thorpe] is going to be at Berkshire Theatre!” She only knew his character name, but was so excited about him coming. I offered to take her to the theatre, but she said she couldn’t do that. So, I went to opening night of this show and Jane Fitzpatrick used to hold this huge party on opening night. I was introduced to Michael Zaslow and mentioned that this woman I know loved him and was a huge fan. He asked what her name was, and so I gave him her name and phone number. Well, the next time I went to pick up my shirts, Grais was stunned. She said, “I can’t believe it! I’ve never talked to a celebrity before!” He’d called her and simply said, “Grais, this is Roger Thorpe,” his character from the show! And the funniest part is that his character had been killed off that past season, so he came back from the dead and called her! I told her, “Now you gotta come to the theatre, Grais.” I was such a fan of this guy after, I mean he made this woman’s month. This always stuck with me and really shows that the interplay between the theatre and the community is so interesting. That was a big part of what the board tried to do during my tenure was to continue to build up that relationship with Stockbridge.

 

Today:

In addition to being an Emeritus Board Member, Fred Rutberg is also the President of the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield. 

Stories of Stockbridge: Chapman and Ionesco

Dave's Journey with the BTG

Photograph from unknown newspaper, 1969, from the BTF archives.

Dave Chapman spent forty years working in the arts. He worked in theatre and dance doing everything from maintenance to lighting design. His love of theatre was sparked during a summer job in high school with the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

"I went to high school at Pittsfield High, and back then due to the overcrowding they had split sessions, so I had my afternoons free. I heard that the Berkshire Theatre Festival was looking for people to spruce up the playhouse for the summer season, and so I started working at BTF during the afternoons. My time there overlapped with the incoming summer staff, and I found them very interesting.

More ...

Feigenbaum Foundation & Berkshire Theatre Group Announce Joint Effort

For Immediate Release: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 5:30pm

Pittsfield, MA— The Feigenbaum Foundation, widely-known for its respect and love of Pittsfield and the Berkshires, and Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG), a performance arts and education resource in Pittsfield and Stockbridge, today announced a joint effort that will create an education center at The Colonial Theatre and a endowment for sustaining BTG’s creative arts programming during the coming decade.

The Foundation, founded by Armand and the late Donald Feigenbaum, has pledged a ten-year endowment of up to $5 million.

“The endowment will create the Feigenbaum Center for the Performing Arts at The Colonial Theatre and develop educational initiatives there,” Ruth Blodgett, BTG Board President, said.

“The Feigenbaum brothers and their foundation always acknowledged the importance of the performing arts and education to the Pittsfield and Berkshire community,” Emil George, Feigenbaum Foundation President, said. “The Colonial Theatre is a treasure historically and should be sustained for future generations.”

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Kim Taylor appointed to President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts 

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:

·       Stephanie Cutter – Member, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities

·       Caroline “Kim” Taylor – Member, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities

·       Margaret Russell – General Trustee, Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

·       Mary Menell Zients – Chair, President’s Commission on White House Fellowships

President Obama said, “I am honored that these talented individuals have decided to join this Administration and serve our country.  I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

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BTG Fall 2013 Season Lineup

Tickets on sale to members/passholders August 20 and to general public on August 22


CALENDAR OF FALL SEASON 2013:

The Full Catastrophe: The Unicorn, Saturday, August 31 at 8pm, Sunday, September 1 at 2pm
Heather Maloney: The Garage, Friday, September 6 at 8pm
Mary and Edith: The Unicorn, See listing for performance dates and times
Dave Mason: The Colonial Theatre, Wednesday, October 9 at 7:30pm
Made in the Berkshires: See listing for locations and times, October 11-13
Wanda Houston Band: The Garage, Saturday, October 12 at 9pm
Pittsfield CityJazz Festival: The Colonial Theatre, Saturday, October 19 at 8pm
Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt: The Colonial Theatre, Wednesday, October 23 at 7:30pm
Romance, Soul and Rock ‘n Roll: The Colonial, Friday, October 25 and Saturday, October 26 at 7:30pm 
LoFi Sundays (RBIT): TBD
Gordon Lightfoot: The Colonial Theatre, Friday, November 8 at 8pm
Three Dog Night: The Colonial Theatre, Thursday, November 21 at 8pm
Mary Verdi: The Colonial Theatre, Saturday, November 30 at 7pm, Sunday, December 1 at 2pm
A Christmas Carol:The Colonial Theatre, See listing for performance dates and times

More ...

Boston Globe Magazine: The Women (Published August 11, 2013)

The Women

How three visionaries rewrote the script for Berkshires theater, a story in 15 scenes.

Tina Packer, founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company; Julianne Boyd, cofounder and artistic director of Barrington Stage Company; and Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group.

ERIC LIMON

Tina Packer, founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company; Julianne Boyd, cofounder and artistic director of Barrington Stage Company; and Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group.
 

 

by Jeremy D. Goodwin 

I.

IT’S OPENING NIGHT for On the Town at Barrington Stage Company, and theatergoers mill about in downtown Pittsfield on this mild June evening. Most of the men wear sport coats or suits, ladies look casually elegant in cocktail dresses, teenagers take photos of one another with their iPhones. There’s a buzz in the air.

More ...

Subcategories

  • Ticket Office Hours

    Colonial Theatre
    111 South Street Pittsfield

    • Monday-Saturday:
      10am-5pm
    • Sunday:
      10am-2pm
    • Performance days:
      10am-curtain

    (413) 997-4444


    Unicorn Theatre
    6 East Street, Stockbridge

    The Unicorn Theatre box office is now closed for the season. Please check back for Summer 2018 hours.

    (413) 997-4444


    Fitzpatrick Main Stage
    83 East Main Street, Stockbridge

    The Fitzpatrick Main Stage is now closed for the season. Please check back for Summer 2018 hours.

    (413) 997-4444

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    Colonial TheatrePittsfield

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    Fitzpatrick Main Stage Stockbridge

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    Unicorn TheatreStockbridge

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