BTG Blog

Stories of Stockbridge: Sherwood Family Ties

PF PosterAs part of Berkshire Theatre’s 90th anniversary season, BTG is proud to present The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood. Berkshire Theatre and the Sherwood family have a long history together. Throughout the decades, three of Sherwood’s plays have been produced on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage (formerly the Berkshire Playhouse). Robert Sherwood grew up in a family of five siblings who enjoyed summers in Stockbridge with their mother and aunt who were both fine art painters. His brother, Philip Sherwood, saved copies of each one of Robert Sherwood's plays. Robert Sherwood’s two sisters also had ties to the theatre. Cynthia Sherwood performed in a number of plays at the Playhouse including starring alongside Ethel Barrymore in Déclassé. Rosamond “Ros” Sherwood, an artist and piano player herself, served as a member of the BTF Board of Directors for 36 years from 1953 until 1989. She also housed actors in her home, known as Strawberry Hill, where she lived year round on Yale Hill Road.

Berkshire Theatre’s Archivist sat down with Philip Sherwood’s granddaughter, Ramelle Pulitzer, at her home that is the cottage where the Sherwood siblings visited over many a summer in Stockbridge.

 

Sherwood Family Ties to Stockbridge: An Interview with Ramelle Pulitzer

From the living room, we look up the hill where you can see the log house that Great Aunt Ros built in 1949, and her home, Strawberry Hill is through the woods, directly up there. My brother has the small Farm House down that lane that he rents to the BTF, to you, to house some of your back stage full season folks. Strawberry Hill was built by Great Aunt Lydia Field Emmet [Robert Sherwood’s Aunt] in 1904. She was very much a part of her nieces’ and nephews’ lives and contributed to their wellbeing. When she sold a portrait, she might just invest in a bit more acreage or build this little cottage, or purchase a share of an apartment in New York. 

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I spent much of my time at Strawberry Hill in the summers playing with cousins from New York City. I remember being able to get there by myself when I was about 6 years old. After I left my mother’s eye, she would call, you only needed 4 numbers then, and Ros would pick up and I could hear her say, “She’s here.”

Lydia was painted by John Singer Sargent, and Lydia and her sister Rosina [Robert Sherwood’s mother] went to Paris where they painted with Sargent and all of the others—there was an exhibit at the MET last year on this. (Pictured to the right: Lydia Emmet Field, photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.) Lydia did a wonderful portrait of Philip’s son, known as Philby. He was the oldest, then another Rosina, and then my mother, Theodosia. This Philby portrait, done in 1928, may have been painted at the Studio on the grounds of Strawberry Hill. In the vein of Winslow Homer, it is a boy with a hat with a cat on his lap. The painting received an award from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. I believe they shipped several at a time from NYC to be considered to hang in the famous art school studio. Lydia was one of the first women to receive an award from the prestigious French academy.

Rosina Emmett SherwoodHere is a smaller watercolor by Rosina Sherwood, Lydia’s sister. Painted in 1915, it is the sister’s view of Aunt Lyd in the garden seen through the turquoise green arbor with the rolling Berkshire mountains and full display of the perennial garden. That’s what Strawberry Hill looked like to me. Ros continued to maintain her enormous perennial garden, plus a cutting garden, a vegetable garden, and a formal English garden with a fountain in the middle. In this one, you can see Lydia in her wonderful bonnet with her basket of flowers. I remember cutting flowers when we were up here under Ros’s guiding eye. The garden was this most beautiful balance of natural and cultivated. (Pictured to the left: Rosina Emmet Sherwood, photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.)

Great Aunt Lyd actually built this cottage and the garage back there as an attachment. One of the garages turned into a bedroom, and the other was designed to be a second bedroom or a studio. It had a big huge sofa bed in it, that’s what we’d call it today, it was a long rectangle with a topographically interesting mattress, known as Mossy Banks. That was the only place that Robert Sherwood could sleep because it was seven feet long and he was very tall. He slept out there when he visited, which was rarely by the time I came along. Of course as we grew up, in the later 50’s we’d complain about this lumpy and maybe even mossy old mattress. Can you image the retort? If Robert Sherwood slept here...it was good to know that and put up and enjoy it.

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The family called him Jank, though I’m not sure where that name came from. I remember one time he visited my parents at our home outside of Boston. We had a new litter of wonderful puppies, that as children we were not allowed to pick up. In comes the tallest man I had ever seen, Jank, who picks one right up, and of course he’s so tall that the puppy was basically at the ceiling by that point. He was remembered as being extremely devoted to his family, especially his brother, my grandfather. He was slow to speak with a deep voice and sallow eyes that shone bright blue. I often heard about his dry sense of humor. (Pictured to the right: Robert Sherwood, photo courtesy of the NY Public Library.)

I have a collection of his plays, some are several of the same copy as if the actors left them here. I think this is all the plays that Bob Sherwood wrote. They come from my Grandfather’s collection. I can’t wait to read Petrified Forest again. I’ve re-watched the movie, as Kate suggested, that follows the text of the play very closely. The title page is signed "From Bob Sherwood to the Phil Sherwoods, 1935" (pictured to the left below). Sherwood spent most of his time in New York, and he would come up here in the summer time as we all did.

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Robert Sherwood had worked during WWII with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After four years of being one of the speech writers for Roosevelt, he wrote this lengthy volume called Roosevelt and Hopkins. This book was what he was working on when I was little. When it was first published, I remember him coming up here to Stockbridge. Roosevelt and Hopkins is a very personal dissertation, in the first person, of what it was like to be heading into war, what the decisions were, who knew what and when. As well as what his own experiences were. Not unlike a journal or a commentary that somebody might be doing today. Except he wanted to be accurate. He was writing the history. It took him years to edit. Early in the book is the segment about the “Four Freedoms,” the speech that FDR gave in 1941. Robert Sherwood says early in this book that it was FDR’s own words. Nonetheless, Robert Sherwood was, I think, an amazing writer; he lilts along in a natural and beautiful, unassuming prose.

Portrait of Robert EOn the wall right by the windows is a portrait of him painted by his mother, WWI, 1917 (pictured to the right). He was 6’5 or 7 (why can’t I rememeber this) and too tall for the American army, so he enlisted in the Canadian Black Watch. Here he is sitting outside on a rock in a natural setting with his long legs extending from his kilt and very handsome suit. He looks just like all the other Sherwoods with beautifully blue eyes, and really sculpted faces. The men usually wore mustaches. I am not sure where this was painted. He may be sitting at home before he goes off. She also did two portraits in Manila where he was stationed in the Philippines. My sister (another Rosina!) has those portraits out in Pasadena. The wars had a profound effect on Robert Sherwood, and after working for years as a speechwriter, he never really wrote plays or screenplays the way he had before. The darkness that he saw definitely ushered in a new era of his work.

Robert Sherwood went to my parent’s wedding, and my parents came up to the log house just as it was built, a year later, just after I was born, which was my first summer here. And I have visited in the summers on and off ever since. Now I live here year-round. My mother inherited this cottage that I live in, and Ros’ other nieces and nephews inherited her home, Strawberry Hill, which is now out of the family. But Robert and his brothers and sisters used to put on plays right outside in the yard there just for fun. Ros’ legacy was part of our way of life when we came. Arranging flowers at the Botanical Garden, dressing up in the costumes that were in the trunk in the attic of this little cottage and at Strawberry Hill, which I expect were left over from Robert’s era. (Pictured below: Ros Sherwood and friends at champagne dessert on Playhouse lawn. Photo by Warren Fowler.)

Roz Sherwood and friends at champagne dessert on Playhouse lawn. Photo by Warren Fowler. min 1 2

My Grandfather, Philip, was a colonel in the cavalry in 1917, I have a very early photograph, left here in the cottage, of him on his horse in Arizona. He was the older brother and was probably the most practical of all of them to go into the military as a career. Robert was a playwright, and Ros was a ragtime piano player in the Silent Movies. She had an upright piano and she could start up a party anytime, though it took lots of encouraging to get her to play. She was great fun, and by the way, also an extraordinary golfer. At the Stockbridge golf club where my father loved to play golf, too, she was as good as any of the players. They named a women’s golf tournament after her. She started it because there wasn’t a way for women to enjoy the competition of the game! There are several significant tournaments at the Stockbridge Golf Club, one of which is the qualifying course for the US Open, and Ros made sure that women are a part of that.

The arts have always drawn our family to Stockbridge, whether theatrical or visual. My daughter is an artist, and my aunt and an uncle, Rosina and Jack Coolidge loved to visit here. They even braved the winters in the late 1950’s to live here and work with Norman Rockwell who had moved right here from Arlington, VT. It turned out to be too cold and too remote for them then, and now I can really understand that!

Though Robert Sherwood didn’t live here year-round, he has deep ties to Stockbridge. We find it great fun to keep small tokens of their lives here to remember. The Sherwoods and Emmets certainly have a long connection to the arts here in this wonderful village.

An Inside Look into the Costumes of Hair: Designed by Shane E. Ballard

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In designing the costumes for Hair, my intention was to create a new vision for the iconic show. Many of the social and political themes of the 1960s and 1970s are still relevant today. It was my goal to channel the essence of the era rather than replicating it—bridging the past and the present through costume. Youth culture is often inspired by music and the artists who create it, so I looked to revolutionary artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Robert Plant, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks as inspiration. My goal was to highlight each of our Tribe member’s unique spirit and beauty.

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Church and State: Author's Note and Interview with the Director

Church and State

 

A Note from the Playwright:

This play began as a germ of an idea shortly after the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007. I went to UVA (Virginia Tech's “football rival”) and the images on TV of candlelight vigils by Cavaliers for their rival Hokies touched me profoundly. Then Tucson happened, and I watched the news, riveted and angry. Then Aurora. And I watched again, riveted and angry. Then Newtown. And I'd had enough. A month later, in January 2013, I had a first draft of what would eventually become Church & State. On paper, the topics of this play (religion, guns and politics) seem heavy. But a heavy drama about heavy topics doesn't interest me. What interests me is a play that gets to the heart of the people around these issues. And when you write about people, you can't help but let them be funny and sad and honest, heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. Because isn't that what being human is? And because of that, I don't think this play works without the humor. And the humor doesn't mean anything without the heart. To me, comedy and tragedy are not two ends of a single line, but two points right next to each other on the same circle.

While most writers hope that their work will live forever, my dream for this play is that it will become obsolete. And many years from now people will read it and think, "How quaint! Americans used to argue about gun control." But as the news incessantly reminds us, these mass shootings are not going away any time soon. They have become our new normal. Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Santa Fe and countless others have been stark reminders of that. For now, I hope this play raises questions, sparks debate, makes people laugh, cry, and laugh while crying. And of course I hope it moves people in some way. Perhaps enough to take action with their voice and vote and bump the needle ever so slightly in the conversation about gun violence. But most of all, I hope this play speaks to your heart. Because, for me, that's the only reason to write anything: to speak to each other's hearts.

- Jason Odell Williams, June 2018

 

Charlotte Cohn: Director

Interview with Director, Charlotte Cohn

How did your role differ as producer and director?

As a commercial producer in New York, I was responsible for raising money, finding the theatre, putting together the administrative and artistic team, hiring a director and a casting director, and so much more. As the director, you get to zone in and focus on the creative process; allowing me to have the time and space to create!

 

How was Church & State born?

My husband wrote Church & State right after the tragedy of Sandy Hook, in about two weeks. We did a reading of Church & State in April of 2016, and after the reading, every person in the room said, “You have to produce this!” So, I raised all of the money needed to produce the show within a year.

 

How do you approach directing?

My personality is very honest and direct, so as a director, that’s also how I deal with the creative process. I have been on all sides: I’ve been an actor, and I know how I liked to be talked to—I’ve also been a producer, so I always have the big picture in mind. But, I also have playfulness, which is very important in every process, especially in this play.

 

What is your backstory?

I was born in Denmark and raised in Israel, where I served in the Israeli army for five years. I was a commanding officer of 2000 soldiers by the time I was 19. Originally, I wanted to be an opera singer, and I started professionally singing when I was 12 in Israel. My plan was to come to New York City for a year to study opera singing, then go to Europe. Then, in America I realized that I did not enjoy the opera scene as much as I thought. I found that I enjoyed the story-telling of opera, so it made sense for me to go into acting. I auditioned for the Actor’s Studio Drama School, and I got a full ride. In my second year, they were looking for actors who could sing opera to be in La Boheme (directed by Baz Luhrmann) on Broadway. I ended up being in it, and that was my first job out of school.

 

I know that you are having talkbacks after every production, have you had experience with these before?

Jason and I always say that this is not just a play, it’s a conversation starter. Since it is a short play, it leaves room for talking, and hopefully brings the audience to action. In the New York City run of Church & State, we did talkbacks once a week. I am so thankful to Kate Maguire (BTG’s Artistic Director/CEO) for doing talkbacks after every single show during this production at Berkshire Theatre Group.

 

Charlotte Cohn and Jason O'Dell

Jason Odell Williams (Playwright) and Charlotte Cohn (Director)

Church & State is a play that explores the nature of gun violence. The show was a great success Off Broadway last year. The author, Jason Odell Williams, has stipulated that there must be a "talkback" after every performance, which relates to the issue. In that capacity, we have selected various speakers to participate, and they represent diverse viewpoints in and around the gun violence field.

These are the speakers, with a brief biography, for the upcoming shows:

6/27 (2pm)

Chris Haley is the Berkshire Site Director for Department of Mental Health. Promoter of Trauma Informed/Resilient Berkshires, and a licensed independent clinical social worker practicing for over 30—years in various areas with specialization in grief, loss and trauma.

6/27 (7pm)

William “Smitty” Pignatelli is a lifelong resident of Lenox, Massachusetts and a graduate of the Lenox Public Schools. Smitty, as he prefers to be called, was named after his father’s best friend, William Smith, who was killed during World War II. After graduating from Lenox Memorial High School in 1977, Smitty became a licensed Master Electrician and worked in his family’s electrical contracting business for twenty years. Smitty took over the full operation of the business at the time of his father’s retirement in 1991. Smitty left the family business to his brother Scott, in 1998, when he was offered a position as the Business Development Manager for Lee Bank. While at the bank, he attended Babson College School for Financial Studies, graduating in 2001. Longing to serve the people of his beloved Berkshire District, he decided to leave the bank to pursue his dream of public service and run for higher office. Smitty won the seat of State Representative for the 4th Berkshire District and is currently serving his eighth term in the House of Representatives. With over 30 years of public service experience, Smitty has also been involved in many local associations. He is a member of the Berkshire County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, a past board member of the Berkshire County Arc, the Board of Directors of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, the Berkshire County Red Cross and is a former President of the Lenox Historical Society.

6/28 (7pm)

Joshua Horwitz, J.D., is the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He is the author of Guns, Democracy and the Insurrectionist Idea. In 2013, Josh helped found the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, a group of mental health and public health experts who examine the intersection of guns and mental health. He is a regular blogger at the Huffington Post.

6/29 (8pm)

Jane G. Tillman is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute for Education and Research at the Austen Riggs Center. Jane is a clinical psychologist, a psychoanalyst and a suicide researcher, which is how she became fiercely interested in firearm safety, and the politics surrounding this discussion.

6/30 (2pm)

Paul A. Friedman became Executive Director of Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation in 2016. A lawyer, former congressional and campaign staffer and non-profit development director for three different children’s organizations, Paul leads an organization that emerged from the worst tragedy on a college campus in our nation’s history and is dedicated to advocating to strengthen our nation’s background check system. Paul earned his Juris Doctor from New York Law School in New York City and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA.

6/30 (8pm)

Andrew J. Gerber, MD, PhD, is the medical director and CEO of the Austen Riggs Center and an associate clinical professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. He is an associate clinical professor at the Child Study Center, Yale University. Dr. Gerber completed a PhD in psychology at the Anna Freud Centre and University College London. He completed his medical and psychiatric training at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Hospital, and Weill Cornell and Columbia medical schools and his psychoanalytic training at Columbia.

Stories of Stockbridge: Bobbie Hallig's History with Berkshire Theatre

Bobbie Hallig

Bobbie Hallig, photo by John Trimarchi.

How did you get involved with Berkshire Theatre?

Jane Fitzpatrick. She invited my husband and me to dinner at Blantyre with Bill Swan and Richard Dunlap, who was the Director at that time. That was the group. During the dinner, she addressed my husband and said, “How come we never see you at the theatre?”

“Because your seats are too uncomfortable,” he said.

She kind of laughed and said, “Oh I know that, and you know we need to do a capital campaign, and we need to get it organized and do it.”

He replied, “Well how much would seats cost?” She named a figure and he said, “O.K., I’ll buy the seats.”

I got interested after that, and I produced the big fundraiser for them the following year, “The Stars Come Out,” at Blantyre. That just took off from there. I did recognize the need to build a real second stage because what we had there was just falling down around us. So Larry Vaber and I raised the money and delivered it. We did it equally, and it was a real team effort. (Pictured below, Bobbie Hallig, Jane Fitzpatrick, and Larry Vaber.)

Bobbie Hallig, Jane Fitzpatrick, and Larry VaberI served as Vice President for 8 or 9 years and during that time, I was in a lot of turmoil during my own life, and Jane was really chasing me to takeover. The Fitzpatricks were amazingly generous because they were devoted to the community. So, whatever the community’s needs were, they were always trying to address them, and so at that point she decided to focus elsewhere besides the theatre. You can imagine how intimidating it was to step into her shoes because she’d been doing this for 22 years, and of course I wanted to change things. There was a huge board when I started, and I implemented the rule that everyone on the board must be actively raising money or doing work for the theatre, which many were already doing. There were some people who were highly critical of me at first, but we did so many good things, and I delivered The Unicorn, that they came around in the end. It all worked out.

Unicorn

The board I was running at that time was all male, and there was me in charge of it. Then Kate came in, and the first year she was revolutionizing everything. She had all these ideas and she wanted to do them right now, and so she put controversial things on the Main Stage and she got highly criticized. Kate and I talked and we decided that the controversial shows should be kept to The Unicorn Theatre (pictured above). Kate went on and became ever better, and of course Eric Hill is so gifted. She had her whole family working there: Isadora was on the Main Stage as Peter Pan, Emma was in the box office, and Alexander grew up in that theatre. Kate has had a record career for that theatre now, you know she’s up there with Billy Miles. We’ve been through a lot together and I’m very proud of her.

What were some of your favorite shows?

The Homecoming 2015 Photo by Michelle McGrady A lot of them are Eric Hill’s shows, and not necessarily his Blockbuster ones. I like controversial theatre. I’m not so much for the musicals, though I did like H.M.S Pinafore, that was very good. A season or two ago they did Homecoming, by Harold Pinter, and that was the best production I’ve seen of that show. (Pictured to the right: The Homecoming, 2015. Photo by Michelle McGrady.) I’ve seen it three other times in other theatres, but I’ve never seen it as good as it was in Stockbridge. That cast, his directing, everything about that show was perfection for me. I go to theatre a lot, and I go around the world, but this was one of my favorites. One thing that always stuns me is the quality of the sets. Berkshire Theatre does the best sets around, no one else even comes close, there is so much detail that goes into each one.

A Little Night Music Cast Photo by Reid Thompson

I do try to see every show of the season in the summers. I remember they did a very good production of A Delicate Balance, and Eric did a great job with Moby Dick. The performance of A Little Night Music at The Colonial Theatre was beautiful, and they did Talley’s Folly, which is one of my favorite plays ever. (Pictured to the left: A Little Night Music, 2014. Photo by Reid Thompson.) I am a great fan of Walter Hudson and David Adkins. Kate has really built a company of great actors that come back year after year, and I love that fact. I’m also so excited that Harriet Harris is coming back for Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, she was wonderful in Arsenic and Old Lace. (Pictured below: Arsenic and Old Lace, 2017. Photo by Michael Sullivan. L to R: Mia Dillon, Harriet Harris and Walton Wilson.)

Any final thoughts on Berkshire Theatre?

 I am happy to be a part of the history, and you know Berkshire Theatre has this amazing history and sweet story about the Main Stage, and I was able to help create a sweet story about The Unicorn. I will say that I’m invested in Berkshire Theatre and love it, but particularly we love that Kate runs it. It’s not just the theatre, it’s what she’s doing and who she is. She really makes sure that the work done at Berkshire Theatre projects what it means to be human.

Interview with the Playwright

Mary Mott

There Are Things I Didn’t Tell You

Mott Headshot

Mary Mott (Playwright) is a writer living in the Berkshires with husband Gordon, and dog Rosie. She writes mostly of the aspects of her life she finds curious…and worthy of inspection. She wrote and performed a one-woman show, From Where I Sit in 2013 at The Unicorn Theatre, and Butter to the Edges in 2016. She was born in upstate New York, but then moved on to New York City, San Francisco and Sun Valley, Idaho, where she raised her children. Her career was in advertising, but her passion was writing. She finds the Berkshires culturally stimulating, calmly beautiful and blessed with friends that she finds just about perfect. Her website marymottwrites.com contains all of her writings, podcasts, shows and postings.

 

What inspired you to write this show?

"I wanted to do a show that got 'closer to the bone.' I feel that relationships today don't take the time to dig deep enough; they remain somewhat superficial, played out along the tabletops of all the restaurants in town. I felt if I could talk about myself in a deeper way, it might inspire others to do the same."

 

How have your other one-woman shows shaped your experience/prepared you for this performance?

"I think primarily in the writing and doing. The medium [of playwriting] is more familiar. The first show was about my life. The second about aging. This one peels the onion a little further. The onion being me."

 

Can you describe your process while writing There Are Things I Didn't Tell You? How has your process evolved or changed with each new play?

"I think I now understand that any play must follow the arc of a story. So, what is the arc? What is the story? Here I'm looking at my own development during the last twelve years: the communication with my husband when we first got together and where we are now."

 

How did you come to partner with The Unicorn Theatre for the one-woman shows you've done so far?

"Kate, Kate and Kate. Kate Maguire is someone I greatly admire. Years ago, I read stories to an audience at The Unicorn. Kate encouraged me to write and perform in my own one-woman shows, and now I’ve done three. Thank you, Kate!"

 

What has been the most challenging or exciting part of rehearsing/performing There Are Things I Didn't Tell You?

"Memorizing is always challenging. Thirty-five pages is tough, and you have to know the script well enough for it to come across like you're just thinking of things for the first time."

 

Are there any other thoughts or reflections you’d like to add?

"Bob Moss, my director, is a miracle worker. He's a pro and a teacher. He works with me on how to talk to the audience. Where to talk to them. The energy that's required. How to make the work cohesive. You always know he's always right there in your corner working with you.

To the BTF: 90 years of telling stories? Wow! Thank you!"

 

Mary Mott’s funny, personal, and poignant play, There Are Things I Didn’t Tell You is playing now at The Unicorn Theatre at BTG’s Stockbridge Campus. There are just two chances left to see this one-woman show! Click here to purchase your tickets now!

Performance Dates:

• Saturday, May 26 at 7pm
• Sunday, May 27 at 2pm

 

Berkshire Theatre Artist Profile: George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, photograph from the 1930   Berkshire Playhouse program for The Doctor's Dilemma.

George Bernard Shaw, photo from the program for The Doctor's Dilemma, 1930.

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright who was often considered a radical in his political views. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925 (though was not given the award until 1926). He was a failed novelist before beginning a career as a theatre critic in 1895. Shaw earned a reputation for being brutally honest with his criticisms, unwilling to hold back his opinions. This mindset would serve him well as he then went on to write over sixty plays of his own. Shaw became such a renowned playwright that a new word, Shavian, was developed to speak of his particular brand of comedy.

Shaw at the Playhouse

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Wilfrid Seagram, Janet Beecher, and Alexander Kirkland in Candida at Berkshire Playhouse, 1928.

Berkshire Theatre has always been fond of Shaw, and saw the importance of his works. Throughout Berkshire Theatre's ninety year history, twenty-one Shaw plays have been produced. For the first six years of production, Berkshire Playhouse was sure to include a play by Shaw, in fact, Kirkland went so far as to state in the program for The Doctor's Dilemma, "we have never been able to consider a season complete without a Shaw play." While Kirkland and Strickland considered The Doctor's Dilemma Shaw's greatest work, Shaw himself was said to favor Candida.

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Perhaps this is why Kirkland and Strickland chose Shaw's Candida for their inaugural season in 1928. (Pictured to the Right: Richard Hale and Aline MacMahon in The Doctor's Dilemma at The Berkshire Playhouse, 1930.) Eighty years later in 2008, Berkshire Theatre Festival produced Candida for the 80th anniversary season. The Shavian comedy featured Jayne Atkinson (two-time Tony-nominee for Enchanted April and The Rainmaker, she is also known for the television series 24 and House of Cards, some BTF credits include Edith, The Lion in Winter, and The Guardsman) and her real-life husband, Michel Gill (known for the television series House of Cards and Mr. Robot, some BTF credits include The Guardsman and Sick) as well as Finn Wittrock (known for American Horror Story).

Shaw 4The Shavian comedy stood the test of time and as Louise Kennedy of the Boston Globe said, "[Candida] never devolves into mere domestic comedy or social argument. It has fun with the jokes, to be sure, but it also gives all of Shaw's creatures, flawed and risible as they often are, their due." (Pictured to the left: Jayne Atkinson and Michel Gill in Candida at Berkshire Theatre Festival, 2008.) Shaw's works were considered ground-breaking for their exploration of morals and social issues within a comedic light. Shaw believed that comedy was the best force to deliver unpopular ideas as it would allow the audience to absorb the idea before they realized it was more than mere entertainment.

Shaw 6Though our world is different in many ways than the Victorian and Edwardian era of Shaw, human nature has changed little, thus allowing Shaw's brilliant characters and moral dilemmas to seem as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1928. (Pictured to the right: Finn Wittrock and Michel Gill in Candida, at BTF, 2008.)

Berkshire Theatre Artist Profile: Ethel Barrymore

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Headshot of Ethel Barrymore c. 1930s.

Ethel Barrymore was the daughter of Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew, both actors. Both the Barrymores and the Drews were established acting families, and their merger created a dynasty. Ethel and her two brothers, John and Lionel Barrymore, joined the family business with passion and gusto. They had such presence and earned such success that they were dubbed the Royal Family of theatre. Ethel paved the way in theatre for both her brothers, and often worked with John in the early years of his career.

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She debuted on stage at just fourteen, and it was not long before she went on to enthrall and dazzle audiences across the country. She was often described as royal, and according to the New York Times, critics were so taken with her performance, that they would weep throughout and be thoroughly unable to focus on anything but her. Even today, her legacy persists. The Ethel Barrymore Theatre is one of only four theatres (out of 40) on Broadway to be named after a woman. 

Berkshire Theatre had the privilege of working with Ethel Barrymore for multiple performances. Barrymore and Billy Miles even attended other social events in the Berkshires together during her days off. (Pictured to the left, Billy Miles and Ethel Barrymore attending a Berkshire Symphonic Festival performance in the mid-1930s.) In addition to performances at the Stockbridge campus, both Ethel and John Barrymore performed together at The Colonial Theatre. Berkshire Theatre is celebrating 90 years of history this summer, and the Gala acknowledges and honors the Barrymore's history with Berkshire Theatre by offering a Barrymore Sponsorship

Barrymores at the Colonial

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The Barrymores appeared at the Colonial theatre several times throughout its early history as Ethel and John were part of touring companies that would travel the country. In 1906, John and Ethel performed together in Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire at the Colonial. This was just three years after John's stage debut, and shortly after Ethel's return to America.

After generating minor attention in small roles on Broadway, Ethel went to London to pursue more work. She was immensely successful, and upon her return starred in Clyde Fitch’s Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines. Her performance garnered acclaim and recognition, and launched her into stardom. 

Barrymore at the Berkshire Playhouse

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Though Barrymore announced her retirement in 1936, she could not stay away from the stage. She went on to numerous tours, broadway roles, and even a screen appearance or two. Ethel Barrymore appeared at the Berkshire Playhouse three times throughout its distinguished history in Déclassée by Zoe Akins (1935), White Oaks by Mazo de la Roche (1939), and The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1940).

Ethel Barrymore in School for Scandal

Her appearance in The School for Scandal (pictured to the left) created quite a sensation in Stockbridge. According to a newspaper article from 1940, "so great has been the demand for seats that Mr. Miles, the director, has announced a special matinee."

Ethel Barrymore became one of the most beloved actresses of the stage, and along with her brothers John and Lionel, continued and enhanced the family legacy. To this day the Barrymore dynasty lives on in Drew Barrymore (Ethel's great-niece and John Barrymore's granddaughter).

The Buildings of Berkshire Theatre Group

Berkshire Theatre Group was formed in 2010 by the merger of The Colonial Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Festival. Each of Berkshire Theatre Group's celebrated four stages has a rich and unique history.

 The Colonial Theatre and The Garage

Colonial Stage

The Colonial Theatre interior, view from the stage.

Colonial Postcard

Berkshire Theatre Group's Pittsfield Campus is comprised of the historic Colonial Theatre and The Garage. The Colonial was built in 1903 and functioned as a theatre for decades until being turned into a movie theatre in 1937, though there were still occasional live performances.In 1951 it was announced that the theatre would be permanently closing. The Town Players of Pittsfield staged a final performance (Curse You, Jack Dalton) on the Colonial stage in December of 1952. Pictured to the right: Postcard of The Colonial Theatre c. 1914.

Colonial Exterior

The Colonial was bought by the Miller family, and turned into an art supply store, though the family took extreme care to preserve the features of the theatre. By 1997 the Friends of the Colonial Theatre had formed and were generating support and awareness with the hope of restoring The Colonial. The Colonial was designated a National Historic Treasure in 1998 and in 2001 the renovations began. In 2006 The Colonial reopened to the public. Pictured to the left: The Colonial Theatre after the renovation in 2006.

Originally, The Colonial Theatre would seat 1,200 patrons, and currently seats approximately 800. The Theatre was designed to maximize acoustics and ensure that every seat could clearly hear the actors on stage. One way this was achieved was by having no corners, only curved edges, and to this day the only corners in the theatre come from the addition of an elevator.

Garage

Today, the lobby of the theatre has moved into an adjoining building. Built in 1921 as the Berkshire Auto Company, the building was connected to The Colonial Theatre and serves as the lobby, administrative offices, backstage space in addition to housing The Garage (pictured to the right).The name is a tribute to the original building and hosts a variety of smaller, more intimate performances. The Garage offers a distinctive lounge atmosphere and is perfect for comedy and music.

Colonial Historic Lobby

Historic Lobby of The Colonial Theatre.

 

The Fitzpatrick Main Stage and The Unicorn Theatre

Watercolor of Stockbridge campus

Berkshire Theatre Festival Stockbridge Campus, painting by Leonard Weber from the BTF archives.

The Stockbridge Casino was completed in 1888. By the 1920s it had fallen into disuse and was sold to Mabel Choate, who in turn sold it to the Three Arts Society. In order to preserve the casino, they found a new home for the structure at the foot of Yale Hill Road. The casino was carefully taken apart and pulled by horses to its new location.

Hallock

When they rebuilt the structure they overhauled the interior to create the Berkshire Playhouse. The new theatre seated 450, and dressing rooms were added for the actors. The Playhouse remained more or less as it was until the 1940s. Pictured to the right: Terry Hallock watercolor of the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, 1990.

During the initial 1920s rebuilding and renovation, the three arts society bought the Mellon Barn, which was used as the scene and prop shop. The pigsty (devoid of actual farm animals) was transformed into living quarters for the interns who came to work at the theatre. The barn (now known as the Unicorn Theatre) was also used as an informal stage and it functioned as a workshop space for new and experimental theatre. Pictured below: Rear view of the Unicorn Theatre, painting by unknown artist from the BTF archives.

Unicorn

The Main Stage was renovated again in the 1940s and the 1990s. Today, the Main Stage retains much of its original character with the iconic arches and cupola. The building's history and import to Stockbridge led to its addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. 

Beginnings of the Berkshire Theatre

Berkshire Playhouse c. 1930s

Berkshire Playhouse circa 1930s.

The Berkshire Playhouse Blossoms

As we head into the ninetieth year of production, it is important to remember the storied beginnings of Berkshire Theatre Festival.  Eva Le Gallienne was integral to the creation of BTF as a champion and pioneer of regional theatre. Her company, the Civic Repertory Theatre, "laid the groundwork for [the] Off-Broadway and the regional theatre movement," according to a December 1998 article from Playbill.

Eva Le Gallienne in The Cradle Song, 1928.Alexander Kirkland, part of the Civic Repertory Theatre, became the first artistic director of the Berkshire Playhouse and on June 4, 1928 the Playhouse opened its doors with Eva Le Gallienne in The Cradle Song (pictured to the left). Myriad productions followed, many including the brightest names of stage and screen, but the Fitzpatrick Main Stage began its days as The Stockbridge Casino, designed in 1887 by McKim, Mead, and White.

The Stockbridge Casino building was completed in 1888 and remained an important cultural center in Stockbridge until the 1920s. After the building began to fall into disrepair, Mabel Choate (daughter of Joseph Choate, one of the founders of the Stockbridge Casino Company) announced her plans to buy the Casino, dismantle it, and replace it with the Mission House, which she planned to transform into a museum.

Unwilling to let an historic building fall, Daniel Chester French, Austen Fox Riggs, and Walter L. Clark purchased the Casino building for one dollar and moved it to the foot of Yale Hill Road in 1927. The following year they formed The Three Arts Society, and Alexander Kirkland and F. Cowles Strickland became co-directors of the Berkshire Playhouse.

According to various newspaper accounts, the parking lot of the Playhouse was filled with limousines for its grand opening night. Despite this glamorous beginning, Berkshire Playhouse has always been more committed to community than profits. The Playhouse operated as a non-profit theatre even during the twenties and thirties as "at the end of each season, any profits are turned over to the Fine Arts building fund of Stockbridge," according to an August 1930 article from Heart of the Berkshires. Kirkland and Strickland not only worked to better their community, they also brought in young theatre artists to cultivate.

A Star is Born

A headline from the Berkshire Eagle on June 24, 1933 announces the arrival of new Berkshire Playhouse apprentices.

From the first summer, Berkshire Playhouse employed students from Yale University to work as their production crew. According to Walter L. Clark’s memoir, Leaves from An Artist’s Memory, Professor Baker from Yale was “pleased to have his young men practice in the summer what he was training them to do in the winter” (260). The Acting Apprentice program, also called the “Junior Company,” was established in 1929, and by 1930 such performers as Jane Wyatt and Katharine Hepburn had joined. These programs still continue almost ninety years later.

The apprentices (around a dozen for the first few years, with one of the largest groups totaling 25) spent their days learning characterization, pantomime, voice, dancing, and fencing. As of 1931, apprentices performed student productions once every two weeks. These performances were open to the Playhouse company and invited guests. The performances were in addition to them attending all Playhouse performances. Pictured to the right: A headline from the Berkshire Eagle on June 24, 1933 announces the arrival of new Berkshire Playhouse apprentices.

Apprentices were sometimes offered small roles in summer subscription shows, which afforded them the opportunity to work alongside high-caliber professional actors. They were also expected to help create the scenery and costumes for each show as part of their "general application" training in theatre. Pictured below: a poster featuring Jane Wyatt in Stage Door in 1938, a former apprentice returned as a star.

Poster of Jane Wyatt in Stage Door, 1938.

Almost ninety years later, Berkshire Theatre Group offers internships in everything from carpentry and props to marketing and finance. The acting internship program is still alive, well, and currently led by David Adkins, who was an apprentice himself back in 1985.

Berkshire Theatre Festival reflects the history of the American theatre and represents a priceless cultural resource for the community. For almost ninety years, Berkshire Theatre Festival has been committed to being a center for creative work that enriches, invigorates and transforms artists and audiences.

The First Era: The Berkshire Playhouse

(L to R): Alexander Kirkland, Donald Meek, and F. Cowles Strickland in rehearsal for Rip Van Winkle, 1929.

(L to R): Alexander Kirkland, Donald Meek, and F. Cowles Strickland in rehearsal for Rip Van Winkle, 1929.

The first directors of The Berkshire Playhouse were recruited by Walter L. Clark, who bought the Playhouse (formerly known as the Stockbridge Casino) for $1.00 and instituted the Three Arts Society in order to create a new theatre in Stockbridge. During his search for a Director, Mr. Clark was told of Alexander Kirkland, a young actor who had recently been a part of Eva Le Galliene's Civic Repertory Company.

Alexander Kirkland and Edith Barrett in Romeo and Juliet, 1930, Berkshire Playhouse.

According to a 1930 article in Heart of the Berkshires, "Kirkland immediately fell in with the plans, on the condition that he could find a partner who would share the executive responsibility and direct the productions." This partner would be F. Cowles Strickland, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama. (Pictured to the right: Alexander Kirkland and Edith Barrett in Romeo and Juliet, 1930, Berkshire Playhouse.)

Alexander Kirkland and F. Cowles Strickland co-directed the theatre from 1928—1930, at which point Kirkland left to pursue other opportunities, both on stage and screen. Kirkland and Strickland were keystones to the early success and longevity of the theatre.

Alexander Kirkland

Alexander KirklandAlexander Kirkland (pictured to the left) was born in Mexico City in 1901. He attended the Taft School in Connecticut and the University of Virginia. His theatre career began at the Hedgerow Theatre in Pennsylvania. He would eventually join Eva Le Galliene's Repertory Company, and toured with their production of The Cradle Song. Civic Repertory Company, and toured with their production of The Cradle Song. 

It was shortly after this that Kirkland began his time with the Berkshire Playhouse. Though he left his role as Co-Director in 1930, he would come back in later seasons to appear in plays. His journey after the Playhouse led him to Hollywood and New York, where he starred with Tallulah Bankhead in the 1931 film Tarnished Lady. He would go on to appear numerous times on Broadway. 

Alexander Kirkland and Zita Johann in The Lake, 1930, Berkshire Playhouse.

Though a prolific actor, Kirkland was also a writer who had short stories published in national magazines throughout his early acting career. In the 1950s, he embraced his literary talent and became a writer and lecturer, as well as the proprietor of an art gallery. He moved back to Guernavaca, Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1986.(Pictured to the right: Alexander Kirkland and Zita Johann in The Lake, 1930, Berkshire Playhouse.)

 

F. Cowles Strickland

F. Cowles StricklandF. Cowles Strickland worked as the Co-Director, and then Director of the Playhouse until 1934. During his tenure he founded the Berkshire Playhouse Drama School and undertook ambitious plays by such playwrights as George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O'Neill, and Shakespeare. During his final season with the theatre, he introduced a repertory style to the theatre's summer offerings. style to the theatre's summer offerings. 

After he left the Playhouse in the capable hands of William Miles, he went on to an illustrious academic career. He was the Drama Director of the Gilbert and Sullivan Club at Wesleyan until 1938. He then went on to an impressive 17-year career at Stanford University. He instituted Stanford's Artists in Residence program and in 1956 he wrote The Technique of Acting, in which he explored the various techniques used in the craft of acting. Later, He went on to become the first American director of the Finnish National Theater. He was a Professor of Drama at American University until his death in 1971.

Stories of Stockbridge: Judy Staber's Beginnings in the American Theatre

Judy White, Paul Ballantyne, David Vaughan, and George Vogel in The Happiest Days of Your Life at Berkshire Theatre, 1960.

Judy White, Paul Ballantyne, David Vaughan, and George Vogel in The Happiest Days of Your Life at Berkshire Theatre, 1960. Photo credit Louis Hansen.

Judy’s Journey with Berkshire Theatre:

When I arrived in America in July 1959 I was Judy White, fresh off the plane after finishing school in England. My mother, Joan White, was completing a National Company Tour of My Fair Lady as Mrs. Higgins. That fall she and I, along with my new stepfather, Robert Paine Grose, moved to New York City.

That winter Mother and Bob saw an advertisement saying that The Three Arts Society in Stockbridge was looking for an Artistic Director and a Manager to run the venerable Berkshire Playhouse. Mother had experience directing and acting at The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario. Bob was a highly respected scenic designer and taught at Rollins College. They met with Billy Miles who recommended they apply. They did, and were hired to do the 1960 summer season. They invited me along as an apprentice and to do a variety of jobs: box office, publicity, and when needed backstage. I was rather green, but I loved the work and was a quick learner.(Pictured below: Judy White and David O'Brien in See How They Run at the Berkshire Playhouse, 1962. Photo credit Louis Hansen.)

Judy White and David O'Brien in See How They Run, 1962. They hired Bert Gruver as Business Manager that first year and he was my boss. From him I learned all about the running of Front of House and much more. Bert had written The Stage Manager’s Handbook, still considered the bible of production and backstage work. He taught me how to treat audience members, to always be neat and polite, how to do quick calculations in the box office, if by chance we had sold the same seat to two people or, if we were sold out. We had one grand lady patron who always bought four tickets and she and her chauffeur would sit in the middle two, so she did not have to sit next to people in shorts with “hairy legs.”

I made my acting debut on the Berkshire Playhouse stage in The Happiest Days of Your Life playing a Scottish schoolgirl with Margaret Hamilton as the headmistress. I had to lift up my skirt and say “We’re girls, see!” Got a laugh every night. That’s when I knew I wanted to be an actress. That year, I also played the court stenographer in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, which starred Keir Dullea. Keir later went on to star in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey as astronaut David Bowman, whose line “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” is now part of cinema lore.

Mother and Bob cast good actors, some Playhouse favorites from Billy Miles’ day: William Swan, Gaye Jordan, Eleanor Wilson and Mac Morgan; some who became repeat performers each season such as Drew Eliot, David Vaughan, Pauline Flanagan and Kendall Clark. To bring in the audiences, they contracted big stars of the day by offering them rooms at The Red Lion Inn and other amenities. Margaret Hamilton, who returned several times to the Playhouse, there was Gloria Swanson, Sylvia Sidney, Anna Russell, Geoffrey Lynn, Joan Copeland and Gloria Grahame. Many of them, like Maggie Hamilton, returned another summer season. (Pictured below: Avis Lennard, Drew Eliot, and Margaret Hamilton in The Happiest Days of Your Life, 1960.)

Avis Lennard, Drew Eliot, and Margaret Hamilton in The Happiest Days of Your Life, 1960

That first summer in 1960 Stockbridge was nothing like it is today. I had a tiny room on Elm Street above Mrs. Drake’s hairdressing establishment. We mostly went to Lee to eat because Rossi’s restaurant had all you could eat for $1.99 and there was always Friendly’s. The telephone system was very simple most numbers were just Stockbridge (now 298) and then three or four numbers. Once I was calling Bob Grose and the telephone lady cut in and said “He’s not home dear, I just saw him cross the street and go into the Red Lion.” Many of the apprentices lived on the top floor of The Red Lion, before Jack and Jane FitzPatrick took it over and spruced it up. Norman Rockwell lived in town and Tanglewood was an easily accessible music center.

That was the first summer and we had a lot of fun putting on the productions. There were guest directors, but mostly Mother directed and sometimes acted and Bob designed the sets and directed the musicals.

After the summer of 1960, I went back to New York, studied with Herbert Berghof, acted or worked backstage Off Broadway, earned my Equity Card and in late 1963 went on tour as first Assistant Stage Manger with A Man For All Seasons. Right before rehearsals started for that, I went to Stockbridge to play Ida the maid in the crazy British farce See How They Run.

 

Life After the Playhouse:

After the tour was over, I married Colgate Salsbury, who had played Will Roper. We went to Stockbridge for the summer of 1964 as a package deal – he was resident leading man and I was character-actress-cum-publicity person. That summer, which was to be Joan White and Robert Paine Grose’s last in Stockbridge, I grew larger and greater with child. I played Mrs Hopkins in My Fair Lady, Phoebe in As You Like It (Mother had played Phoebe in the 1936 film with Laurence Olivier), and Dora in Night Must Fall which starred Enid Markey. Colgate played the murderer and I had another memorable line, “Aow, come quick! There’s a ‘and in the rubbish dump.” (Pictured below: Joan White in You Never Know at the Berkshire Playhouse, 1962.)

Joan White in You Never Know, 1962.

[Just a little side bar here: Daisy Walker (director of HAIR and last year’s Lost Lake) is my god-daughter and her parents were in the Company for Mother and Bob’s last season. Dan Walker played the Detective in Night Must Fall and Dina Harris was costume designer for the season.]

We returned to New York and I stopped acting to raise our two daughters. We moved to the Berkshires in 1971, because we had loved it here. In 1982 we divorced.

My daughters are well and happy and neither one is interested in the being in the theatre. I first worked for The Berkshire Courier and I went to review the first production at Shakespeare & Company A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I stayed on to do Public Relations and Marketing from 1978 through 1985. That’s where I met Kate Maguire. Later when I was working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as Cultural Tourism Director, Kate was looking for a change and I recommended that she try Stage West in Springfield. She met Eric Hill and the rest is history. I got married again in 1991 to John Staber, who was working for the Berkshire Scenic Railroad, and moved to Columbia County. I was director of the Spencertown Academy for almost nine years, produced fifteen British American Pantos, wrote a book about my childhood at The Actors Orphanage, and have generally kept busy in the Arts.

I am now writing a biography about my mother, Joan White, who worked in the theatre as an actress, director, producer and teacher for sixty-five years from 1930 until 1995. She died at the age of eighty-nine at Denville Hall near London in 1999. She never stopped working — doing what she loved. Stockbridge was part of that life.

The Berkshire Playhouse: Billy Miles' Tremendous Tenure

Left to Right: Billy Miles, S.N. Behrman, and Sidney Howard at the Opening of Declasse with Ethel Barrymore, 1935.

(L to R): Billy Miles, S. N. Behrman, and Sidney Howard at the opening of Declasse with Ethel Barrymore, 1935.

William "Billy" Miles was the Producing Director of the Berkshire Playhouse from 1935 until 1958. The Playhouse blossomed under his tenure and he was known for attracting some of the biggest female stars of the age to come and perform at the Playhouse. Before taking the reins from Strickland, Miles had worked at the Playhouse every summer since its inception.

After graduating from The Choate School, Miles studied at Yale for three weeks before deciding that his theatre career would benefit more from experience than academia. He set off for New York and worked as an actor, scenic painter, stage manager, and many other jobs.

Billy Miles, photograph from BTF archives.

He came to the Berkshire Playhouse as an actor during the 1928 season, and each subsequent summer would return and participate in a variety of ways, including as the press person. In 1932, he took over directing the Nantucket Theater, which he continued to do until 1935 when an opening for Director and Producer became available.

Miles (pictured to the right) constantly worked to revolutionize the theatre and introduced an air conditioning system, which proved to be a huge success during the hot Berkshire summers. In 1941 he spearheaded a renovation where the Playhouse was updated and expanded with the addition of modest wings to the stage as well as a soft drink bar. This was added in the space which today is taken up by the box office. 

The very next year, the Playhouse was forced to close during the war; however, Miles kept the drama school open and in his letter announcing the closure stated, "the reason that the Playhouse cannot operate this year is the gas rationing...Our plan is to form with our student group a circuit theatre, to present a different full-length play each week of the season, playing a different town on each of four nights." He wanted to ensure both that the students and patrons would be able to participate in theatre despite the harrowing times. The Playhouse re-opened in 1946, as strong as ever, and has continued to produce plays to this day, entering its 90th anniversary.

Billy Miles on a train, photo from the BTF archives.

Throughout his theatrical career, Miles (pictured to the left on a train) dipped into every aspect of the business and artistic sides, including design, directing, press, management, and even playwriting. In addition to his love of the theatre, Miles was an avid train enthusiast. It is said that he greeted every member of the Playhouse company that came into the Stockbridge train station, both for the artist and to see the trains.

After producing some of the most memorable shows of the Playhouse's long run (including Declasse and White Oaks with Ethel Barrymore, Our Town with Thornton Wilder, and Robert Sherwood's Petrified Forest) Billy Miles went on to a long and illustrious career in the theatre. In 2016, Berkshire Theatre Group celebrated Miles' 111th birthday with a benefit that helped to raise money for BTG's archives. Much of the scrapbooks in the archives were put together by Billy Miles in an effort to preserve the history of the theatre that he loved and helped to advance.

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.”

More ...

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

    Performance days:
    1 hour prior to the show

    (413) 997-4444


    Fitzpatrick Main Stage
    83 East Main Street, Stockbridge

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

    (413) 997-4444

  • Directions
  • Seating

    Colonial TheatrePittsfield

    Orchestra pdforchestra
    The orchestra is the first level of the theater.

    Balcony pdfbrew works  logo
    The balcony is the second level of the theater.

    Gallery pdfgallery
    The gallery is the third level of the theater.


    Fitzpatrick Main Stage Stockbridge

    Seating pdfFitzpatrickMainStage
    This contains all seating locations at this venue.


    Unicorn TheatreStockbridge

    Seating pdfUnicornTheatre
    This contains all seating locations at this venue.