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

Anne Bancroft and other actors sitting around a table with scripts beginning the reading of a play.

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 & OrderThe SopranosDamagesHouse, and Royal Pains. He has also directed Beauty Queen of LeenaneVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Mother of the Maid at Shakespeare and Co. Last year he directed in the 10×10 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.

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News & Articles

From the Archive: Eva LeGallienne

By: Katie Birenboim (She/Her/Hers)   Devoted fans of BTG may gasp to discover that until doing a first round of research in the amazing BTG archives, I had never heard … Read On

Just announced! Max Creek will be live at The Colonial Theatre Friday, April 7 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $29 in advance and $39 day of! Visit our website to purchase!
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Georgia Douglas Johnson was a well-known figure in the National Black Theatre movement in the early twentieth century, assembling and inspiring the intellectuals and artists who generated the next group of Black Theatre and rising education. Johnson wrote about 28 plays that were published under the pen name John Temple due to the fact that most of her writings were denied publication because of gender and race. By the end of her time, Johnson had written 200 poems, 28 plays and 31 short stories. She published her last poetry book, entitled Share My World, in 1962.
Are you and the kids feeling the February blues? Get out of the house and join us for “Magic Tree House: The Knight At Dawn” February 18th at 2pm! Author Mary Pope Osborne will be signing books from 1pm to 1:45pm in The Colonial Theatre lobby prior to the performance. Books will be available for purchase provided by The Bookloft in Great Barrington! Tickets on sale now!
There are still a few days to grab your tickets for “Draw The Line: A Tribute To Aerosmith!”
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Berkshire Theatre Group celebrates Black History Month! For the rest of the month we will be highlighting Black Voices in Theatre through the years!
We sat down and had a fun chat with Rev Tor himself! Learn some fun facts about Tor and his band before catching the show this Friday!
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Tickets through the link in our bio!
You won’t want to miss “Hyprov” on March 25! From the brilliant minds of Improv and Comedy Legend Colin Mochrie and Master Hypnotist Asad Mecci comes a brand new, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, side-splitting show! Twenty random volunteers from the audience will be put under hypnosis, their inhibitions evaporated and their minds no longer their own. The contestants will be methodically and hysterically whittled down until the five best are left on stage when one of the world’s leading improvisers enters! Colin Mochrie will take the stage to improvise with the top five while they are still under hypnosis, which will turn the show into an improv extravaganza!
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Join us March 24 for “Song and Dance.” Highlighting Berkshire women in the Arts, this show features performances by Gina Coleman, Olga Dunn Dance Co., Wanda Houston, Mary Ann Palermo and The All-Star Women’s Band, along with more of our extraordinary region’s unsung female heroes in the art, business, social and medical communities. Join us for an evening of celebrating women of the Berkshires!
Proceeds will be donated in part to several local non-profit organizations, including The Elizabeth Freeman Center that helps women and children in need.
Katie Birenboim is back on the blog this week highlighting some more of the rich history found in BTG's archives! A recent trip uncovered this essay from long-time president of the board and fixture of the Berkshires, Jane Fitzpatrick, outlining the formative years of what we now call the Playhouse on our Stockbridge campus! Read more from both Katie and Jane through the link in our bio!
Want to change things up this year for St. Patrick’s Day? Join us March 17 at 7:30 for The Young Dubliners! This American rock band have been recording albums and touring since 1993. Their style of music has come to be called Celtic Rock for the fusion of Irish traditional music with modern rock ‘n’ roll!
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This year’s line-up includes: Fuzz of Deep Banana Blackout, Rob Sanzone of The Picky Bastards, Garrett Lechowski of Harvest, and RustSeth Fleischmann of Misty Blues! More announced soon so stay tuned!
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Join us Friday, March 3rd for “Ivy League Stand Up!” Known for their elite brand of clever comedy, the members of The Ivy League of Comedy can be seen on late-night TV, Comedy Central and now on stage at the Colonial. This hilarious comedy show features original, well-written comedy that doesn’t resort to playing on stereotypes or picking on the audience. This is stand-up comedy’s funniest and brightest!
Today we remember a magnificent man. His words were extremely important then and they are still extremely important now.
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February 25th we’ve got “Tapestry, The Carole King Songbook Featuring Suzanne O. Davis.” In addition to featuring all the music from Tapestry, the show will also feature many songs that Carole King and her husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote in the 1960s as one of the most successful songwriting teams in pop music history. The more than 400 songs were recorded by over 1,000 artists, including The Drifters, The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Donnie Osmond, Aretha Franklin, The Shirelles, Bobby Vee and many more.

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Are you looking for something fun to do with the whole family but don’t want to brave the cold days of winter? Join us February 18th for “Magic Tree House: The Knight At Dawn.” Based off of Mary Pope Osborne’s Award Winning book series, this show is wonderful for all ages! Mary Pope Osborne will be signing books from 1pm to 1:45pm in The Colonial Theatre lobby prior to the performance. Books will be available for purchase provided by The Bookloft in Great Barrington!

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Mark your calendars for February 10th! We’ve got Draw The Line: A Tribute To Aerosmith! Combining the same blues-based, hard rock sounds of Aerosmith, Draw The Line performs  classic hits like “Walk this Way,” “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” “Dream On” and many others with stunning accuracy. Tickets on sale now via the link in our bio!
Join us February 3rd at 7:30pm for Rev Tor’s 11th Annual Dead of Winter Jam. Interweaving the classic songs and jams of The Grateful Dead, Dead Man’s Waltz is an all-star collective from the Northeast festival scene. Dead Man’s Waltz features top-notch musicianship and offers a refreshing twist to the music of The Grateful Dead. While staying true to the spirit of the music, the band members put their own dynamic spin on a vast catalog of beloved songs that are now part of the new American songbook. This show will feature some of your local favorites like Mark Mercier (Max Creek), Jen Durkin (Deep Banana Blackout), Mark Paradis (The Marks Brothers/Lobsters From Mars), Mike “Woody” Wood (Rebel Alliance) and Them Bastards (Chris Merenda & Dave Brown). 
Tickets on sale now via the link in our bio!
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