Berkshire Fall Arts Guide
Irina Brook to Direct Oscar Wilde at Shakespeare & Company
By: Larry Murray - Aug 26, 2008
Fall is when we in the Berkshires get to enjoy our own resident arts companies. Sure, the Boston Symphony may have returned to Boston, and the center of dance has shifted from Jacob's Pillow to Manhattan, but just about everyone else is still around. There is artistic life in the Berkshires well into the Fall and Winter as this preview of coming attractions in the months ahead makes clear.
The growth of the off season is due to the increasing number of Berkshire residents who love the arts and live here because of them. Their ticket purchases and contributions are making the performing arts a year round activity, albeit on a smaller scale than in the summer.
This Guide covers September and October, and our next one due out in early November will highlight the Holiday season.
Barrington Stage Company
To Kill a Mockingbird - October 8-26
After a two week break in performances at Barrington Stage Company, rehearsals begin September 18 for a play based on one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century, Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird. This major production inaugurates Barrington's fall mainstage season from October 8 through 26.
Adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel and directed by BSC's artistic director, Julianne Boyd, To Kill A Mockingbird is an artful and compassionate story of innocence, courage and what it means to be a family.
Many local performers will supplement Barrington's regulars. Auditions were held last June in Pittsfield for many of the parts.
Set in Depression-era Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is the coming of age story of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, the daughter of Atticus, a lawyer who, despite threats to himself and his family, defends a black man accused of assaulting a white woman. The narrator of the story, a grown-up Scout, looks back at her childhood, delivering a powerful message about prejudice, injustice, and humanity.
Mounting such a large production in the off-season entails considerable risk taking, but if any company can pull it off, it is this one.
Quick Link to Barrington Stage Company
Berkshire Theatre Festival
Eleanor: Her Secret Journey - September 25 - November 9
Written by Rhoda Lerman, Eleanor: Her Secret Journey is a poignant and thoughtful one-woman play about Eleanor Roosevelt. Stage and screen actress Elizabeth Norment will star and Stephen Temperley directs.
We hear that Norment arrived for her first rehearsal having already memorized her entire monologue, ready to take on the life of Eleanor after the death of FDR, at age 61. It holds great promise as the story of woman who was finally able to be herself after more than a decade as a hostage to the role of First Lady.
This intimate portrait of the First Lady reveals her private struggles and offers a distinctly feminine look at politics, power, and war. She and her husband changed America forever. They lifted our society at a time when all appeared hopeless. It seems fitting to add her voice to the conversation during election season.
Norment has appeared on Broadway in A Touch of the Poet and Plenty. Among her stage credits are the world premiere of The Clean House at Yale Rep, as well as No End of Blame, Sganarelle, Cloud Nine, Third and Homebody/Kabul. On screen Norment has been seen in "Law & Order," "Mad About You," "L.A. Law" and "St. Elsewhere."
Quick Link to Berkshire Theatre Festival
Berkshire Theatre Festival
Oliver! September 4-7
This is not a full Equity production of Oliver!, but rather a joint venture with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation's Education Enrichment Initiative and BTF PLAYS!, Berkshire Theatre Festival's year-round education program. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart and directed by E. Gray Simons III and Travis G. Daly, the project involves students and community members from throughout Berkshire County and beyond.
The cast of more than a hundred hails from across Western Massachusetts and Eastern New York and includes former professional actors as well as first-time performers. The design team includes scenic designer Jonathan Wentz, costume designer Keating Helfrich, lighting designer Patience Edwards, sound designer Janie Bullard, choreographer Rachael Plaine, and music director Carlton Maaia II.
If the idea of scores of young children singing and dancing on stage excites you, then this is an event not to be missed. Five performances only.
Quick Link to Berkshire Theatre Festival
Shakespeare & Company
The Canterville Ghost - September 19 - November 9
Perhaps the most exciting news we received about new projects was that revolving around the arrival of Irina Brook at Shakespeare & Company. She is the daughter of legendary director Peter Brook whom we have long admired. Irina has undertaken a variety of innovative theatre projects over the past decade, using Europe as her base. She has just moved to Great Barrington, and has linked up with Tina Packer and the Shakespeare Company in Lenox. Immediately she is launching into a big project - transforming Oscar Wilde's short story The Canterville Ghost into a play. It will be created from scratch by the actors and director, and premiered at the new Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre.
When asked why she chose to do Canterville Ghost she said: "I love how Wilde's piece goes from light comedy to something very moving about love and redemption. When one reads about his life, he is such a touching and tragic character. I've always been drawn to that kind of mixture of humour and emotion."
The daughter of maverick director Peter Brook, whose A Midsummer Night's Dream set the theatre world on fire in the 1970s, Irina set her own course and showed her own mettle early onÂ—putting her own distinctive imprint on the theatre. She has lived and worked in Paris for the last several years, built a successful company and recently won strong critical praise for her own seminal version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Her arrival on the Shakespeare & Company campus signals that even more creativity is afoot at the ever growing institution that Tina (and her loyal supporters) have built.
Quick Link to Shakespeare & Company
Theatre Beyond the Berkshires
If you are willing to travel, there is a great deal of theatre beyond the Berkshires to enjoy. Southern Vermont, Eastern New York State and Northern Connecticut are all home to their own resident companies. There are local productions in the Berkshires as well, some of them, like Chester Theatre Company are quite worthy, while others, like Main Street Stage, are quite variable in the quality of their productions.
You can use our Arts Links above for information on many of them, but if you want to see the whole magilla, a complete listing of just about every theater company within a hundred miles, a visit to Gail Burns' website, Gail Sez is in order. Gail's dedication to theatre in the region is a genuine labor of love that benefits both the theaters and their audiences.
Quick Link to Gail Sez
Cirque du Soleil's Kooza to play Boston Sept. 5 - Oct. 19*
A few circuses still erect a "big top" tent, but nobody does it like Cirque du Soleil, which will present their newest touring show, Kooza Under the Grand Chapiteau, at Bayside Expo Center in Boston. It is a monumental undertaking since their show is as theatrical as they come. That's why they will stay put for a month. Cirque is such a phenomenon, it is worth the trip to see it.
If Boston is too far, there is also an arena show being presented at U Mass in Amherst, but other than these two opportunities, seeing Cirque du Soleil generally means a trip to Las Vegas, Orlando or, if you can get there, Macau.
Kooza is a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil: It combines two circus traditions Â– acrobatic performance and the art of clowning. The show highlights the physical demands of human performance in all its splendor and fragility, presented in a colorful mélange that emphasizes bold slapstick humor.
Kooza tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world. The Innocent's journey brings him into contact with a panoply of comic characters such as the King, the Trickster, the Pickpocket, and the Obnoxious Tourist and his Bad Dog.
Between strength and fragility, laughter and smiles, turmoil and harmony, Kooza explores themes of fear, identity, recognition and power. The show is set in an electrifying and exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement.
* Updated as of 9/18: Kooza has extended its Boston run twice, and is now scheduled to perform until October 19 b before moving on to Washington, D.C. They are also offering discount seats for some of the later weekday performances. If you opt for the Cirque Club you will get emails offering lower priced seats.
Quick Link to Kooza
Cirque du Soleil - Saltimbanco - September 3-7
University of Massachusetts Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
SaltimbancoÂ—from the Italian "saltare in banco," which literally means "to jump on a bench"Â—explores the urban experience in all its myriad forms: the people who live there, their idiosyncrasies and likenesses, families and groups, the hustle and bustle of the street and the towering heights of skyscrapers. Between whirlwind and lull, prowess and poetry, Saltimbanco takes spectators on an allegorical and acrobatic journey into the heart of the city.
Saltimbanco is a characteristic Cirque du Soleil show inspired by the urban fabric of the metropolis and its colorful inhabitants. Decidedly baroque in its visual vocabulary, the show's eclectic cast of characters draws spectators into a fanciful, dreamlike world, an imaginary city where diversity is a cause for hope.
Quick Link to Saltimbanco
Nick Brooke: Time and Motion Study - September 27
In a large arena somewhere between a factory, an office, and a Wagnerian opera, eight performers sing, lip-synch, bricklay, and shovel, coordinating their movements precisely with a dense electronic maquette of sound effects, song fragments, and recorded text.
Composer and artist-in-residence Nick Brooke's playful and ingenious Time and Motion Study, co-directed by Jenny Rohn, is based on industrial efficiency studies of the 1920s and '30s and their relation to the invention of Muzak.
The production spins a symbolic web that examines how recorded music seeped into the psychological landscape of the U.S., influencing our daily work rituals. Performed with Mass, a work which is half American Idol, half religious service, it combines virtuosic singing with hand-to-hand combat.
Jacob's Pillow and Mass MoCA present
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo - October 10-11
Founded in 1974 by a group of ballet enthusiasts for the purpose of presenting a playful, entertaining view of traditional, classical ballet in parody form and en travesti, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a hoot, and it is heading for the Berkshires. The "Trocks" are like nothing else most Berkshire residents have ever seen.
Combining a wicked comic sense of humor with a devoted respect and true talent for classical dance, the all-male, 16-member "Clown Princes of Ballet" dance the fine line between high art and high camp. Presented with Jacob's Pillow, the "Trocks" whom the San Francisco Chronicle calls "one of the great comic creations of the American stage," perform parodies of ballet cornerstones complete with gargantuan toe shoes and diaphanous tutus. They have the ability to turn white ballets black, and to turn women's roles into opportunities for men.
These turbo-charged ballerinas are true athletes, with amazing flexibility, questionable artistic sensitivity, and the ability to spin like tops. The Austin Chronicle raves, "They shine with such a decidedly self-deprecating brilliance that one can't help but laugh with them and adore them."
On tap for the Trocks performance at MASS MoCA is Swan Lake, Go for Barocco, and Paquita plus several surprises.
Quick Link to Mass MoCA
Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield
There is not too much of interest until October on the Colonial billboard. September, seems to have been given over to showing movies, albeit classics on the big screen. But in October several items are of interest to lovers of the performing arts:
The Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa - October 15th
This extraordinary group of traditional West African percussionists, musicians and dancers creates a modern ballet of music and movement. The troupe performs with many instruments, including the Kora, N'Goni, the Balaphon, Djembe, Doundouns and flute. Drawing from its Mandingo tradition, The Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa offers rich and varied performances with traditional rhythms and elaborate costuming. This inspired and authentic musical experience will take you on a journey beyond all borders.
Narek Hakhnazaryan, cellist October 16th
From Armenia, twenty-year-old Narek Hakhnazaryan is one of the winners of the 2008 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. At the age of twelve, Hakhnazaryan began studies at the Moscow Conservatory with Alexey Seleznyov. He is a laureate of several international competitions, including First Prize in the 2006 Aram Khachaturian International Competition in Armenia and Fifth Prize at the 2007 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow.
New Black Eagle Jazz Band with The Pittsfield Cityjazz Youth Orchestra - October 17
The New Black Eagle Jazz Band plays a vast repertoire of traditional jazz, including early New Orleans, 1920s Chicago, 1930s small band, the revival of the 1940s and 1950s jazz and original pieces written by a number of band members. The group's arrangements include "The Mooche" by Duke Ellington, "Grandpa's Spells" by Jelly Roll Morton, "New Rag" by Scott Joplin, "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" by Duke Ellington.
The "Tribute" Shows Continue
The Colonial also continues to present its "Tribute" shows in which imitators of the original artists perform covers of popular songs. The Drifters, the Hollies, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and many others will be honored in this way, but they are either dead or disbanded. I recently heard complaints from people who expected to see Neil Diamond at his recent Colonial "tribute", especially since he was performing live in Albany at about the same time. Needless to say, the ticket buyers at the Colonial never saw him, but endured a "tribute" instead.
The Colonial deserves our attention and support for real artists, not imitators. These sort of deceptive second rate shows undermine the "brand" and respect that the Colonial is trying so hard to build.
Quick Link to the Colonial Theatre
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington
Paula Poundstone - September 13
Fairview Hospital Benefit
Fairview Hospital is presenting Paula Poundstone in a special fund raising performance. However, there are only $50 balcony seats remaining for public sale. Poundstone's comic stylings will prove that "Laughter is the Best Medicine" according to the Fairview sponsors. You can enjoy an evening of wit and spontaneity while supporting a local community hospital. In addition to doing her stand-up act across the country, Poundstone is a frequent guest on the popular NPR program "Wait Wait....Don't Tell Me."
Jonathan Edwards Band - September 20
Folk rocker Jonathan Edwards, creator of classic hits such as Sunshine and Shanty brings along his band mates for a rare Berkshires appearance. For many years Jonathan has appeared only as a solo artist, so this is a chance to see him with some of his longtime fellow musicians. Opening the show is the Bobby Sweet Trio.
The Indigo Girls - September 21
Twenty years after they began, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have refused to mellow out or act their age. Devoted social justice activists and lifelong music-industry mavericks, the Girls have spent their entire career pushing boundaries on a variety of fronts. They hold the high bar that newcomers aspire to, always pushing to get "Closer to Fine".
Dar Willlilams - October 3
Dar Williams has been engaging audiences with her music since the early 1990s when she rose from the Northeast coffeehouse circuit to the national spotlight. A native of New York's Hudson Valley, where she still resides, Williams infuses her life and music with a strong system of values, idealism and community involvement.
Classical Crown Jewels: Close Encounters With Music - October 18
On the program are Baroque and Classical works for chamber orchestra and soloists, featuring an array of composers who wrote for Europe's most musically voracious rulers. Works include Haydn's Cello Concerto in D Major; Mozart's "Musical Joke"; the splendor of Bach's Double Concerto for two violins; and Italian gems from Corelli and Vivaldi. Performing will be the Camerata San Marco, a virtuosic all-woman string orchestra, and guest soloists. This musical excursion journeys to the courts of Habsburg and Esterhazy and the palaces of Saxony and Venice. First in a series of six concerts for 2008-2009.
Richard Thompson - October 25
Richard Thompson was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 20 guitarists of all-time. He is also the recent recipient of both an Ivor Novello Award for Songwriting and the 2006 BBC Lifetime Achievement Award. The iconic British folk rock legend is a critically acclaimed and prolific songwriter.
Quick Link to the Mahaiwe
The Metropolian Opera at the Mahaiwe
September 22 - The Opening Night Gala
This event features Renee Fleming in fully-staged performances of scenes from three different operas: Verdi's La Traviata (Act II), Massenet's Manaon (Act III), and the final scene from Richard Strauss's Capriccio. Tenor Ramon Vargas and baritones Thomas Hampson and Dwayne Croft co-star. James Levine and Marco Armiliato conduct.
October 11 - Salome
Karita Mattila caused a sensation when she sang Salome at the Met for the first time in 2004. She reprises her stunning interpretation of the part, including her unforgettable Dance of the Seven Veils.
Conductor: Mikko Franck; Production: Jyrgen Flimm; Karita Mattila, Ildiko Komlosi, Juha Uusitalo, Kim Begley, Joseph Kaiser
Quick Link to the Mahaiwe
South Mountain Concerts
A small but exquisite series of fine music concerts, they take place in Pittsfield, at the junction of Routes 7 and 20 on five consecutive Sundays at 3 PM.
Kalichstein, Laredo, Robinson Trio - September 7
Muir String Quartet and Menahem Pressler, Piano - September 14
Emerson String Quartet - September 21
Guarneri String Quartet - September 28
Brentano String Quartet - October 5
Quick Link to South Mountain Concerts
North Adams Open Studios - October 18-19
The North Adams Open Studios provides a wonderful peek into the work and lives of the artists of the Northern Berkshires. Now in its third year, the event is being expanded and enlarged for 2008. Scheduled for the weekend of October 18-19, this is a chance to visit the lofts, galleries and studios where our local artists work and sweat.
The website linked below hosts an enticing preview of what you will be able to see - and buy! - this year. The list of participating artists is truly impressive. Once again there will be a free shuttle bus between the downtown galleries on Main and Eagle Streets and the many artist studios and galleries. Venues include the Eclipse Mill Artist Lofts, Historic Windsor Milll, Heritage State Park and others. All told 100+ artists and upwards of a thousand works of art will be featured. The event is supported by many local businesses and the Cultural Council of the Northern Berkshires which is state funded and locally supported.
North Adams Open Studios
General Information 413-663-5253
Open Studios website with full details
Our report on the 2007 Open Studios
Our report on the 2006 Open Studios
Here is a list of participating artists as of 8/25/08:
Adam C. Belson
Andrew Klass - middleman
Community Access to the Arts
Cynthia Lewis Paperworks & Design
Dorothy L. Ransford
Eric Rudd & A chapel for humanity
Frog Lotus Yoga
G.J. Askins - Bookseller
Gail Kolis Sellers
Jason M. Morin, Sr.
Jeffrey Reynolds Photography
Jen and Ink
Main Street Stage & The Red Room
North Adams Antiques
Sundance Moods Jewelry
The Art of John Shamburger
The Carriage House
Three Lectures at the Clark Art Museum
September 23: Clark Fellow Michael Leja, of the University of Pennsylvania, will present the free lecture "Pictures and Daily Life Circa 1850" at 5:30 pm at the Clark.
October 14: Clark Fellow Mitchell Merback, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, will present the free lecture "'Impossible!' From Dissent to Disenchantment in German Renaissance" at 5:30 pm at the Clark.
October 21: Clark Fellow W.J.T. Mitchell, of the University of Chicago, will present the free lecture "Cloning Terror" at 5:30 pm at the Clark. The Clark is located at 225 South Street, Williamstown, MA.
Quick Link to the Clark Art Institute