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Berkshire, Barrington Stage Companies Look Forward to Summer Return
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:04AM / Monday, March 29, 2021
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The past year of pandemic was a markedly difficult year for the arts, but local theaters are looking forward to COVID-19-friendly programming in the new year.
"It's been a year of trying to understand what a government's role is in taking care of us, not only in terms of our health but in terms of society, justice, and for all of these things to be happening at once," Berkshire Theatre Group's Artistic Director Kate Maguire said. "The only thing I know is that when we do start leaving our houses, we're going to be faced with different realities, and I think we should all be trying to create something really better for the future."
Maguire said the theater's staff immediately switched to remote work on the day a state of emergency was declared in the state. Hauntingly, the calendar in her office at the Colonial Theatre is still on March 2020, she added.
The theater group's programming was originally canceled for a couple of weeks, and about the time that April rolled around, Maguire said her colleagues in the field were all canceling their seasons.
"Nobody thought it was going to be this long," she said. "Maybe some people did but I sure didn't."
BTG put up a tent in the theater's parking lot to house production, expecting at first to be able to seat around 125 patrons and having capacity guidelines reduced on the opening night of summer musical "Godspell."
"It became clear that the only production that perhaps made any artistic sense was 'Godspell' because 'Godspell' spoke to a need for the community to come together," Maguire said. "It was a story about each all of these individuals and they didn't need to be physical with each other, they just needed to connect. And so that was the show that we wound up sort of focusing on."
The production ran for about three weeks and was then extended because both the staff and actors were so invested and were able to perform while keeping everyone safe with measures like plexiglass barriers, mask requirements, and social distancing.
An image that Maguire remembers most clearly from "Godspell's" run is audience members' shoulders shaking because they were crying from the joy of being able to be at a production.
"People were stunned," she said. "And that was extraordinary to me. I mean, I've worked in the theater all my life so I get the power of theater, but that was sort of momentous."
Following "Godspell," BTG did some outdoor concerts in Stockbridge at The Fitzpatrick Main Stage and later an outdoor holiday production at The Unicorn Theatre. The actors were willing to perform in the freezing temperatures, with an option out on extreme weather days, Maguire said, and audience members seemed happy to be there as well.
"Each time there was a performance, it was sort of a testament to the power of, of our art, of theater, of music," she added.
The Colonial has a number of musical performances under the tent starting in mid-May and Maguire is putting the finishing touches on the outdoor production lineup that will be performed in Stockbridge.
Her fingers are crossed for the possibility of returning to indoor productions in the fall, but the tent at the Colonial may be utilized in the postpandemic world.
Maguire said there were no layoffs of year-round staff in the face of such reduced programming. The nonprofit was sustained through the winter by a couple of large donations, one stemming from a patron's appreciation of "Godspell." Though the Colonial is stable, Maguire is fearful for the broad spectrum of theater because of the pandemic.
"I don't know how many people were going to lose in the theater industry," she said. "It's such a tightrope to begin with, so how many artists are actually going to have survived this? And then as we piece things back together slowly, how many can continue to keep going? It's a difficult enough endeavor."
Barrington Stage Company also utilized outdoor programming over the summer under a tent adjacent to the St. Germain Theater on Linden Street and this year will host both indoor and outdoor theater performances.
Artistic Director Julianne Boyd said the state guidelines would allow for 50 percent capacity of the 520-seat Boyd-Quinson Mainstage on Union Street but that number will be slimmed down to 160 seats, or about 1/3 capacity for safety.
"We want to make sure that everything is still socially distant," Boyd said. "And I think people will be more comfortable in a building that is one-third capacity rather than one-half capacity."
Barrington Stage will be utilizing a different outdoor location within Pittsfield, as Linden Street was noisy with ambulances and traffic, but the location has not yet been secured. The hope is to seat 200 audience members at the new outdoor location with masking, sanitizing, and social distancing procedures in place.
Boyd explained that the actors' union has a long list of safety protocols  including prohibiting choreography, only allowing singing outside with plastic plexiglass barriers, and keeping the audience for a musical 25 feet away.  Additionally, the selection of plays is more difficult with actions such as eating and touching prohibited, Boyd added.
"I think last year was a really big challenge here just to get shows on which was so exciting. And so this year, we know we have to take it slowly," she said. "I think we're all trying to be a little careful. We're all trying to wait and see if there any changes, but we realize we have to be nimble, and we have to pivot."
BSC has not made any official announcement in relation to its 2021 schedule, but Boyd hopes they will be able to put on some of the canceled programming from 2020.
"I think even though a lot of people will be vaccinated by the summer," she said. "I think we must maintain that safety throughout the summer."
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