hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture October 2016


Celebrating local creativity

November festival gives stage to artists of the Berkshire


Members of Funk Box Dance Studio perform on the opening night of last year’s Made in the Berkshires Festival. The festival, which showcases local artists, is scheduled for Nov. 11-13 this year. Courtesy photo/Michelle McGradyBy JOHN TOWNES
Contributing writer



Members of Funk Box Dance Studio perform on the opening night of last year’s Made in the Berkshires Festival. The festival, which showcases local artists, is scheduled for Nov. 11-13 this year. Courtesy photo/Michelle McGrady

After a summer cultural season that often spotlights imported talent, the Berkshire Theatre Group is preparing for an annual fall festival that showcases the region’s homegrown creativity.

Made in The Berkshires, which is marking its sixth year, will be presented Nov. 11-13 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge.

The three-day festival will feature a variety of new work created by people who live or work in the Berkshires. It will include live staged readings of short plays, short stories and poetry, as well as live music and dance, and a selection of films. It will also include “CROP: New Works from the Berkshires,” a group show featuring works of local visual artists in the lobby of the Colonial.
“The great thing about Made in the Berkshires is that it shines the spotlight on the creative and talented artists who are doing great work here but who don’t always receive the exposure and recognition they deserve,” said Barbara Sims, co-curator of the event. “It gives the public a taste of what’s going on here beyond the well-known venues like Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow.”
Made in the Berkshires is produced under the auspices of the Berkshire Theatre Group, the umbrella nonprofit organization that operates both The Colonial and Berkshire Theater Festival. Sims and Hilary Sommers Deely have curated Made in the Berkshires since its inception; the visual art show is curated by Carrie Wright and Rebecca Weinman.

Made in the Berkshires began after the 2010 merger of The Colonial Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Festival into the Berkshire Theatre Group.

The Colonial, a historic 1903 theater on South Street in downtown Pittsfield, had been vacant for decades before a lengthy restoration that led to its reopening in 2006. Berkshire Theatre Festival, a summer theater festival and educational organization founded in 1928 in Stockbridge, essentially absorbed operation of the Colonial after the 2010 merger.


Showcase for local artists
Kate Maguire, who had been director of the Berkshire Theatre Festival and became chief executive and artistic director of the merged Berkshire Theatre Group, came up with the idea for Made in the Berkshires.

“Kate has worked in the community for a long time and knew there is an abundance of talent here,” explained Sims, who lives in Lenox and is an actress and producer. “With the combined stages, she wanted to do an event to promote the arts and cultural scene here.”

The festival also is intended to help connect southern and northern Berkshire County, Sims said.
Maguire initially enlisted Deely to help organize the event.

Deely, an actress and producer who lives in Stockbridge, explained that she had been a longtime Berkshire Theatre Festival board member. She also had previously produced a program for Mixed Company in Great Barrington, called “Ten Minutes in the Berkshires,” that featured short works by regional playwrights.

“Kate said that she wanted to use the additional stage they had with the Colonial to present a festival of local talent,” Deely recalled. “She asked if I would be interested in producing something similar to ‘Ten Minutes in the Berkshires’ on an expanded basis. I said I would, with the proviso that Barbara Sims could be my partner in it.”

Deely added that the prospects for the new event were unknown at the outset.
“We didn’t know if it would be something we’d do just one time and that would be it,” she said. “But we’ve been doing it every year since then.”


Wide range of participants
The two curators estimated Made in the Berkshires has featured about 800 performers, artists and writers since it began.

Each year, they issue an open call for submissions from the public in March. People mail in the work they want to present, either as printed copies of written work or as recordings of performances.

Deely and Sims then cull through the submissions during the summer to choose works for the series. Wright and Weinman conduct a similar review to select works of visual art.
“We look at everything and read everything and put together the short list, and show that to Kate,” Sims said. “Then we send out notices to the people who have been accepted and start arranging the details.”

The curators said they have to be selective in choosing works for the festival.
“We may get as many as 100 submissions in a year, and the number of slots are limited,” Sims said.

She and Deely emphasize that the participants are very diverse. The only requirement is that they live or work in Berkshire County on a full- or part-time basis. Made in the Berkshires also has accepted some submissions from people who live nearby in adjacent regions.

“It’s open to everyone in the Berkshires, and there are no rules for what people can submit,” Sims said. “We have featured a wide range of people and a cross-section of amateurs and professionals. It has included Broadway actors and actresses who live here part-time and Oscar winning filmmakers, as well as people who pursue a creative activity but have never shown their work publicly before.”

Participants of all ages are included, she added.
“We’ve presented a 13-year-old jazz prodigy and a 91-year-old trombone player,” Sims said.
Deely cited one example of a man who had written poetry for many years but had kept it in a drawer where no one else saw it.

“He had never shown his work to people before but eventually decided to submit it,” Deely said. “He was absolutely thrilled at the reception his work received from the audience. That kind of experience really makes this worthwhile.”


Cultivating talent, connections
Deely said she and Sims try not to alter the content of submitted works, but they do sometimes request some changes.

“I’m considered the editor of the team,” she said. “Time is always a big factor. Sometimes people will send something that we want to present, but it might be too long. So we’ll ask them to make some cuts to make it shorter.”

At times they also make creative suggestions.
“We might get something that has a lot of potential but needs more work, and we’ll send it back with some suggestions,” Deely said. “Most people appreciate the feedback and tell us it’s helpful.”

Although the alterations usually are very light, Deely and Sims occasionally work with an artist more extensively. Deely cited the example of a play that was submitted as a work-in-progress, and they collaborated with the writer on its development.

In addition to giving artists the chance to show their work to an audience, Deely and Sims said Made in the Berkshires provides other benefits, such as allowing for networking among members of the local creative community.

“It brings together creative people who might not have had a chance to meet otherwise,” Sims said. “That can also lead to working collaborations, such as a filmmaker who meets a writer. Often in the lobby after a show, we’ll see people exchanging business cards.”

She and Deely said that, although it is hard work pulling together all of the elements every year, Made in the Berkshires is a very rewarding experience.

“We’re very proud to be able to provide a venue for people to show work that might not be seen otherwise, and to offer a place to express their voice to the public,” Deely said.


Planning for November
This year’s festival, scheduled for Nov. 11-13, features several separate blocks of events over three days, each with a differing emphasis. Although the specific performances and schedule were still being finalized in late September, the highlights will include an opening gala and benefit dinner for Berkshire Theatre Group educational activities that honors Karen Allen, a nationally known actress, director and writer who lives in the southern Berkshires.

The Friday night show will feature:
• music by the Eagles Band, a Berkshire-based brass band;
• a performance by Ruslan Sprague, choreographer and principal dancer with Albany Berkshire Ballet;
• an appearance by members of Kids 4 Harmony, a program that teaches children to play orchestral music; and
• a finale by Andres Ramirez and students from Funk Box Studio, a Pittsfield school of contemporary dance.

After that show will be Taste of the Berkshires, a reception featuring a sampling of local foods, and a dance party in the lobby of the Colonial.

Made in the Berkshires continues at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Colonial with a panel of visual artists discussing their process and the local arts scene in conjunction with the visual arts exhibit, which will be on view in the lobby throughout the festival.

At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the festival shifts to the Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge for “The Shorts,” featuring spoken word presentations, including poetry by Shellin Lubin; a reading of a play by Donald Marcus, a short story by Constance Bullard, and other presentations.

Beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, a Dance Extravaganza will be performed at the Colonial featuring Berkshire Pulse, Berkshire Dance Theater, Funk Box Studio and other performers.
Sunday will feature a block of short films by regional filmmakers from 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Colonial. A wrap party will follow on Sunday evening.

Tickets to individual events vary from $10 to $20, with higher prices for the Friday night benefit gala.

“We try to keep the prices as reasonable as possible, to make it accessible,” Sims said.
For a full schedule and information, visit www.madeintheberkshires.org.