Berkshire Theatre Festival
The Berkshire Theatre Festival is one of the oldest professional performing arts venues in the Berkshires, celebrating its 80th anniversary season in 2008.
Berkshire Playhouse, Berkshire Theatre Festival
The Red Barn at the Berkshire Theatre Festival
The main building of the Berkshire Theatre Festival was originally the Stockbridge Casino, designed by Stanford White and built in 1887. At one point the center of social life in Stockbridge, by 1927 it had fallen into disuse. Mabel Choate, the daughter of one of the casino's founders, purchased the property for $2,000, but wasn't interested in the casino itself (she moved the Mission House to the property). Three prominent Stockbridge residents, sculptor Daniel Chester French, businessman and artist Walter Leighton Clark, and Dr. Austen Fox Riggs, formed a committee called the Three Arts Society to save the casino; Choate sold the building to them for $1 on the condition that it be relocated. French, Clark, and Riggs agreed, and had the structure dismantled and moved to its current location.
After an extensive renovation, the newly christened Berkshire Playhouse opened on June 4, 1928, with a production of "The Cradle Song" with Eva Le Gallienne. Actors who have starred in productions at the Berkshire Playhouse include James Cagney, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Katharine Hepburn, and Buster Keaton. Notable producing directors have included Billy Miles, Joan White, Robert Paine Grose, George Tabori, Arthur Penn, Josephine Abady, Julianne Boyd, Bill Gibson, Richard Dunlap, and Arthur Storch.
In 1967 the Three Arts Society was dissolved and the Berkshire Playhouse was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, the Berkshire Theatre Festival. In 1993, a formal season of plays was offered in the Unicorn Theatre to meet the growing popularity of the festival. Prior to that, the Unicorn had been in use for years to house various offerings over the course of the season, including a slate of cabaret and workshop productions in 1992. The Unicorn Theatre was completely replaced with a new facility prior to the 1996 summer season; the inaugural production in the new space was "L-Play" by Beth Henley.
In 2010, Berkshire Theatre Festival merged with The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA to form Berkshire Theatre Group.
Over the past 80 years, the Berkshire Theatre Festival has produced 550 fully staged productions, an eclectic mix of revivals, classics and premieres, embracing fully its role as a true theatrical “Festival.” More than 2,100 actors have worked at the BTF in more than 6,000 performances, including notable actors that have won Emmys, Oscars, and Tonys. Many playwrights at BTF have won Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes.
BTF education programming, which started in 1929 with one of the first summer apprentice training programs in the United States, is part of the lives of thousands of students annually, and though it has experienced many incarnations, it has never faltered in its commitment to educating the emerging artists of each decade.
BTF PLAYS!— a school residency program for 4-6 graders—is part of the curriculum in nine Berkshire county schools. It was designed to give voice to young student's stories through playwriting. Staffed by professional artists-in-residence, the program is priced low enough for public schools to afford and teaches young people how to communicate their thoughts and feelings through playwriting, storytelling, and performance. Each summer, the theatre’s Summer Performance Training Program, works with up to 15 performing arts students between 18-25. The program produces two plays that are seen by more than 10,000 young people throughout July and August. The BTF’s Touring Component, part of the school residency program, also performs for many additional schools and museums throughout western Massachusetts each year.
Berkshire Theatre Group seeks students who are willing to work hard, and are serious about preparing themselves for a career in the theatre arts. The highly regarded Summer Performance Training Apprentice Program offers 16 students from all over the country a multifaceted approach to actor training with a strong emphasis on voice and movement. Students are vital members of the BTG community, rehearsing and performing, taking classes each day in a wide range of performance techniques, and presenting reviews and cabaret performances. The basic focus of the program is on improving the actors' skills and depth of experience.
Christopher Walken in The Rain Maker
Al Pacino in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie (1967)
Dustin Hoffman in Fragments (1966)
Gene Hackman in Fragments (1966)
Jeffrey Donovan in Toys in the Attic (2000)
Randy Harrison in Equus, Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Mrs. Warren's Profession, Waiting for Godot, Ghosts, The Endgame, and The Who's Tommy Kate Baldwin A Little Night Music (2014)