Most of us who follow theatre in the Berkshires were surprised a few weeks ago when news arrived of a new professional company which planned to begin operating this summer. At the height of the season. All sorts of words came to mind, including daring, foolhardy, smart and savvy. So color us curious.
The enterprise is the Berkshire Actors Theatre and its first production will be Four Dogs and a Bone by John Patrick Shanley. We had a chance to ask Clover Bell-Devany (Artistic Director) and Andrew Volkoff (director of Four Dogs and a Bone) some basic questions about what they were up to.
Even without seeing their first production, the company seems to be off to a great start with a clear sense of mission, organized administration and even the all-important publicity and marketing pieces in place. As an entertainment site, we sometimes have a difficult time getting even long established companies to take photos and send their news releases well ahead of time. Some don’t even bother, and then whine there is nobody in the audience.
Given some good quality work from this fledgeling company, it might find its roosting spot pretty damn quick. They seem to know what is involved. Read on.
Four Dogs and a Bone runs from August 3 through August 21 at the New Stage Performing Arts Center, located at 55 North St., Pittsfield. Press Opening is Friday, August 5 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $25, with a special discount rate of $15 for preview performances on Wednesday, August 3 and Thursday, August 4. Tickets can be purchased by calling 413-347-9849, visiting www.berkshireactorstheatre.org, or at the box office before each show, depending upon availability.
Why the Berkshire Actors theatre, and why now? Isn’t there lots of competition in the summer?
CLOVER: Summer is when theatre in the Berkshires has its highest visibility. My goal is for Four Dogs and a Bone to be seen and enjoyed by as many people as possible, and to start building a base of support for the future. There are enough nights in the week for everyone to see everything. We are producing professional theatre on a more intimate scale, and I feel as if we’re adding something fresh and different to the myriad offerings available to our summer theatre goers.The inspiration behind the theatre stems from my background as an actress, so my goal was naturally to create a company that will showcase strong acting, and strong language and character based plays. Being here in the Berkshires, where there are a plethora of highly skilled actors who are looking for more opportunities to work professionally, I am encouraged that we will be able to consistently highlight professional actors from this area as frequently as possible.
What got you excited about Four Dogs and a Bone? Why choose that for the first play?
CLOVER: It’s short, it’s dynamic, and it’s hilarious. And John Patrick Shanley is one of my all-time favorite playwrights. After plowing through dozens of plays and thinking…”hmm…that might work…” I read this one and immediately said “yes!”
ANDREW: What got me excited about Four Dogs was that it was a great showcase for actors and, for a theatre that’s focusing on actors, it seemed like it couldn’t have been a better match for the their mission. I think that’s what makes it a great inaugural play as well. Not only does it speak to the heart of the mission, but I feel the humor in Four Dogs makes it a great summer choice.
What do you have in mind as director for FD&B?
ANDREW: The play reminded me of All About Eve, that great old movie starring Bette Davis about show biz backstabbing. Filter that through today’s sensibilities you have Four Dogs and A Bone. Four Dogs is a satire on the film industry, written by someone who has been stung by it, so bringing to life the quick-witted maliciousness of the characters and their plastic, manufactured world is key to making sure the audience really enjoys themselves. The play really mines bad behavior for all the comedy it can. And based on the popularity of reality television, we’ve elevated watching people behaving badly to a national pastime.
What do you have in mind for the long term, what is your vision thing?
CLOVER: Continuing to spotlight the community of Berkshire actors, artists and designers is of paramount importance. Incorporating, and becoming a non-profit, and an entity in our own right, are all on the horizon. Our goal is to mount two productions a year for now. I definitely see us looking for our own space in the next five years.
While I see expansion and growth as a natural progression, I do want keep the original intention intact of producing professional theatre on an intimate scale. This will allow us to keep character based plays at the forefront, therefore providing our audiences with that sense of immediacy and emotional investment in the life of the play which can be difficult to maintain in a larger theatre venue.
Are you finding help and support from the theatre/business/community?
CLOVER: We’ve really drawn on our relationships from our past endeavors with Barrington Stage Company, Shakespeare & Company, Tri-Arts Playhouse, and Williams College. In spite of their already busy seasons they’ve been responsive, supportive, and more than willing to lend a hand. We owe a big thanks as well to the New Stage Performing Arts Center for helping us launch this first effort, by allowing us to rent their space during prime time, and helping out in a number of ways to make this a successful inaugural production.
What is your most important task in the next month?
CLOVER: If only there was only one! I would say now that we’re deep in to rehearsals, my work on the role I’m playing is my top priority, but competing very closely with that is the need to get the word out about this production, and to get people there to see what I think is going to be a really top notch, delicious and delightful production of a wickedly hilarious play.