New Berkshire Theatre Group Strengthens Marketing and PR Staffs, Sharpens Focus

Just a little over six months ago two of Berkshire County’s most venerable institutions announced their merger. The formerly independent Colonial Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Festival operations agreed to combine their organizations under a single board and unified management. The new umbrella operation promised clear benefits by sharing resources and personnel. Initially many have wondered just what that would mean in terms of Berkshire arts and entertainment.

The new corporate name was given the unwieldy handle of “Colonial Theatre/Berkshire Theatre Festival Merger Corporation.”

It wasn’t long before it was branded simply “The Berkshire Theatre Group”.

With the changes barely in place, the season was soon upon everyone, including the existing marketing and public relations staff. Somehow, in the midst of the hurly-burly of putting a season together, staffs began to work together, logos got designed, websites updated, and printed materials designed to reflect the new reality.

Even so, some of the new elements have been jerry rigged, and several of the initiatives that were announced have yet to fully come together. However, before the summer was barely over a second wave of change is taking place. The Board is again on the move, continuing to build its new permanent foundation.

In a very significant move, Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire just announced a restructuring and expansion of the Marketing and PR departments for the newly formed Berkshire Theatre Group, effective immediately.

Rebecca Brighenti promoted to head of Marketing and PR

This restructuring includes the promotion of Rebecca Brighenti to Marketing & PR Director of Berkshire Theatre Group. Ms. Brighenti who has been the Marketing and PR Director of The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield will take control of the organizations entire marketing program which now includes all four stages. The Berkshire Theatre Group performs and presents in Pittsfield at The Colonial Theatre, in Stockbridge at the BTF’s Fitzpatrick Main Stage and the Unicorn Theatre, and in Lenox on the Neil Ellenoff Stage in collaboration with The Mount.

Brighenti has over 12 years experience in sales, marketing and public relations. She is the sole remaining staffer from the Colonial Theatre’s early beginnings. She has been responsible for the development and creation of the Colonials public relations, sales and marketing department. She oversaw the Colonial’s branding and has overseen ticket revenue areas since the theatre’s re-opening in the fall of 2006.

This past summer those of us who write and review the Berkshire Theatre Festival (BTF) became acquainted with her as she worked side by side with Jaime Davidson, the BTF’s PR person. Davidson recently left the company to pursue other interests in the theatre. He will be directing a staged reading of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on October 1 for the Aglet Theatre Company. It will take place at TriArts’ Sharon Playhouse’s Bok Gallery at 7:00 PM.

New Team Members Colleen Hughes and Noah Weiss

Joining the existing Berkshire Theatre Group Marketing Department, which includes Marketing and PR Director Rebecca Brighenti, Graphic Designer Natalia Bystrianyk and Web Manager Eric Taylor, are two new professionals, Colleen Hughes and Noah Weiss.

Ms. Hughes is taking on the role of Marketing and PR Associate for Berkshire Theatre Group. She recently graduated from Skidmore College with a Bachelor of Science in Theatre and just completed a summer internship in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s marketing department.

Mr. Weiss is joining the company as Sales and Programming Associate for Berkshire Theatre Group. Weiss graduated from Oberlin College in 2009 and has worked previously as an administrative assistant at Tisbury Tours in Lenox and as a saxophone teacher at Berkshire Music School. He is an experienced musician having worked with many local and regional artists including Billy Keane and the Misdemeanor Outlaws & Barefoot Truth as well as his own quartet.

In addition to Hughes and Weiss, Kali Baba McConnell will be joining the Berkshire Theatre Group as Technical Consultant. Also, Ms. Liz Uchtman, who previously worked in the summer months as a Box Office Associate with Berkshire Theatre Festival will assume the year round position of Ticket Office Coordinator.

Kate’s Take

According to Ms. Maguire, “As we near the completion of this historic year as a merged group, our goal is to continue to strengthen and expand our work with our region. Rebecca Brighenti is a terrific manager and passionate about our theatres. Her experience in the area and with the Colonial is not only invaluable, but has been a significant part of our success. The impact of our work this past year was enormous. From acclaimed and celebrated productions like The Who’s Tommy, Sylvia, Dutch Masters, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Wizard of Oz to sold out and ground breaking presentations like Talib Kweli, Ron White, The Cake Boss and Word x Word, this past summer laid the ground work for our future. The new marketing team is poised to reach out to our region both locally and nationally to spread the word that the Berkshire Theatre Group is the home for great entertainment and extraordinary performances.”

Reading Between the Lines

When the merger was first announced, there was a news conference and some future directions were hinted at. The first was that the Colonial Theatre would be used as another, larger stage for the theatre festival’s productions. This happened in July with a knock-out production of The Who’s Tommy which showed of the Colonial’s ability to be a true showcase for musicals. Recently, the community production of The Wizard of Oz took to the stage to the delight of thousands. Later this year A Christmas Carol which has normally been done in Stockbridge, will come to Pittsfield and the Colonial.

That the Colonial has become a part of the old Berkshire Theatre Festival is now a reality. Bravo.

Another possibility that was discussed was to use the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge for groups that are not quite large enough to play the Colonial Theatre. This happened in August with The Duke’s Men from Yale filling the intimate space with adoring fans. Simon Shaw, who does the booking for the Berkshire Theatre Group is undoubtedly looking for similar bands, acts and attractions that can make the space come alive during the off season.

The number of events at the Colonial has also increased, albeit marginally, with the challenge being to find attractions that can fill the theatre without breaking the bank. Shaw is hard at work on that one.

One of the biggest challenges facing the new team is the propensity of Berkshire residents to wait until the last minute before buying tickets. A hurricane like Irene can be devastating to the bottom line long after it has gone.

The Colonial Cabaret

The final challenge for the new team is creating a new and less formal performing space in the large lobby of the Colonial Theatre. It occupies the showroom of the former car dealership that did business there for years. Why couldn’t one of the areas current dealerships – one that wants to reach affluent theatre-goers – propose they name it something like the Kia Cabaret or Chevy Showroom and underwrite it’s basic operation.

The BTG is envisioning this as a place that will attract the younger demographic, and with or without corporate sponsors, it is an audience that everyone seeks. Kate Maguire has already found ways to outfit the new space by repurposing staging elements from Stockbridge for the Colonial.

As to bookings and promotion for the new informal space, Noah Weiss is the man who is most likely to make it happen. He is an experienced musician having worked with many local and regional artists including Billy Keane and the Misdemeanor Outlaws & Barefoot Truth as well as his own quartet. He knows the local music scene, and of his many new responsibilities, this is likely to be both the most challenging and rewarding.

There is also the task of combining the two websites (and ticketing operations) which has to be like unraveling spaghetti. It is far easier to say “combine the two operations” than to do it. But with new logos, and graphics that show the three theatres they book (actually four if you count the new stage at The Mount in Lenox) progress is obviously being made.

The new staff clearly has its work cut out for the coming year. Yet with so much new and exciting ground to cover, the half dozen team members have some of the most interesting jobs in the Berkshires. We wish them well.

About Berkshire Theatre Group

The Colonial Theatre, founded in 1903, and Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928, are two of the oldest cultural organizations in the Berkshires. Having united in November of 2010 under the helm of Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire, these two institutions are providing the Berkshires and beyond with the finest in live theatre, music, dance and the visual arts on three stages in Stockbridge, MA and Pittsfield, MA. The Fitzpatrick Main Stage (408 seats), cataloged by the National Register of Historic Places, was originally designed and built by Stanford White as the Stockbridge Casino in 1888. The intimate Unicorn Theatre (122 seats) is a home for emerging artists and new theatrical ideas. The Colonial in Pittsfield (800 seats) re-opened in August of 2006, following a $21 million restoration, and boasts pristine acoustics, classic gilded age architecture and state-of-the-art technical systems. Together they serve over 100,000 patrons per year and reach over 10,000 students through their educational and outreach programs. For more information on BTF call (413) 298-5536 and on The Colonial call (413) 448-8084. To purchase tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or (413) 298-5576 or go online to www.berkshiretheatre.org or www.thecolonialtheatre.org.

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