Barrington Stage Buys VFW Building as Company Continues to Grow in Downtown Pittsfield

Lee Blatt (l) who helped make the purchase possible, talks with playwright Mark St. Germain after whom the stage will be named. Photo: by Stephen Sorokoff.

When they first moved to Pittsfield seven years ago, who knew their brand of theatre was just what people were hungry for. Managing to purchase their main stage facility on Union Street, they renovated it even as they rented a smaller facility to present smaller plays, often brand new, and use as a musical theatre lab. That space, in the VFW Building on Linden Street came to be known as Stage 2 and performances there almost always sold out. Drawing audiences from all over the Berkshires, and one might say, the world – their productions regularly garner rave reviews from the national press – they still sold more than 25% of their tickets to ticket buyers in their home community of Pittsfield. Their ties to the city and its people are strong, and getting stronger with each passing season.

The V.F.W. Facility currently houses the Barrington Stage Company's Music Lab and smaller stage for new works.

So when Barrington Stage Company (BSC), under the leadership of Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director, and Tristan Wilson, Managing Director, announced the purchase of the Pittsfield V.F.W. at 36 Linden Street thanks to a generous gift from long-time BSC supporters Sydelle and Lee Blatt we have to offer our congratulations. As a company, you’ve come a long way in a short time.

Our real estate sources tell us the building itself had been listed for some time at $400,000, and rumor has it that the theatre company has been negotiating with the owners for more than six months. The final purchase price was just shy of $350,000. At one point the space that Barrington Stage occupied at the VFW was being touted as a possible condominium conversion. Things turned out ok with the support of the Blatt’s who made it possible to make the commitment to buy.

Built in 1972 as Local V.F.W. Post 448, the 40-year-old building, which BSC has been leasing as Stage 2 since 2008, will now serve as its permanent home for new plays and musicals and an all-new cabaret space.

For early birds, there will be parking just a few steps from the entrance.

Completes Downtown Campus

Julianne Boyd is, of course, ecstatic at the possibilities that ownership opens to the company. “With the purchase of the VFW building, which allows us a permanent cabaret space as well as an intimate 110-seat theatre space, we have completed the Barrington Stage campus in downtown Pittsfield,” she said. “Moving the Youth Theatre to the Berkshire Museum and all rehearsal spaces within the new Upstreet Cultural District will add new vitality to an already burgeoning theatre scene.”

New Facility Will Be Open to Local Arts Rentals

“The Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center on Linden Street will allow us to create a true community arts center,” she enthused. “Not only will we be producing new plays, musicals and cabarets but also we will have spaces for local arts organizations to rent. We want the artistic community in Pittsfield to feel BSC is their home.” The facility was recently made available to the long established Town Players of Pittsfield for a local production, and other Berkshire Companies have used it for their performances. It is also the showcase for the Playwright’s Mentoring Project, an ongoing community program that reaches high school students at risk.

Sydelle and Lee Blatt Make Visions Become Reality

Supporters of Barrington Stage since its early years, Sydelle and Lee Blatt were also instrumental in BSC’s move from Sheffield to Pittsfield in 2005. The Blatts sponsored last season’s acclaimed world premiere production of Mark St. Germain’s The Best of Enemies and were honored at last season’s annual Gala for their continued support. Sydelle has been a member of the BSC Board of Trustees since 2002.

The building, known as Lt. John L. Truden V.F.W. Post, will be renamed the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center and dedicated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, May 26 at 2pm.

The Physical Plant Itself

The lower level is currently set up as a gathering space for the VFW and will be made over into a 50 seat cabaret and full sized rehearsal studio.

The 12,602 square-foot air-conditioned building has two levels. The upper level houses a café and the 110-seat Stage 2 theatre, which will be named the St. Germain Stage after BSC Associate Artist and resident playwright Mark St. Germain, acclaimed author of Freud’s Last Session and The Best of Enemies. The lower level houses rehearsal space, offices and a 50-seat cabaret space with a bar, which will be named Mr. Finn’s Cabaret after Tony-winner William Finn, Artistic Producer of BSC’s Musical Theatre Lab.

As you can see from the photo, there is considerable space in the basement for both a rehearsal room and modest cabaret. The exact configuration is yet to be determined, but if it follow current trends it will be a flex space that can expand either the rehearsal area, or the capacity of the cabaret should its popularity take off. With some clever programming it could become an alternative to Rumpy’s as the after-show place for actors and audiences to meet up. With all the summer shows up and down Route 7, it has the advantage of being central enough so that folks from Williamstown and Stockbridge could all meet “in the middle.”

Since Barrington Stage began leasing the space in 2008 it has been the home of popular Stage 2 productions such as Freud’s Last Session, My Name Is Asher Lev, the 10X10 On North Play Festival and new musicals from the acclaimed BSC Musical Theatre Lab.

Programming at the St. Germain Stage begins May 23 with the New England premiere of Duncan Macmillan’s intimate drama Lungs. Mr. Finn’s Cabaret kicks off Memorial Day weekend with the rock ‘n’ roll cabaret Joe Iconis & Family on May 25 and 26. For more information on programming at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, visit barringtonstageco.org.

About Barrington Stage Company

Barrington Stage Company, a professional award-winning Equity regional theatre located in the heart of the Berkshires, in Pittsfield, MA, was co-founded in 1995 by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd. Barrington Stage’s mission is three-fold: to present top-notch, compelling work; to develop new plays and musicals; and to find fresh, bold ways to bringing new audiences into the theatre—especially young people. Barrington Stage garnered national attention in 2004 when it workshopped, and premiered William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin’s musical hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which later transferred to Broadway’s Circle-in-the-Square Theatre where it won two Tony Awards and played more than 1,000 performances. In 2009/2010 Barrington Stage produced the world premiere of Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session, which later moved Off-Broadway to the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater and then to New World Stages and has played more than 600 performances. Barrington Stage was voted “Best Live Theatre” by The Berkshire Eagle readers in 2011 and was named “Best Theatre Company” in Metroland’s Best of the Capital Region 2009-2011.

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