Berkshire Actor’s Theatre Begins Season with “Doubt” June 21

Producing Artistic Director Clover Bell-Devaney and Berkshire Actor's Theatre are back for a second season with two very different plays in repertory this summer.

The growth of theatre in the Berkshires continues to amaze, and you might think the market is saturated, what with four professional companies in the area, and another four just across the border in New York and Vermont.

But the Berkshire Actor’s Theatre (BAT) is shifting the balance of theatre in the Berkshires, adding more choice to the mix.

They attract a younger demographic of course, but the baby boomers love this company too. They simply refuse to stay put and watch television. They are in search of real ideas, real fun and laughs, not to mention a little socializing. Being a couch potato and tuning out incessant commercials is a poor choice when stacked up with real actors so close you can almost reach out and touch them. There’s still no app for that yet, either, is there. Theatre is the one place where everyone turns off their smart phones and becomes part of the human race again.

So perhaps because of these trends there are signs of greatly increased activity at the Berkshire Museum’s 250 seat theatre. Turns out it will also be home to the Barrington Stage Youth Company this summer .  Is it time to announce that Pittsfield will soon be able to claim four theatres for live performances downtown? If so, it’s  an amazing achievement. Even with all the summer visitors, residents of the city continue to make up 25% of the audiences buying tickets. The number of residents who take part in the arts is stunning.

The new company knows how to promote their work, too. Just watch this short video – it’s better than anything put out by the four professional companies to date. They clearly know that theatre is about getting audiences as excited as themselves.

Berkshire Actor’s Theatre 2012 Season – Running Two Shanley Plays in Rep

The Berkshire Actors Theatre (BAT) 2012 summer season will pair two shows by John Patrick Shanley, both performed at Berkshire Museum. The season will open June 21 with Doubt: A Parable, Shanley’s Pulitzer and Tony award-winning play. Opening one week later will be a remount of last season’s successful production of Four Dogs and a Bone, which will be performed in repertory with Doubt.

Doubt: A Parable explores its characters’ struggle to hold on to their deeply held beliefs within the confines of a Bronx Catholic School in 1964, while Four Dogs and a Bone is a hilarious send-up about the movie-making business.

Clover Bell-Devaney’s Unique Approach

When we asked how BAT came to offer such stylistically opposed works side by side, Clover Bell-Devaney responded: “The polarity of the two plays is precisely why I chose them and why I want them to run in rep; to have them right on top of each other- people can see both shows in a weekend, or even a day, if they want to (though that might be a bit dizzying.)

“The idea of running these two plays in repertory appealed to me as a way to create a striking juxtaposition between theater that makes you think deeply about important issues and theater that allows you to simply be entertained,” she said. “The chance to experience two totally different sides of one renowned playwright’s work is a unique opportunity for actors and audience alike, and I’m so pleased to have John Patrick Shanley on board to consult with about his work during the creative process.

“I think it makes it even more interesting for the audience that they are by the same playwright,” she continued. “And of course the fact that I’m able to consult with John about the project as we go along provides further insight. The underlying message of the season selection for me stems from Shanley’s basic life philosophy which in many ways I share; all should be embraced, the light, the dark, the deep and the superficial…everything exists within each of us and is valuable in its own way.”

Shanley, who also wrote and directed the 2008 Oscar-nominated film version of Doubt starring Meryl Streep, as well as being an Oscar-winner for the movie Moonstruck, is excited to see his work being performed by BAT. “Clearly, theater is alive and kicking at Berkshire Actors Theatre,” Shanley said, calling BAT a “vibrant new theater company.” Plans are in the works to arrange a talk-back after one of the performances this summer at the Berkshire Museum, which the playwright hopes to attend.

New performance venue

Bell-Devaney has ambitious plans for her still-new company; this is the second season for the group. “We’re moving towards becoming an equity company, and will be casting a mix of equity and non-equity actors this season. We also have a new performance venue this year.” Berkshire Actors Theatre will be performing at Berkshire Museum for the 2012 season, utilizing the Museum’s 250-seat theater.

“The Berkshire Museum is committed to using our unique resources to contribute to the cultural fabric of the Berkshires and we are delighted to host Berkshire Actors Theatre for its second season,” – Van W. Shields, Berkshire Museum’s executive director.

At the forefront of Bell-Devaney’s mind is her mission for BAT. “We want to continue to select pieces that give actors the spotlight, without sacrificing production values, and to offer work opportunities to local theater artists first, before looking in New York or elsewhere. I have become particularly committed to the idea of making Pittsfield our home. I think the energy happening here right now is phenomenal and we want to be a part of Pittsfield’s artistic resurgence.”

Open Casting

Also a priority is the effort to afford roles to Berkshire actors. It’s no surprise then that auditions for two roles in the season opener Doubt: A Parable will be held on Saturday, March 17, from 1 to 5 p.m. by appointment only, at the Berkshire Museum. All positions are paid, and contracts for both Equity and non-Equity actors are available. Housing is not provided. Actors should prepare a short dramatic monologue and may be asked to stay and read from the script as well. To make an audition appointment, call Berkshire Actors Theatre at 413.347.9849.

The character breakdown for the roles to be cast is as follows: Father Flynn: Male, Caucasian, mid 30s-mid 40s, clean-cut, able to speak with “New England” dialects and Mrs. Muller: Female, African-American, mid 30s-mid 40s, able to speak with New York dialects. On the other hand, once a cast is chosen, and successful, there’s no point in recasting any of the roles.

Four Dogs cast returns

As a critic, I was one of eleven reviewers to give them an enthusiastic thumbs up for their first production of Four Dogs and a Bone. (Review) The cast that meshed together so well (Bell-Devaney, Michael Foster, Daniel Popowich, and Deann Halper) will be back to reprise their roles this summer, as will director Andrew Volkoff, and many of the designers. “The second person I went to with the repertory idea, after speaking with Shanley, was my set designer Brian Prather. I was prepared to hear ‘Are you crazy?’ but to my delight, he was actually excited by the challenge of creating two rotating, moveable sets that interact with each other but are distinctly different.”

Last summer’s successful production of Four Dogs and a Bone persuaded Bell-Devaney to remount the piece this year. “Four Dogs and a Bone ran for three weeks last August, and garnered 11 raves out of eleven reviews. For every one person that says it was the best thing they saw last summer, there are ten people who missed it and wish they’d seen it. It makes sense to bring it back for that reason, it also fits our budget, and creates a striking contrast to Doubt; both pieces are riveting, but Four Dogs is literally laugh after laugh.”

Tickets and Information

“Doubt: A Parable”
June 21-July 14

Directed by Brad Berridge
Featuring: Clover Bell-Devaney, Alika Hope, Patrick White, Peggy Pharr Wilson

What is the truth? Rules are followed, rules are broken and faith is shaken in search of an answer. Set in a Bronx Catholic School in 1964, this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama crackles with tension as the characters confront uncertainties brought to light by the play’s unfolding mystery.

“Four Dogs and a Bone”
July 2-15

Directed by Andrew Volkoff
Featuring: Clover Bell-Devaney, Michael Foster, Deann Halper, Daniel Popowich

Ambition is a four-letter word. One floundering film, four inflated egos, and enough secret alliances to make Survivor look like child’s play, Four Dogs is a hilarious dark comedy about the insanity of show business. Featuring the original cast of BAT’s acclaimed 2011 production.

Tickets are $25 for general seating; for advance purchase, call 413.443.7171, ext. 10, or visit the Museum’s front desk.

To purchase tickets, visit the Berkshire Museum’s front desk, or call (413) 443-7171, ext. 10. For more information about our season, head over to www.berkshireactorstheatre.org, and for regular updates, follow us on Twitter @BerkActTheatre!

Berkshire Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.berkshiremuseum.org or call 413.443.7171. Museum admission is $13 for adults and $6 for children. Members and children aged three and under enjoy free admission.

The Museum is located at 39 South Street on Route 7 in downtown Pittsfield. Berkshire Museum is the first public museum in Berkshire County, established by Zenas Crane in 1903 as a museum of art and natural history. Little Cinema is now open year-round. Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, Aquarium, Alexander Calder Gallery, and other exhibits are ongoing.

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