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Berkshire Theatre Companies Prepare For A COVID-19 Safe Summer Season

Costumed actors stand on a stage under a large tent
Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware
Berkshire Theatre Group
Berkshire Theatre Group's outdoor performance of Godspell in 2020.


The Berkshire theatre scene is gearing up for an in-person summer season, with considerable measures taken to confront the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a region known for and heavily reliant on its culture sector, summer 2020 was a nightmare. Major tourist magnets like the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Tanglewood canceled in-person events, dealing a blow to local coffers. Now, after a year of Zoom theatre events, the return to some kind of normalcy is underway – but as WTF artistic director Mandy Greenfield can tell you, nothing about the forthcoming season has come easy.

“Josh, the challenges – operational, financial, logistic – to realizing a 2021 summer season in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that is safe for artists, for the town of Williamstown, for audiences, are too voluminous to recount here on your radio show," said Greenfield. "I would be speaking for hours. You'd have to cancel all of your other programming for me to lay bare the intensity of the lift to bring this forward.”

Working closely with the town, boards of health, outside advisors and more, WTF’s season kicks off July 6th with a production of nine solo plays by Black playwrights.

“Every single thing about it is going to be just a little bit different," continued Greenfield. "And on the one hand, we're going to deliver the kind of bold, fearless theater making for which we and our artists are known. On the other hand, it will be entirely outdoors. We will be doing three projects in Williamstown, Massachusetts this summer, one of which will happen outside on Main. It will take place on the lawn outside the 62 Center for Theater and Dance on Main Street. That is where we normally produce indoors.”

Other novel locations for the festival include the reflecting pool at the Clark Art Institute and a site specific work called Alien/Nation that will take theatergoers on a tour of Williamstown.

In Lenox, Shakespeare & Company has also embraced the demands of the COVID-19 era by investing in new spaces for its season that starts on July 2nd.

“We're building a brand new outdoor amphitheater called the New Spruce Theatre, which in normal times, will seat 543 people, but in COVID times, will seat about 200 socially distanced," said Artistic Director Allyn Burrows. “That’ll be in front of these towering spruce trees in the center of our property much to reflect the pine trees where we were over at the Mount and look after people's safety and wellbeing. And we'll also be in the Roman Garden Theatre again, outside. And we're looking forward to just having a very rich and full summer of outdoor productions. ‘King Lear’ will be on the New Spruce Theatre with Christopher Lloyd playing the title role. He was slated to do that last summer, but he's eager to get back this summer and do it again.”

At its stages in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, Berkshire Theatre Group has erected outdoor tents for productions like ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ starting June 18th and ‘Nina Simone: Four Women,’ which kicks off in mid-August.

Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is presenting a hybrid of indoor and outdoor productions. Its season begins with an outdoor production of 'Who Could Ask For Anything More? The Songs Of George Gershwin' on June 10th, followed by ‘Chester Baileyinside the Boyd/Quinson Stage on June 18th

“We have taken out two thirds of our seats on the main stage, which is a difference of – 520 seats is the total number, we now have 160. We redid our air conditioning, air ventilation system, put in MERV 13 filters, we purge 100% of the air every night," said Artistic Director Julianne Boyd. “We are electrostatically cleaning every single seat and surface in the theater. That was what we planned for last year. And we're going to do the same. And of course, we're going to do digital programs. Everybody has to wear masks. And I think it's quite stringent a safety protocol, which is necessary at this time. And of course, everyone coming into the theater and out of the theater has to stay six feet apart.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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