Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 25, 2016

Interview: Kate Maguire, Berkshire Theatre Group

Kate Maguire, Artistic Director/CEO, Berkshire Theatre Group discusses a Decade at the Colonial 
by Shera Cohen 

Located in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, BTG is the home of four theatre venues. This interview with Artistic Director/CEO Kate Maguire focuses on the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the renovated Colonial Theatre. Built in 1903, the $21million restoration has recreated this exquisite building with its pristine acoustics, classic gilded age architecture and state of the art technical systems to host theatre, family entertainment, comedy, and live music year round. 

Spotlight: Who were performers/plays presented in Colonial’s heyday? 
Kate:  In the early Colonial days, the company presented shows as often as possible. Early shows included Ibsen’s controversial play Ghosts, a cast of 300 in Fifi in the Toy Shop, and Irving Berlin’s premiere of Watch Your Step. The Colonial was a stop in Sarah Bernhardt’s farewell tour. Dancers Martha Graham, Ted Shawn, and the Denishawn Dance Company have also graced The Colonial stage. 

Spotlight: What was the impetus to combining Colonial with BTF? 
Kate:  I had been thinking for some time that it would be healthy to consider collaborations with other organizations in the area. However, I realized that so many of us were duplicating our efforts in terms of administrations, box office, and marketing efforts. I thought, “Perhaps we could work with other organizations to find some efficiencies.”

After 2008, and the economic downturn, I became much more active in looking for partnerships and collaborations. I happened to walk into The Colonial and met with two wonderful trustees. At that point, their board was looking for a new executive director.

We began a conversation about what it might look like for the organizations to truly be partners. After conversations with BTF’s board, the community and civic leaders, we determined that this would be the way to bring two historical theatre organizations together, and create art for a theatre community year-round. 

Spotlight: To what degree was Berkshire Theatre Festival (BTF) involved in renovation of the Colonial? 
Kate:  Berkshire Theatre Festival supported the renovation. I was on the original Board of Trustees for The Colonial. We were in the very early stages of thinking about what that theatre would mean to a community.  

Spotlight: What is the mission of Colonial? The same as BTF? 
Kate:  The mission of the Colonial has always been very similar to the Berkshire Theatre Festival; our goal is to present great work, and to make sure that while we’re presenting that work on our stages, we are being mindful of what it means for a not-for-profit to support the creative vitality of a community. The heart of our mission is to educate, enrich, and entertain through the art of theatre. 

Spotlight: How are the various venues a good match? 
Kate:  Each theatre is unique. The Fitzpatrick Main Stage (approximately 300 seats), in a historic building, that oozes the feeling of summer theatre. The Unicorn (just over 120 seats), which was more recently built, is an intimate space. The Garage, inside of the Colonial, is a black box; we can move that area around. The Colonial Theatre itself is over 700 seats, and a beautifully restored theatre—an architectural jewel. 

Spotlight: How do you choose which performances will be mounted at Colonial or the Stockbridge theatres? 
Kate:  The Fitzpatrick Main Stage has always been home for the classics, new plays and plays with large themes. The Unicorn Theatre, is a space for a young generation of theatre makers, as well as more experimental work.

The Colonial was built by a community, so people would have a creative home to go to year-round. There are no barriers at the Colonial—I hope there are no barriers to any of our theatres. It’s no less intense in terms of the quality of the work, but more familiar to audiences; Little Shop of Horrors, and musicians and comedians that perform all year-long. 

Spotlight: What are you most proud of that has occurred at the Colonial? 
Kate:  I would say that we are most proud of the development of our Annual Community Theatre Production. Every member of the community is truly making the Colonial stage their own; embracing it, and entertaining. What happens in that room is one giant hug. Young people walk into that theatre as if it’s their own. This year, our Annual Community Theatre Production is the Beauty and the Beast, where 120 talented young performers will take the stage. 

Spotlight: What are future plans? 
Kate:  Future plans for the Colonial always involve making sure that we keep the building in the best shape, and that requires constant fundraising. [Important is] maintaining the structure so that it continues to be as glorious as it looks right now, and is sturdy for the future generations. 

We will continue to expand our education programs. We serve 13,000 school children with a variety of program. We are instituting pre-K programming as well. Our programs are based on language, and helping people to communicate more powerfully. The essence of great theatre is to try to understand each other in stronger ways, and to be able to better listen.

While there’s a goal to always entertain and put on great plays, we take our not-for-profit role very seriously. We know how much effort was put in to all of our theatres, and that as leaders in the community, we have a responsibility to educate. 

Spotlight: Any anecdotes about the Colonial that you’d like to share?
Kate:  The work that we’re doing with youth is transformational. We have young people that we have been working with for a dozen years—they have become the teachers for the new students.

There are a great handful of people that come back to teach, and actors who have been with us for so many years, who regard BTG as their artistic home. There’s a collective sigh that you can hear in the first rehearsal from returning actors that says, “I’m back in the Berkshires, I can breathe. I can create great work because of the environment.”

For more information on the Berkshire Theatre Group visit: