Director's cut: Regional theater is an incubator for ideas, compassion
I've got a list of potential plays, that gets larger by the year. The puzzle of piecing a season together is a process of responding to the times we are living in, sensing what might help us understand what drives us ... what connects us. "Children of a Lesser God" has been on my list for a long time. In January, I received an email asking if I might consider working with director Kenny Leon, and a cast featuring Joshua Jackson, Lauren Ridloff and Stephen Spinella. A producer wondered if Berkshire Theatre Group might give the show a go, as he wanted to keep an eye on it for a potential move to Broadway. My response was a swift "yes." There are a lot of stories, some good, some not so good, about working with outside producers. Honestly, working with this team has been a true collaboration, instructional on both sides and a relationship that we hope will continue.
We just closed the run of "Children of a Lesser God" and it has thrilled audiences. In the internal audience summary report for "Children of a Lesser God," the house manager noted: "Upon exiting, a patron thanked us and said that this was a production she would remember for the rest of her life." For me, it has been life changing. I speak constantly about the power of theater; theater is a place where we can tell our stories, where we teach our students how to communicate with one another. As soon as an actor puts on someone else's shoes when playing a role, they must understand that character's motivations in order to succeed.
Each night that the fabulous and highly respected producer from out of town has visited "Children of a Lesser God," I see him wipe his eyes, at the same moment of revelation that is moving all of our audiences.
The inner life of a family or individual is revealed through the art of theater. In a world that seems more fractured than ever, the arts are more essential than ever. But for all my talk about the power of the spoken word, I was negligent to fully recognize that communication comes in a variety of forms. I've been humbled to realize this through "Children of a Lesser God's" leading character, Sarah, played by Ridloff, a former Miss Deaf America. One critic called her signing, "So explosive that we barely need the translations." There are many pathways for us to learn about each other.
As a not-for-profit theater, we are an educational institution at our core. We, like other regional theaters, also serve as incubators. When I think back to that Monday when I watched the high school-aged actors from "The Music Man" taking in "Children of a Lesser God," I thought about the 100-plus community members and kids on the Colonial stage, and realized that the common thread was communication.
At Berkshire Theatre Group, our doors are open not only for theater and classroom work, but also for civic discussion. There are no boundaries in art. This summer we have learned that there are more ties that bind artists and producers than separate, and that communication comes in many forms.
Kate Maguire is artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group. To learn more about the theater company, visit berkshiretheatregroup.org.
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