The Berkshires are positively brimming with world-class arts institutions, which bloom to their most vital in the summer. But many of these icons of culture also offer less prominent programming that is worth exploring, and can round out a visit to the Berkshires with some insider adventures.
Barrington Stage Company
30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass., (413) 236-8888, barringtonstageco.org
In addition to their theater fare, Barrington Stage Company presents the free lecture series, “Conversations With . . .” which connects playwrights, musicians, creative teams, activists and experts with the BSC audience to discuss the creation and evolution of theater works and to enrich the theatergoing experience. Each “Conversations With . . .” evening is relevant to one of BSC’s current production. Highlights this summer include conversations with African-American civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Elvis collaborator Abby Schroeder. The company also produces a cabaret performance from their award-winning developmental Musical Theater Lab.
358 George Carter Road, Becket, Mass., (413) 243-9919, jacobspillow.org
This renowned dance festival presents performances by top companies from around the world on the historic Pillow Campus. Those same companies, along with emerging dancers and dancers from the School at Jacob’s Pillow present a lineup of more than 40 free outdoor performances on the Inside/Out stage every Wednesday through Saturday evening throughout the festival. Dance lovers of all ages can enjoy a picnic and performances by some of the world’s premiere dancers—including the Vanaver Caravan, Oyo Oro, Urbanity, Terra Firma Dance Theater and Hilary Easton and Company—all set before a panoramic backdrop of the rolling Berkshire Hills. Jacob’s Pillow also offers free campus walking tours and a series of community dance classes in the historic Tea House for $8 and under, from pilates and ballet to Arab-American Fusion and inter-generational Families Dance Together classes.
87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass., (413) 662-2111, massmoca.org
“In addition to their regular programming,” is not really an appropriate fit for MASS MoCA, whose slate of offerings span from contemporary art installations to music festivals and dance, theater and multimedia performance. But there are still a few surprises for the summer. The Fly-in Film will present the classic flying film The Great Waldo Pepper on a super-scale, when MASS MoCA converts the door of an airplane hangar at North Adams Airport into a movie screen for one night only. You can indulge in an a la carte barbecue, peruse vintage planes and automobiles, play with balsa wood gliders, and enjoy a preview performance with live music and flying cartoons, all for $7, $3 kids or $14 per car. MASS MoCAs film series also includes screenings of the classic silent films The Kid and Metropolis with a live score ($15, $10 students). And, in conjunction with the exhibition The Workers, the nomadic Bureau for Open Culture has taken up residence in a converted building on the MASS MoCA campus, where they are presenting I Am Searching for Field Character , a series of public conversations, performances, installations, and workshops featuring visiting artists, writers, designers, and scholars–plus a beer garden open every Thursday and Friday night.
Shakespeare & Company
70 Kemble Street, Lenox, Mass., (413) 637-3353, shakespeare.org
Shakespeare & Company has developed a multi-theater complex in Lenox, and they fill their campus with performance and festivities all summer long. On Thursday through Saturday nights in July and August, their young company performs Preludes. This free program of outdoor theatrics includes Elizabethan dances, songs, swordplay and clowning to whet the appetite for performance. On July 4th, the company performs a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, followed by an a la carte community barbecue. S&C presents two family plays in their outdoor Rose Footprint Theatre and Bankside performance space, which children are invited to enjoy for free. This year’s offerings are the rollicking Elizabethan farce Venetian Twins ($10 for adults) and EveryActor, a comedy of the trials and tribulations of becoming a classically trained actor in the 21st century that’s free for the whole family. The company offers a behind-the-scenes peek with two-hour tours of the costume shop, armory, backstage areas, and more beginning in July ($10, $5 kids), and the popular 5 PM Tuesday Talks series returns for its second year, for discussions about the season’s productions with company actors, artists and scholars Tuesday ($8 adults, $5 kids 18 and under).
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South St., Williamstown, Mass., (413) 458-2303, clarkart.edu
In addition the the exhibition offerings at this cornerstone of the fine art world, the Clark presents a slate of free public children’s activities, including for the summer an animation workshop, a program of African folktales, and a new parents gallery talk series that welcomes pre-toddlers and their folks on a tour of the museum. For adults, there are weekly film screenings, a public lecture series and daily gallery talks to enrich the museum experience. In August, the Clark presents a weekly chamber music concert series with the option of enjoying a three-course fixed-price dinner in the Clark Café before the concert to share wine, food and conversation with fellow music lovers. And the new Club7 creates a night club atmosphere in Tadao Ando’s architectural marvel the Stone Hill Center, featuring a cash bar, snacks, and a DJ or live music every Thursday evening in August.
297 West St., Lenox, Mass., (413) 637-1600, bso.org
Tanglewood, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as well as Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and contemporary performances by an array of artists. Their expansive lawns are a renowned summer destination for picnicking to the strains of the symphony, where kids are not only welcome, they’re admitted free. Up to four complimentary lawn tickets per parent or guardian can be claimed for children ages 17 and under on the day of each concert. On Sundays at noon and Saturday mornings, the Kids Corner offers free musical and craft activities with BSO staff for kids accompanied by an adult. Also on Saturday mornings, music lovers are welcome to attend BSO’s free public rehearsals and enjoy brunch on the lawn. And for those interested in the behind-the-scenes and history of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Association of Volunteers offers free hour-long walking tours of the extensive campus, including visits to the Koussevitzky Music Shed, Ozawa Hall, and history rooms.
Williamstown Theater Festival
‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass., (413) 597-3400, wtfestival.org
Williamstown Theater Festival has a history of drawing top actors from Broadway, Hollywood and beyond to perform on their Williamstown stage, but the festival actors, both established and emerging, do more than perform in the season’s productions. Their Late-Night Cabaret series brings the stars out at night for intimate 10:30 PM performances of song, dance and surprises ($25). And every Friday at 3 PM during the festival, the Fridays@3 series presents new plays by leading American playwrights read by festival artists, including this summer Tarell Alvin McCraney’s 2010 Weissberger Award-winning play Choir Boy and more, for only a $5 suggested donation. To give back to the community, WTF also presents an annual Free Theatre production—this year’s offering is The Comedy of Errors, outside in Poker Flats Field in July. Audience can enjoy for picnics and performance, and kids are welcome. Also in Poker Flats Field for the kiddos, Kids’ Theater Day (July 15) kids are invited to act and play with members of the WTF company in an afternoon of theatrical fun and games, followed by a performance of Free Theater. And if theater-in-development intruigues you, the production of the WTF Fellowship Musical and Fellowship Play creates “theater from scratch,” teaming writers, directing fellows and actors from the non-equity company build an original pay and musical from concept to performance in just eight weeks.