By JUDITH FAIRWEATHER
PITTSFIELD — In the summer of 2008, my then 9-year-old, Caroline, decided she wanted to audition for Berkshire Theatre Festival’s third Children’s Theatre Company production. I had no idea at the time that her choice would reawaken my own inner actress.
That summer, while traveling up and down Route 7 to and from the theater’s Lavan campus in Stockbridge, I had time to reflect on my own years on stage … in high school. How I had loved my time as Louisa in Taconic High School’s 1980 production of “The Sound of Music” and my ensemble appearance in “Carousel” in 1981. Strong friendships were formed during those late nights of rehearsal and endless struggles to learn dance numbers.
But time, and life, had interfered with my stage career. Now a single mother and high school social studies teacher, my group of close friends had shrunk to a mere handful, and my days were spent just trying to “get through.” As I watched my daughter discover what would ultimately become a passion and probable future career choice, I realized I had given up me somewhere in the process.
From ‘Annie’ to ‘Oliver’
After accompanying my actress daughter for two years, I took a deep breath, dusted off my singing voice and talked myself into auditioning for the 2010 production of “Annie.” I told myself I was doing it so that I could bond with my daughter over a shared interest, in the same way that I had rediscovered skiing by joining her on the Bousquet chairlift.
That summer, appearing on stage with Caroline and my then 8-year-old, Gwen, who was also making her BTF stage debut, was eye-opening. I made new friends, both grown-ups and teens. I sang; I danced; I laughed. Really laughed. How long had it been since I had done that? How long had it been since I had done something just for me? I couldn’t tell you.
I was hooked. I returned for last summer’s “Wizard of Oz” at The Colonial, which had become part of the newly created Berkshire Theatre Group. And when “Oliver!” auditions rolled around this spring, I feverishly prepped the 16 bars of my audition song with the help of Chris Caproni, my Drury High School colleague, was cast and then I counted off the days until rehearsals began at the end of July.
In the capable hands of director Travis G. Daly; choreographer Kathy Jo Grover, wife and musical partner of local legend David Grover; and musical director Carlton Maaia II, a former student of mine and director of music at First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, we began rehearsing in First Church’s glorious second-floor space. Hearing that sea of voices blend together in “Who Will Buy” and “Consider Yourself” made my heart swell with happiness.Featuring 219 community members — the largest cast ever assembled in the Berkshires, according to Kate Maguire, BTG artistic director and CEO, in her meet-and-greet welcome speech — the show brings together children and seasoned stage veterans alike, such as esteemed director Tom Towne, who is making his onstage return in the role of Mr. Bumble; Ralph Petillo, reprising his role as Fagin; Rebecca Leigh, Hartt School of Music graduate and BTG favorite, in the role of Nancy; and Chris Vecchia, local singer and actor, as Bill Sykes. BTG veteran Olivia Marchione will star as Oliver alongside Toby Keenan, making his BTG debut in the role of the Artful Dodger.
Because it is a community production, we rehearse evenings, generally from 6 to 10 p.m., with Saturday rehearsals added as we near “tech week.” Ah, tech week. Or should I say (pardon my French) “hell week.” Tech week, the mere mention of which brings a shudder to every actor, is the week prior to a show’s opening, when the actors finally get to rehearse in the actual space with all the accoutrements — lights, costumes, sound cues, set pieces and props. Unlike regular rehearsals, which have a fairly firm end time, tech week rehearsals go until they are done. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of this show’s cast is made up of children who will have returned to school, the community production’s tech week is not as brutal as most (but having said that, when we were staging the show at the Fitzpatrick Mainstage in Stockbridge, this Pittsfield teacher would put her pajamas on prior to end-of-rehearsal notes to save time before the drive home).
And then, after seven weeks of rehearsal, it will be showtime. Called to the theater an hour and a half prior to curtain, we will gather together to tell our story to four different audiences over the Sept. 7 weekend. It will be heady, and exciting and will go by much too quickly. When the curtain closes for the last time on Sunday, Sept. 9, many of us, me included, will be brought to tears. We will hug our theater friends good-bye, resolve to stay in touch on Facebook — and will then return home to start crossing off the days until the spring 2013 auditions. Come join us.
BTG’s 2012 seventh annual Children’s Theatre Company production of “Oliver!” with music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart, will be staged at The Colonial, 111 South St., Pittsfield, Sept. 7-9, with performances Friday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 8, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children 16 and under. The production raises funds for BTG PLAYS!, the theater’s year-round education program. Tickets are available at The Colonial box office, the Stockbridge campus box office at 83 East Main St. or by calling 413-298-5576 or 413-997-4444. Tickets also can be bought online at berkshiretheatregroup.org.
Judith Fairweather is a writer, editor, Drury High School social studies teacher and would-be Broadway star. Look for her to appear on the Great White Way someday.