By Telly Halkias
Nigel Gore loves to work, and isn’t looking for any time off in the winter. But Gore, the Elliot Norton Award-winning actor beloved by local audiences, understands that for many regional theaters, January through March can be very quiet.
Having graced Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Mass., and Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vt., for years, Gore knows that some troupes put on both plays and a variety of different events for the public, while others hibernate in development of new works and preparations for the next summer.
Gore fondly recalled a past January gig during a snowstorm, with only five minutes to curtain while facing an empty house.
“Professionals as we were, all four of the actors plus the stage manager showed up for work,” Gore said. “We were all getting ready to leave when a director we all knew and respected walked in. It turned out that this was the only time he could see the show, a terrific piece of theatre and something of which we were all very proud.”
So Gore and his comrades did the show for the venerated director.
“It was truly an extraordinary experience, and thank God he had the good sense to give us a standing ovation,” Gore said with a chuckle.
Local stages won’t be all silent then; Gore and others like him will make sure of that.
Rocking through the winter
At Berkshire Theatre Group, which operates several venues in the Berkshires, artistic director Kate Maguire said that her consortium will offer up a 2017 season, including three winter events, with “an exciting line-up of celebrated, award-winning performers, along with locally grown and up-and-coming talent.”
Kicking off on Feb. 7 will be “Remember When Rock was Young,” at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass. This musical journey celebrates Sir Elton John’s greatest hits, including “Benny and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and “Crocodile Rock,” just to name a few, and will be headlined by international performer Craig Meyer.
Just two nights later, on Feb. 9 at The Garage in Pittsfield, BTG will present “Rev Tor’s 6th Annual Dead of Winter Jam,” which will celebrate the music of The Grateful Dead.
Led by singer and lead guitarist Tor Krautter, this act has become one of best-known on the blues and jam-band circuit. Pulling inspiration from a variety of influences, Tor and his band have shared the stage with members of The Grateful Dead, Phish, The Allman Brothers and The New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Skipping to March 10, The TEN Tenors, one of Australia’s most successful touring groups, will come to The Colonial. The group is celebrated for its repertoire, arrangements and live performances.
Amidst their six platinum and gold records, The TEN Tenors have also performed alongside many music legends. Their new show, “The Power of TEN,” delivers a blend of operatic arias and rock anthems. Regional crowd favorites include: Puccini’s, “Nessun Dorma;” Ed Sheeran’s, “Thinking Out Loud,” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
On the acting stage
But winter isn’t just about theater companies using their venues to host music events — there’s acting, too.
Just past Manchester, Vt., in Dorset, The Dorset Players run a theater season from September through May.
Their board president, Angie Merwin, agreed that the winter months are the most challenging for any performance arts organization, but that those who make the most of them will get the most from them.
“We strive to use our stage to continue bringing programs of interest to the entire region,” Merwin recently noted on a morning following an evening snowfall. “Weather is always an unknown and a challenge. Can the actors get here? Can the audience get here? Will they make it home safely? Will we have heat?”
What The Dorset Players will have, for the 12th winter in a row, is the nationally acclaimed Missoula Children’s Theatre bringing its Little Red Truck with all that they need — sets, costumes, and two tour directors — to present a show entirely made up of local community children from kindergarten through Grade 12.
After a period of local auditions, Missoula Children’s Theatre will perform “Alice In Wonderland,” on Jan. 21, with a matinee and evening performance.
Merwin said that this performance is all about The Dorset Players giving back to the community by promoting “the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts, rather than the play itself.”
Then on Feb. 10, The Dorset Players will offer a staged reading of “Ancestral Voices” by A.R. Gurney. This five-person reading will be directed by Kevin O’Toole.
For its winter headliner, from March 3-12, The Players will present “Bus Stop.” Merwin added that it was appropriate that the classic play’s storyline finds its characters stranded overnight in a diner due to a blizzard.
The sidewalks are open
To the south in Bennington, Vt., Oldcastle Theatre Company is looking to plan its future by securing its present.
Producing artistic director and co-founder Eric Peterson said that ever since Oldcastle moved to its new downtown venue in 2013, the goal had been to work toward a year-round performing schedule — and that includes winter.
As a result, Oldcastle is scheduling a flurry of small programming to help fill the darkest months.
“We don’t roll up the sidewalk after fall foliage,” Peterson said while looking out on Main Street from his office. “There are still people here and people travelling here and visiting. There is still culture and arts and theater and entertainment. They don’t cease because of an arbitrary number or date on the calendar. Or because of the weather.”
Among other initiatives, Peterson discussion the addition of a classic film series this January for two nights a week, with details yet to be released. He insisted that there was “a market for this and other similar types of entertainment that are, so far, going largely unrealized in the local area, especially in winter.”
Some of these performances are now on tap. On Feb. 10 and 11, the Gypsy Layne Cabaret & Co. will perform at Oldcastle, followed closely on Feb. 17-19, by special arrangement, the one-actor play “Fresh Hell: the Life and Times of Dorothy Parker,” starring Oldcastle favorite Natalie Wilder.
At least four other performing arts events, some not yet announced, will take place at Oldcastle through March 15.
In assessing all of ongoing initiatives by regional stages in winter, theater bloggers and radio talk show hosts of “Theatre Talk,” on WBTN-FM, the playwright Robert Sugarman and his wife Sally, a professor emerita at Bennington College, said they liked the local offerings. January through March can be a most vibrant calendar period for the theater, even in snowstorms like Nigel Gore’s above, according to them.
“The problem is not driving through a storm to get to a production,” Sally said. “It is getting out of the theater after an exciting and satisfying show and facing the storm that started while we were inside the warm, cozy space. And then trying our best to remember each wonderful moment as we inch our way back home over slippery roads in the dark.”
Winter highlights on stage …
Berkshire Theatre Group, Pittsfield
Feb. 2: Remember When Rock Was Young at The Colonial Theatre
Feb. 9: Rev Tor’s 6th Annual Dead Of Winter Jam Featuring Rev Tor Band & Friends. Celebrating The Music of The Grateful Dead at The Garage.
March 10: The TEN Tenors: The Power of TEN at The Colonial Theatre
Tickets: berkshiretheatre.org, 413-448-8084
Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield
Feb. 19-March 5: Sixth Annual 10 x 10 New Play Festival at the St. Germain Stage
Tickets: barringtonstageco.org, 413-236-8888
The Dorset Players, Dorset
Jan. 21: “Alice In Wonderland”
March 3-12: “Bus Stop”
Tickets: dorsetplayers.org, 802-867-5570
Weston Playhouse, Weston
Feb. 4: Annual New Musical Award Concert
Tickets: westonplayhouse.org, 802-824-5288
Oldcastle Theatre Company, Bennington
Feb. 10-11: Gypsy Layne Cabaret & Co.
Feb. 17-19: Fresh Hell: the Life and Times of Dorothy Parker
Feb. 25: Matt Edwards’ Buck Two-Fifty New Orleans Piano Jazz
Feb. 26: Hallelujah Chorus, Director Thomas Toscano, Concert
Tickets: oldcastletheatre.org, 802-447-0564
New England Youth Theatre, Brattleboro
Jan. 6-7: “All’s Well That Ends Well”
Jan. 20-22: Grimley, Brimleys and the great British Feud of 1826
Feb. 10-19: CAMPALOT: Knights of the Square Table
Tickets: neyt.org, 802-246-6398