Foundry sparks theater company’s revival

By John Townes
Published June 1, 2019
Berkshire Trade & Commerce

The establishment of The Foundry, a new arts and performance center in West Stockbridge, was a spark that helped to revive Bazaar Productions and its Berkshire Fringe Festival. Between 2005 to 2014 the Berkshire Fringe Festival became an innovative staple in the region’s summer cultural calendar. It took place in the performance center at Simon’s Rock College at Bard in Great Barrington until 2014 when it relocated to the Shire City Sanctuary in downtown Pittsfi eld for one year. The Berkshire Fringe was discontinued after 2014, although Bazaar Productions produced one show called Passage at Shire City in 2016. Since then, the company has been on an extended hiatus. However, despite its low public profile, its members remained committed to the nonprofit theater company’s original mission, according to co-artistic director Chris Tucci. “We all were focused on other projects and activities, but we continued to meet regularly to discuss and plan what we wanted to do next with Bazaar Productions,” said Tucci. “We also had to consider where we should be located. Shire City is a great facility, but it wasn’t ideal for our purposes.” Amy Brentano, owner of The Foundry (see related story), has been part of the group for about two years and is on its artistic advisory board. Her offer of The Foundry as a base for Bazaar Productions stimulated its revival. “At one meeting, Amy surprised us and mentioned that she was acquiring a space that could serve as a performance home for us,” said Tucci. Bazaar Productions was established as a counterpoint to the existing cultural offerings in the region. Its stated mission is to “radicalize the cultural landscape of the Berkshires by commissioning, developing and presenting original and ground-breaking new works of theater, dance and multimedia performance by the most vital and revolutionary contemporary voices.” Other stated goals include fostering equity, diversity and inclusion, to make cultural experiences accessible across identities, socio-economic status, race, religion and creed. It has roots that could be traced to earlier theatrical innovators such as playwright Samuel Beckett, and subsequent movements that have been referred to as Performance Art and New Theater, among other terms. While it has many variations, this approach is based on eclectic and experimental combinations of words, music and multimedia to tell stories and express ideas in new ways. “It acknowledges that TV and fi lm do a better job of conveying realism and traditional forms of storytelling,” said Tucci. “However, theater can create other forms of live experiences you don’t get from those. We explore inventive and unusual ways to tell stories.”

Emphasis on production

Tucci noted that their re-evaluation process had included the type of programs they wanted to focus on. Their primary activity had been organizing the Berkshire Fringe, which brought in outside theater artists and groups for residencies, performances and workshops as an incubator for new works. It had hosted about 600 theater artists and groups from the U.S. and internationally. However, after they discontinued the Berkshire Fringe, they decided that they wanted to become more active as a producing ensemble. In 2015, they had the opportunity for a residency at the Millbrook School in Millbrook, N.Y., where they developed Passage (a work addressing the issue of climate change) in collaboration with the Kickwheel Ensemble Theater. They performed it at the Shire City Sanctuary in 2016. “That was a great experience, and we realized that producing work ourselves as an ensemble is a direction we want to go,” said Tucci. “So our basic plan is to do that, and also bring back the Berkshire Fringe Festival.” Bazaar Productions will focus on two productions in their first season at The Foundry this summer while preparing to relaunch the Berkshire Fringe festival next year. They will produce Particularly In The Heartland, a play about “losing sight of America and trying to fall back in love with it.” The work was originally developed and produced by Brooklyn-based ensemble The TEAM. Sara Katzoff, Bazaar Productions’ co-founder and co-artistic director, will direct the piece at The Foundry. Their other major summer project is working with a group of collaborators from around the country and locally to develop a new musical work about 19th century Mexican singer performer Julia Pastrana. This will take place during a 10-day residency in August. They are working with participants in the Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative of Pittsfield on the project. According to Brentano, it is slated to also include workshops at Tyler Street Lab in Pittsfield (April 2019 BT&C).

Fund-raising boost

In conjunction with this new phase of activity, Bazaar Productions is also bolstering its organizational and financial base. “We’ve been working to bring in people from the business and arts community to support and assist us with our fund-raising and organizational development,” said Tucci. Bazaar Productions is currently conducting a fund-raising campaign with a $30,000 goal. As of early May they had raised over $14,000. That effort gained a major boost in April when they released a video with popular Oscar-winning actor Allison Janney, who offered to personally match pledges up to $15,000 total to support Bazaar Productions. The video was released on the Donation page of the organization’s website (bazaarproductions.org), its Facebook page (Berkshirefringe) and elsewhere. “I love theater – it’s where I got my start,” Janney says in the video. “Did you know that there’s exceptional innovative theater in your own backyard? Bazaar Productions and Berkshire Fringe have a new home, and they need you to contribute to their fund-raising campaign.” Brentano said Janney is a friend of hers and agreed to promote the organization and provide the match after learning about it. “That made a huge difference,’ she said. “Our website exploded after that got around.”

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