Showtime – Local kids star in Berkshire Theatre Group
Evan Silverstein is no stranger to the stage. He made his Berkshire Theatre Group debut three years ago in Mirror, Mirror, written and directed by a pair of local high school students as part of BTG Plays!, the organization’s year-round education program. It was ultimately Silverstein’s passion for improv comedy—during BTG’s Encore: A Celebration of High School Musicals, Comedy, Dance and More—that caught the attention of artistic director Kate Maguire. One thing led to another, as is so often the case in the Berkshires, and Silverstein was hooked.
“It all kind of came full circle, due to these awesome educational experiences BTG offers for young people who are passionate about the stage,” says the 19-year-old Lenox resident who will return to The Unicorn Theatre in his first equity show, The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?, which runs May 24 to June 15.
“This never would have happened without the great support of people who were put in my inner circle by living in the Berkshires.”
Silverstein is one of many young Berkshire actors cultivated by local performing arts organizations such as BTG, Barrington Stage Company, Shakespeare & Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and WAM Theatre.
“We consider the work we do with young people central to our mission,” says Maguire. “We want to open doorways of growth as widely as possible.”
Indeed, the doors are wide open across the county for actors at all stages of development. Take Hayden Hoffman, a 12-year-old student at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. Encouraged to audition for A Christmas Carol at age eight, Hoffman was cast as Tiny Tim four years in a row. Hoffman found a home at BTG, taking part in the community theater and landing the role of Jack in the 2018-2019 Touring Show, Showtime with Shakespeare: A Magic Tree House Adventure. Hoffman has been cast in his first mainstage show, Rock and Roll Man (June 27-July 21), a role Maguire proposed he pursue.
“I’m going to have a lot more observing to do than during community theater,” says Hoffman. “I feel like I can learn from these actors.” Berkshire theater companies go into schools to teach, or have children come to them for culturally enriching experiences.
One shining example is BTG PLAYS!, which serves 13,000 school children in over 26 schools across 15 towns; of the roughly 5,464 students in Pittsfield alone, BTG serves 3,467.
“Our programs are designed to focus on working as an ensemble both on and off the stage, building self-confidence, demonstrating empathy, and inspiring young people to tell their stories,” says Allison Rachele Bayles, administrative director of education at BTG.
“These are not just BTG kids, they are Berkshire kids through and through,” adds Katie B. Watts, BTG press manager. Take Hanna Koczela. The 19-year-old from Cheshire who grew up in BTG programs and played Jane in Tarzan last summer returns to the Colonial Theatre this season as an acting intern. “We are always learning,” she says, looking forward to the master classes and hands-on experience she and five other interns will glean while working under artist associate David Adkins. “Performance experience is not the same as learning experience,” she notes.
Koczela also will appear in the mainstage production of The Skin of Our Teeth (July 11-August 3) and credits BTG as having groomed her for this moment. “My ability to be a leader and get on stage in front of people and be confident and comfortable all come from being raised on the stage,” she explains. Tim Jones, who interned last year, understands this implicitly. The 23-year-old Pittsfield native is bubbling with excitement at his return to BTG to appear in Working: A Musical (July 18-August 24). Jones cites, “an awesome platoon of professional actors” as responsible for answering his “thousand questions” and inspiring him in his work.
Logan Weibrecht, a 16-year-old from Lenox, will be tasked with balancing his first equity show and school thanks to his role in What the Jews Believe (September 26-October 20). “It’s the next step up, the best of the best,” the young actor says. He is expecting more of himself, calling the schedule for equity shows much more rigorous and complicated than community theater. Still, BTG has worked it out so that school isn’t affected by his need to rehearse with the full cast.
“The level of professionalism I am immersed in and surrounded by is both humbling, awe inspiring and delightful,” Silverstein says. Maguire concurs: “The creative arts reflect upon what it means to be human, and at BTG there is no greater joy than sharing the experience of creativity with young people.”