“Four Dogs and a Bone” first show for new Berkshire Actors Theatre

Berkshire Actors Theatre

Over the past decade the City of Pittsfield has continued to emerge as the hub of the arts in the Berkshires. Home to both Barrington Stage Company and the newly merged Colonial Theatre-Berkshire Theatre Festival, these long established and top notch institutions have begun to attract other theatre companies. Within months of the opening of the Beacon Cinema, a new theatre facility, the New Stage Performing Arts Center emerged in the same building.It has hosted a number of successful productions, including the Women’s Action Movement, also a new venture.

Now comes the news that the Berkshire Actors Theatre has formed and will present its first production in August.

A promising new company

This is more than just another small scale theatre company since it is one founded by well known local actors and directors. We welcome it as the latest organization to join the thriving arts scene in Western Massachusetts. Led by Artistic Director Clover Bell-Devaney, the Berkshire Actors Theatre aims to produce fresh, dynamic takes on modern and classical plays, while fostering a sense of creativity and collaboration among local theatre artists.

Four Dogs and a Bone plays August 3-21

For its inaugural production, the Berkshire Actors Theatre is presenting Four Dogs and a Bone, a bitingly funny play about the insanity of show business. Written by John Patrick Shanley (author of the Tony Award-winning play Doubt, as well as the Academy Awarding-winning film Moonstruck) and directed by Andrew Volkoff, Four Dogs and a Bone follows a screenwriter, a producer, and two manipulative actresses as they simultaneously strive to take control of a floundering Hollywood film. Inflated egos, brazen power plays, and psychological warfare abound in this hilarious dark comedy by one of America’s preeminent playwrights.

(I’ve always thought playwright Shanley made a daring choice in creating the title of this comedy, especially considering what a critic could do with it when writing a review.)

“This is definitely a juicy show for actors” – Clover Bell-Devaney

As to what is different about this company, Berkshire Actors Theatre Artistic Director Clover Bell-Devaney said “We wanted to be an actor-based theater, where performances are paramount,so what better way to get things rolling than with a comedy full of rich, outrageous characters and fantastic dialogue? Plus, Four Dogs and a Bone is viciously funny. It will be the perfect diversion from the summer heat for audiences come August!”

Clover Bell-Devaney (lower left) and Deann Halper (upper right)

In founding Berkshire Actors Theatre, Bell-Devaney has had the support of Artistic Associate Deann Halper and director Andrew Volkoff. Both Bell-Devaney and Halper will act in Four Dogs and a Bone as well, appearing as two conniving, embattled actresses who attempt to steer the film in their favor with their sharp tongues, clever schemes, and a healthy dose of emotional blackmail. As seasoned actors themselves, both Bell-Devaney and Halper have appeared in productions throughout Berkshire County (as well as Off-Broadway and regionally throughout the New England area).

Bell-Devaney, who graduated with a degree in acting from Carnegie Mellon, hadn’t planned on founding a theatre company when she moved from New York City to the Berkshires ten years ago. As the head of a successful Berkshire-based event planning business (Impeccable Events), Bell-Devaney’s focus has been on producing events for the last several years, but this new theatrical endeavor is a natural progression for her.

“I feel like I’ve taken to producing like a duck to water,” says Bell-Devaney of her role as Producing Artistic Director. The skills I’ve developed though event planning – including the ability to assemble and manage a team, and knowing how to pull together multiple pieces to create something spectacular – are serving me well in this new role.” Bell-Devaney, who has deep roots in the theatre, adds, “I suppose it’s no surprise that my life has taken this turn. My dad’s an actor, my mom’s a founding artistic director, I have a sister who’s an actress in NYC, and another sister who manages a theatre in Pennsylvania. Even my 8-year-old son has started doing a bit of professional acting.”

As to her goals for the future, Bell-Devaney wants to see if there’s a place for Berkshire Actors Theatre in the community. Her aim is to mount the best production possible this summer, with stellar performances and high production values (the team of designers for Four Dogs and a Bone includes Brad Berridge, Jeff Davis, and Brian Prather, who have all worked at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, as well as Arthur Oliver, who has worked extensively with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA). “During my time in the area, I’ve made connections with a striking number of theatre artists who are eager for more opportunities to work professionally in the Berkshire theatre community,” says Bell-Devaney. “My hope is that audiences will embrace this ‘new kid on the block’ as a valuable addition to our already flourishing theatre community.”

Director Andrew Volkoff..

Four Dogs and a Bone director Andrew Volkoff has also worked extensively in Berkshire County, most recently on Barrington Stage Company’s production of The Fantasticks (2009). Volkoff migrated from New York City to Western Massachusetts in the late 1990s, in order to work as an Artistic Associate for Barrington Stage Company. He later spent several years directing plays and musicals for BSC, and credits Barrington Stage with helping shape his artistic sensibilities, and encouraging his desire to develop new theatrical work.

“I’ve never encountered a community so theater-minded,” says Volkoff, who splits his time between New York City and the Berkshire region. “The audiences here are so ready to accept new theater and help it grow. So when people ask, ‘why start another theater company?’ I say, ‘Well, the community here is so supportive – they’re always willing to embrace a fresh artistic endeavor.’”

Local Talent key to BAT’s philosophy

Bell-Devaney, Halper, and Volkoff all stress the “Berkshire” aspect of Berkshire Actors Theater, saying that they intend to use as much local talent as possible to create fresh, high-quality performances. “Although we’re not against bringing people in from outside the area, we really want to focus on Berkshire performers and artists,” says Bell-Devaney. “Everyone working on the show either lives here or has strong ties to this region.”

In addition to Bell-Devaney and Halper, Daniel Popowich joins the cast as the film’s unsavory producer and Michael Foster steps in as a perpetually exasperated screenwriter. All four actors have worked throughout Berkshire County and the Pioneer Valley, with venues such as Mixed Company, Aglet Theater Company, Barrington Stage Company, Main Street Stage, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and the Majestic Theater in West Springfield.

Described as a wickedly satirical look at the inner-workings of show business, Four Dogs and a Bone promises to have audiences laughing and wincing as its protagonists do whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of each other. “As a director, you’re asking the audience to go on this ride with you, and watch four people behave terribly as they fight for power, money, and prestige.” says Volkoff. “Which, ultimately, is extremely funny. Because secretly, don’t we really enjoy watching people behave badly?”

Four Dogs and a Bone runs from August 3 through August 21 at the New Stage Performing Arts Center, located at 55 North St., Pittsfield. Press Opening is Friday, August 5 at 7:30pm.

Tickets are $25, with a special discount rate of $15 for preview performances on Wednesday, August 3 and Thursday, August 4. Tickets can be purchased by calling 413-347-9849, visiting www.berkshireactorstheatre.org, or at the box office before each show, depending upon availability.

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