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Pittsfield’s Free Shakespeare In The Park Is To Be

By Lisa Green

Ask Enrico Spada [right] why he wanted to start a free Shakespeare in the Park venture — in Pittsfield — and he’ll give you a couple of reasons: I saw it being done successfully in other cities. I wanted the opportunity to work on a play with local actors. The city of Pittsfield really deserves this kind of a project.

It’s all true. But after saying all that, he admits his motivation was a lot simpler.

“I just wanted to do it,” says Spada, who for the past 8 years has taught, directed and performed at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.  And he — with a lot of community support — has made Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park happen. The first production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opens July 17 in Pittsfield’s Springside Park. It’ll run through July 27, with performances Thursday through Saturday.

Pittsfield these days is all about culture (the downtown, called Upstreet, was the first city in western Massachusetts to be designated a cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2012), and no doubt the city’s zeitgeist helped push Spada’s concept forward. With the backing of Pittsfield’s former Director of Cultural Development Megan Whilden, he approached the Parks Commission last fall, applied for and received a grant from the Pittsfield Cultural Council, met the matching grant from Berkshire Money Management and secured sponsorships from other businesses.

Assistant Stage Manager Haley Barbieri, Stage Manager Alex Reczkowski, Director Enrico Spada and Julie Castagna, an actor, in rehearsal at the Whitney Center. Photo by Fiona Barnett-Mulligan.

“We’re putting this together through the kindness and generosity of strangers,” Spada says. Barrington Stage and the Monument Mountain Regional High School’s drama program have donated the costumes. A stage is being built with lumber provided by Berkshire Production Resources, and the set is made from pallets and barn doors (“an abstract design,” Spada quips). Spada himself is not only directing but also doing the sound design.

But the resources Spada seems most proud of are the local actors. “They’re really talented and don’t get the chance to do Shakespeare except in the winter,” he says. The actors comes in all sizes and ages, from about 6 years old and up. There’s even a dog in the company (and she’s a pro; this is her second production, so she’s not apt to forget her lines). Since Spada has directed Shakespeare & Company’s Fall Festival of Shakespeare high school residency program for seven years, plus other K-12 residency programs, getting the younger set involved was a no brainer. And really, their presence in the production will make Shakespeare just that much more accessible to kids in the audience, an important target market.

Maizy Broderick Scarpa as Puck in rehearsal at the Whitney Center. Photo by Fiona Barnett-Mulligan.

The play, slightly abridged, starts at 8 p.m. to take advantage of the night sky, but everybody will be out by 10:15 or so. Prior to the start time at selected performances, the company will be offering “interactive pre-show workshops,” an opportunity for people to play with Shakespeare’s text, movement and dancing.

Although Midsummer’s eight performances are the only shows scheduled this summer, Spada would like to see the lineup increase to two (if not more) next year.

“My goal is to raise enough money to hire artists to do all the technical parts so I can just produce and direct,” he says.

To kick off the opening night of Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park, Cultural Pittsfield is throwing a mini fundraiser during the Third Thursday street party on July 17 from 5-8 p.m. Actors from the company, as well as local artists (who will be selling their work), will gather under a tent for a meet-and-greet. Hors d’oeuvres will be provided by Mission Bar + Tapas. Admission fee is $5.

Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park  
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
July 17-27, Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m.
Springside Park, 874 North Street, Pittsfield, MA

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/06/14 at 05:35 PM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About Falls Village

By Kimberly Jordan Allen

Chubby Bunny Farm

Each town in Connecticut has its own character, and Falls Village is no exception. Falls Village, a part of Canaan, CT, is a distinctive blend of farmers, home-schooling iconoclasts, entrepreneurs, homesteaders, weekenders, locals and tastefully irreverent creative types. With everything from a renovated church that is now a home, to ultra-modern abodes, to 18th- and 19th-Century architectural styles, Falls Village is eclectic and bold. I’ve lived in Falls Village for the last nine years, and though my family and I spend a lot of time throughout the tristate area, our hearts belong to this beloved town. Here are a few reasons to praise the noble hamlet.

1. Local, local, local: Chubby Bunny Farm.The farm, run by the gracious and unassuming Tracy and Dan Hayhurst, not only provides delectable local organic meat and vegetables, but also nourishes the town as a beacon for the community with its openhearted manner. Tracy and Dan are always inviting folks to drop by, participate, walk the land and volunteer. A new Chubby Bunny farmstand has opened on Undermountain Road, where the farm is located, and you can peruse fresh vegetables and fruits as well as products from other nearby purveyors, including Hosta Hill (kimchi and sauerkraut), Mead’s Maple Syrup, Whippoorwill (beef), Howling Flats Farm (pork), Lost Ruby Farm (goat cheese), Rustling Winds (raw milk and yogurt), and Adamah Farm. The stand is open during the harvest season Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

2. The Falls Village Inn. Built 175 years ago, the inn rests at the heart of the small center of town and has been a significant part of its evolution. Four years ago, the Falls Village Inn was purchased, renovated and updated in a fresh, welcoming aesthetic. With the talent of local folks such as the Cockerlines and interior designer Bunny Williams, the inn was imbued with a new luster and has become the go-to watering hole. It features a welcoming front hall, freshly designed guest rooms, a taproom for more casual fare, and a wraparound porch and formal dining room. You can pop in for an organic, grass-fed burger, or linger over shepherd’s pie by the fireplace. The staff is always on-point and very kid-friendly. They always have crayons at the ready, and are willing to replace a spilled cranberry juice without blinking. It’s this kind of no-rush, hometown pace that keeps us coming back for more.

3. The flora and fauna. The Falls Village Flower Farm is a favorite place to find native and non-native plants. Husband and wife team Tom and Roberta Scott have been growing, gardening, and advising for 20 years. Whether you’re seeking perennials, vegetables, or just want to talk plants, this family is always available. Expect to be greeted by two jovial pups.

4. The sounds. Music Mountain is well known for its long-standing chamber music events throughout the summer, but it also features jazz, folk, cabaret, big band and opera events during the season. This is a picturesque spot to enjoy an evening of entertainment with friends and family.

5. Education and community. Isabella Freedman and Adamah Farm are part of a vibrant learning organization that practices sustainability, environmental education and spiritual practice. Adamah is run by Isabella Freedman, a Jewish retreat center that offers workshops, as well as providing community events and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture shares). The retreat center is situated on a beautiful piece of land populated by happy goats and folks of all ages. At their small shop, and some farmer’s markets, you can find their delicious goat milk yogurt and pickled goods.

6. The great outdoors. Great Mountain Forest is the place to go if you want to learn how to use that chainsaw properly (don’t we all?), study different birds and their nests, or just immerse yourself in an incredibly beautiful landscape. Led by Jody Bronson, forest manager and always-smiling fixture, this property is a bucolic place to hike, bike, cross-country ski, or snowshoe. The property features approximately 6,000 acres of protected land (crossing from Canaan into Norfolk) that serves as a learning environment, as well as functioning as a National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Observer Station. The Yale School of Forestry, and other schools and conservation organizations use the land to learn more about our natural habitat.

7. The cafes. Toymakers Cafe is a fixture in town, offering British-infused meal choices, including bangers and mash; epic sweet potato waffles; fresh espresso; and stimulating conversation. We’ve frequented this restaurant—which is actually a house complete with couches and comfy chairs—for years and there is always a friendly, familiar face to be seen. It is rare to go anywhere in Falls Village where folks don’t know your name and Greg and Annie—the married couple who own the café—are always sure to socialize and check-in with their customers. Greg is a longtime biker (think Triumph as opposed to Harleys), and Toymakers draws motor enthusiasts.

Just down Route 7, Mountainside Café has reopened after a few years and the town is thrilled. Stories are told of their famous pancake breakfasts and the café has been updated with a new menu. Mountainside Treatment Center, a large employer in neighboring Canaan, CT, is a thriving organization that offers substance abuse treatment and awareness programming. One of the ways Mountainside serves this goal is through their café. The restaurant employs newly sober people as a way to assist in their recovery process. The food, locally provided by some of the farms mentioned above, is delicious. This is another enticing spot where folks congregate.

8. The water. No discussion of the area would be complete without touching on the raw beauty of this Northwestern Connecticut town and the Housatonic River that punctuates the landscape. Affectionately called “the Housy” by locals, the river features the dramatic Great Falls (hence the name) of the town that provides dynamic river features for kayakers, tubers and nature enthusiasts alike. In the summer, you can find people fishing and swimming in the area, or just strolling along the riverbanks.

9. The land. The Appalachian Trail runs through Falls Village and each summer sees thru-hikers stopping for a rest or some food. Taking time to enjoy the Connecticut section of this iconic trail is a must and provides for some scenic vistas, as well as time along the Housatonic River, including the rugged Great Falls section.

10. The hub of it all. The late-Victorian David M. Hunt Library is a true hub for the town. The library was founded in 1889. We love to visit it at different times of year. During Halloween, library staff build a fire where folks meet for catching up and making s’mores. During the late spring, an annual plant sale provides a venue for lively discussions of heirlooms, the latest town meeting, or to simply find starter plants for the garden. Each week, staff holds story time for kids.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/09/14 at 02:07 PM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About Red Hook

By Jamie Larson

The Town of Red Hook seems to encapsulate everything we like about Dutchess County and, indeed, all the pleasures of the eastern shore of the Hudson Valley. Pastoral farmlands surround and blend seamlessly into quaint villages that offer some incredibly refined metropolitan attractions while clothed in the relaxed fit of rural comfort. The town is a vibrant cell with two nuclei, the Village of Red Hook and the Village of Tivoli, each unique and each worth a visit.

dinerThe Historic Village Diner
Sometimes there’s one place that captures the feel of a village. The first New York diner ever to be put on the National Register of Historic Places, the Village Diner hasn’t changed much since it was fabricated in the 1920s. Old as it may be, it still might as well be the center of town. Everyone in town, and from other places far and wide, meets here and eats here. If you want a table on the weekend, come early or be prepared to wait. Let’s be clear, Red Hook folks don’t just come for nostalgia’s sake. They come for the amazing food. It’s a traditional, long diner menu done perfectly, and sometimes even better.

Tivoli Bays Park
I think we’ve made it clear that Red Hook is bucolic as all get-out but just to drive the point home, walk off your big diner breakfast at Tivoli Bays, where Red Hook meets the Hudson. The trails wind lazily through the woods, past the impressive ruins of a massive barn, and down a hill to a marshy dock on the bay. Watching the tides roll away beneath shade oaks or setting off in a kayak through the lily pads is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

holycowinterior
Holy Cow
Is it time for some homemade ice cream? You know it is. Like the diner, Holy Cow is a local celebrity business. The line is long but the ladies behind the counter are experts at sweetly handing over the treats each person craves. There’s something for everyone, from amazing ice cream flavors, frozen yogurt, sundaes and shakes to cookie sandwiches, cakes, frozen bananas and the messy scoop of ice cream in a cupcake wrapper known as an “udder.” The other unspoken tradition of Holy Cow is that nearly everyone eats at the nearby picnic tables or in the parking lot, where you can make a new friend or meet the whole town. 

Rusty’s Farm Fresh Eatery
For lunch, head to Rusty’s, where you’ll find great, inventive offerings of all types made with ingredients as local as they come. In the summer, meals are made with produce from the community garden across the street and the flower boxes right out front. The freshness of the ingredients will assuage any guilty feelings about ordering one of the amazing topping-loaded specialty burgers. We’re not sure what’s in the “Rusty’s sauce” but we know we want it on everything.

Kaatsbaan International Dance Center
Tucked away down a winding drive by the river in Tivoli is the much renowned Kaatsbaan Dance Center, located on a 153-acre historic site (the former estate of Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandparents). The dance center’s mission is to provide an inspiring yet affordable year-round home for dancers, choreographers and companies to practice, grow, create, inspire one another and perform. For dance audiences, it’s a hidden jewel that presents national and international dance companies in its 160-seat studio theater, providing an intimate dance experience.

Apple Blossom Day
More than most locales, Red Hook is a truly engaged community. No matter where you go in town, you’ll see families engaged in activities at the library or one of the many parks. Nothing brings the entire town together quite like Apple Blossom Day, coming up soon on May 10. This full-day festival takes over every shop and restaurant as the village welcomes spring, and it reminds everyone of the town’s agricultural roots. What better to rally around than those beautiful buds, with their promise of things to come.

Greig Farms
Greig Farms, set equidistant between the two villages, is emblematic of the tight relationship between Red Hook’s community and its farms. The lower level of the main barn houses the town’s vibrant farmers’ market. Backed by a live jazz band, you can shop for local produce, meats, cheeses and artisanal foods that are some of the best in the Hudson Valley (which then, logically, makes them some of the best products on the face of the earth).

mercatoMercato & Luna 61
World-class local ingredients translate directly into world-class fine dining. While there’s a plethora of amazing restaurants in town, the refined Italian-modern delicacies served at Mercato make for a transformational experience. Tucked into a humble residential façade, Mercato serves patrons with the refinement, skill and essence of the best metropolitan restaurants… but this food is sourced from farms within walking distance. And if you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, gluten free or if you just want a sophisticated yet totally meat-free meal, go to Luna 61 in Tivoli. This is one of those places where, crazy as it sounds to some carnivores, you just don’t miss the meat. The dishes produced are such high quality and spiced so expertly, you’ll be addicted after the first bite.

Bard College & The Fisher Center
Bard College, which is ranked as one of the best schools and one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, is a mecca of culture both during the school year — hosting popular and important writers, thinkers and artists — as well as during the summer months when it is home to the Bard Music Festival (this year celebrating Schubert from August 8-17) and Bard SummerScape (running June 27-August 17) with most performances taking place in the breathtaking Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. 

swanThe Black Swan
Your day’s wrapping up and by now you’ve eaten four or five times and done a lot of walking around. It’s time to reward yourself for your good works with a nightcap and some bad behavior. The Black Swan in Tivoli is an icon of the area’s less reserved predilections. A cross between a dive and an historic pub, the Black Swan is the type of local bar that you don’t see much anymore. It’s a charming place to have one too many. Get a ride and enjoy yourself with all the friends you made.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 04/27/14 at 04:06 PM • Permalink

Lost And Found: Forgotten Amusement Parks Of The Hudson Valley

Carousel at Kinderhook Lake’s Electric Park

By Amy Krzanik

Don your finest bonnet and gather up the children, because it’s 1920 and we’re boarding the train for Electric Park in Kinderhook. Or perhaps you’d prefer we take the steamship up the Hudson River to Woodcliff Pleasure Park in Poughkeepsie? Either way, we’re in for a treat.

Beginning in the early 1900s, weekend steamship voyages and electric trolley trips from New York City up the Hudson Valley corridor became more popular than ever. As factory jobs usurped farming as an occupation, many families moved to New York City for work. But during the steamy summer months, the city’s denizens would escape tenement life and travel upstate to a string of popular amusement parks, including Kinderhook Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake and Woodcliff Pleasure Park which was located on what is now the athletic fields and dormitory of Marist College, among others.

Construction of the Blue Streak roller coaster at Woodcliff Pleasure Park in Poughkeepsie

These forgotten landmarks will be explored on Wednesday, April 30 at 6 p.m., when authors and historians Wes and Barbara Gottlock present an illustrated talk based on their book Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley at the Rhinebeck Antique Emporium.

During their heyday, “Hordes of people were coming up from the city, up to 100,000 every weekend,” says Wes Gottlock. Dressed in their Sunday best, the throngs would come to relax by the lake, picnic under tents or go for a swim. The more daring could ride the wooden roller coasters, go for a whirl on the electric or steam-powered ferris wheels or take a trip on what were the precursors to log flume rides. Other types of entertainment included “refined” vaudeville acts (a.k.a. “family friendly” performances), ballroom dancing, athletic events, fireworks and games, carousels and petting zoos for the kids.

Though souvenirs, including advertisements, postcards, photographs and other ephemera from the long-gone parks are difficult to find, the Gottlocks have collected around 60 or 70 images in their book, some of which are shown here and many more of which will be exhibited at the lecture.

Rhinebeck Antique Emporium
“Lost Amusement Parks of the Hudson Valley” lecture on Wednesday, April 30 at 6 p.m.
5229 Albany Post Rd. (Route 9)
Staatsburg, NY
(845) 889-4462

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/21/14 at 08:41 PM • Permalink

10 Things to Love About Salisbury

By Nichole Dupont

Connecticut’s Northwest Corner has long enjoyed a reputation for the finer things that the region has to offer. Quirky restaurants, unique retail shops (including fabulous bookstores) and a thriving antiques culture make the area a hotspot – literally – for a spring drive into the cultivated country. Salisbury is no exception. The historic village is a quaint hub at the crossroads of routes 41 and 44, where the possibility of spotting a beloved celebrity (think Meryl Streep, Martha Stewart, designer Bunny Williams) goes with the territory of good coffee and prime real estate.

1. The drive: My drive to Salisbury involves a winding, scenic trek south on route 41, which, if you like old barns and farmhouses, is a feast for the eyes. (You may find yourself making several picture stops along the way so be sure to look behind you before you pull off into the pucker brush because tailgating is a norm on this stretch of road.) While some of these structures have the decay reminiscent of an abandoned road in Vermont, most are well kept and still in use. This is evident by the foggy silhouettes of modern tractors in the distant fields as well as the freshly whitewashed homes. And the critters – a herd of scraggy Scottish highlands, a smattering of sheep, noble equines – that line the entry route.

2. Speaking of equines: Salisbury is home to some beautiful horses and horse country, and it is rare to drive for more than a few miles without encountering an equine or two munching on some spring greens (a.k.a. grass) if the weather suits them. Of course, where there are horses, there is serious horse business. Riga Meadows Equestrian Center on Route 41 (or Undermountain Road) and Weatogue Stables both boast state-of-the-art stalls, show rings, lessons and equestrian clinics for horse enthusiasts of all levels, even if you just like to watch from the ground on a summer’s day.

3. The Country Bistro: This little gem is exactly what its name entails. The Country Bistro is tucked away just behind the village’s main drag and is an unassuming, low-ceilinged eatery (with outdoor seating when the wind isn’t gusting at 40 mph) that understands the joie of good food. They serve breakfast and lunch all week and dinner Friday through Sunday, with a menu that highlights authentic French details – shirred eggs, creamery butter, herbed popovers, fragrant coffee, lemon-tarragon dressing and, of course, greens at the end of everything.

4. Everything, in general: Salisbury, even on a Saturday afternoon, can seem a bit sleepy depending on the season. People take their time here. There’s really no rush, and that’s a good thing, especially once you step into the Salisbury General Store and Pharmacy. The vintage Ex-Lax thermometer at the entrance to the store is more of a welcome sign than a deterrent to this unofficial town hub that has been in business since 1935. Prepare to get lost; lost in thought, lost in nostalgia, lost in minutia perusing through the shelves and tables of artisan pottery, Roger and Galet bath products (an olfactory trip down memory lane), retro-style linens, quirky Steampunk cards, homeopathic remedies, homemade lemon curd… you name it, they’ve got it. 

5. How fair thou art: Salisbury folks and visitors take their flora very seriously. On any given day in any given season even a casual courtyard could grace the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine. Fortunately, the hunt for flowers and fresh produce is never fruitless. The town is ripe for the picking with major outfits such as the Salisbury Garden Center on Route 44 as well as (heavenly smelling) boutique shops like the Thornhill Flower and Garden Shop. And don’t rule out quick stop country charm; Weatogue Farm (at 78 Weatogue Road) has a self-serve stand that offers flowers, produce and seasonal goodies from May to November. They also have adorable critters roaming around who don’t mind being photographed we’re told.

6. Hitting the trails: For all of its refined New England charm, with a dash of Nantucket thrown in for good measure (and a prep school), Salisbury has a hard core hiking community blessed with some beautiful vistas and diverse trails. The Undermountain Trail is the main artery through which most hikers pass to reach the summit of Bear Mountain, the cool slick of Sage’s Ravine or to connect to the Appalachian Trail. If you prefer not to hike solo, Peter Becks Village Store on Main Street coordinates a weekly hiking expedition for interested trekkers who want to see a bird’s-eye view of the village.

7. Scoville Memorial Library:  To say that the exterior of the Scoville Library is dour is both generous and an understatement. The Gilded Age monolith (that has since been added to) is constructed from native granite and comes complete with a tower clock which faithfully marks the quarter hours. The interior of the library is a gorgeous monument to the era, complete with vaulted ceilings, arched windows and secret stairwells. The library also boasts a healthy events calendar for patrons of all ages and has 30,000 items within its holdings, not to mention a 15th-century stone carving, sent from England’s Salisbury Cathedral that sits over the fireplace at the far end of the reading room.

8. Getting baked: The whole main street smells. It’s a familiar smell and at the source is freshly baked bread. And cupcakes. And coffee. It hardly seems fair that even on a rainy, wind-driven day the pied carb piper of Salisbury is calling and you must follow him into Salisbury Breads, where fresh-baked baguettes, croissants and sticky buns await. Of course, the moment you step out of the bread store teaming with guilt, they will just be putting the final dollop of chocolate frosting on a sheet of cupcakes at Sweet William’s Bakery right next door. Resistance is futile. And the espresso is nice and hot.

9. The jumps: It’s almost too painful to mention this, but it must be done: the ski jumps. Every year, Salisbury goes out of its way (thanks to the town’s winter sports association) to make the February ski jump championships an extravaganza of winter fun. Of course, the main attraction is watching the athletes whiz down the tower, but ice sculptures, chili contests and a magical winter ball don’t hurt either.

10. Homes, sweet homes: “God, I’d love to have a house here.” This is not an uncommon whisper on a drive through town. Just on Main Street alone, several architectural styles – Federal, Gilded Age, Arts and Crafts, Victorian, Farmhouse – coexist graciously side by side as if they were meant to be together. The Town Hall hardly has the economic austerity of small town New England, yet there it sits, just down the street from the Ragamont House, an old Grecian revival set back from the street and bursting with antique charm. Further up the road sits a 1920s “villa” that could’ve very well been occupied by Gatsby himself. But if you don’t believe me, ol’ sport, take a house tour, and see for yourself. 

 

 

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Posted by Nichole on 04/07/14 at 12:52 PM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About Chatham

By Tresca Weinstein

Mix Williamsburg hip with Williamstown charm, add a generous seasoning of down-to-earth heart, and you get Chatham, New York — living proof that good things come in small villages.

1. Breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day, and in Chatham, you can get it any way you want it — from gluten free to over easy to half-caff with soy milk. Grab a classic bagel at the Bagel Café or a wheatless one at the Gluten Free Bakery; sip a mug of tea paired with a slice of frittata at the elegant BenGable Savories [shown right]; feast on griddled breakfast bread with cinnamon butter at Our Daily Bread Deli; or wake up with a really good cup of joe at Ralph’s Pretty Good Café.

2. The Chatham Fair: Officially, it’s the Columbia County Fair, but nobody calls it that. Since 1852, when the Fair netted $12.90 in its first year in Chatham, it’s been the stuff of kids’ wintertime dreams and grown-ups’ sugar-dusted nostalgia. From calves and cupcake contests to fireworks to fried dough, this Labor Day weekend fair is a hot, greasy, muddy, wonderful way to say goodbye to summer.

3. The Crandell Theatre: Built in 1926, the 534-seat, Spanish Renaissance-style theater was owned by the Quirino family for 50 years, until it was purchased by the Chatham Film Club in 2010 — with generous support from the community. Now the Crandell is home not only to the cheapest first-run movies you can find just about anywhere ($5 for adults, $4 for kids), but also to the club’s monthly Sunday-afternoon independent film screenings and to FilmColumbia, an international film festival that celebrates its 15th anniversary in October.

4. Getting fit: There are almost as many places in Chatham to work off your breakfast as there are to eat it, including Chatham Body Works, Govinda Yoga Studio, Ida Drake’s Zumba classes at the Morris Memorial, and The Firm, where proprietor Jennifer Lawrence makes step aerobics a blast.

5. Dance and Theater: From classic musicals performed in the round at the Mac-Haydn and world-class dance under the tent at PS21 [shown right], to community theater at the Ghent Playhouse just down Route 66, Chatham holds its own under the spotlights.

6. The Pub Scene: Okay, so there’s really only one pub in Chatham, the Peint O Grwr on Main Street, whose unpronounceable name just makes it that much cooler. But oh, what a pub it is, with a large selection of ales on tap, great snacks, open mic nights and local bands. Stretch the definition of “pub” a bit and you can include the Blue Plate restaurant and bar just around the corner, where you might find pianist Lincoln Mayorga tickling the keys on a weeknight.

7. Nature: Thanks to the Columbia Land Conservancy, which works with the community to preserve the county’s farmland, forests, wildlife habitat and rural character, there are some gorgeous and well-maintained hiking areas within the village or a short drive outside of it. Borden’s Pond is now just a wetland, but the area still offers forest and streamside hikes with seasonal views of the Catskills. The three miles of trails at Ooms Conservation Area [shown left] wind around Sutherland Pond, traveling through woods, over streams, and up sun-drenched hilltops.

8. The Chatham Public Library: Sure, lots of libraries have preschool story hours. But how many (in towns this small) have Mah Jongg Mondays? Or contemporary art discussion groups? Or great performers like The Storycrafters and local actor/director Kate Gulliver? Plus, they don’t charge overdue fines.

9. Local Produce: Chatham knows good veggies. You’ll find them all summer at Chatham Real Food Market’s Friday-afternoon farmers’ market, where area farms like Little Seed Gardens bring their wares. But the coming of winter doesn’t stop Joe Gilbert at the Berry Farm [shown right] from growing some of the most beautiful Swiss chard you’ve ever seen (organic, of course). While you’re in grocery-shopping mode, stop by the Main Street Grainery, offering natural foods and specialty items.

10. Everybody knows your name: Every town has its own ineffable personality; in Chatham, that’s defined by the sense of community. Step into any of the places mentioned above, and you’ll meet someone you’ve known for years but haven’t seen for months, or someone who went to high school with your kid, or someone you went to high school with, or a new arrival who doesn’t feel new, or your best friend. There are people who would find this claustrophobic. But for most of us, it’s the main reason we’re here.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/18/14 at 11:47 AM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About West Stockbridge

By Pamela Dreyfus Smith
 
Even in the dead of winter, there are a surprising number of reasons to explore West Stockbridge. A cross section of interesting artisans, BSO musicians, fine artists, filmmakers, foodies and collectors have gravitated to this part of the Berkshires to live, work and enjoy the lifestyle. These transplants are now many of the café, gallery and shop owners broadening West Stockbridge’s character and charms in all seasons.
 
1. Lovely Walks: West Stockbridge, which was built on both sides of the Williams River, is a romantic place to stroll. Surrounded by beautiful hills and lakes, you can walk across bridges and through remnants of the old mining companies and mills, then explore the cafes, restaurants, art galleries and shops that sell local goods as well as the exotic.
 
2. Café Society: In this town coffee is treated like wine and the customers are warmly welcomed. Six Depot Roastery Café is in the old railroad station and Shaker Dam Coffeehouse is next to the river dam. Both offer very different sensibilities in coffee making, design and atmosphere. Shaker Dam, located in a bright yellow Shaker house, serves up coffee from around the world, discovered by co-owner and National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer. One of the specialties is the Kyoto Cold Brew system, which makes a very low-acid coffee. Drink it by the warm fire in a café that looks and feels like a world traveler’s living room. A contemporary take on the coffee bar, Six Depot offers carefully aged and personally selected international coffee beans that are roasted right on the premises. There’s a bustling community that gravitates to the big open spaces flooded with light and the warmth of loving owners Lisa Landry and Flavio Lichtenthal., who was the chef at Gould Farm in Monterey prior to opening Six Depot. The adjoining gallery space is gaining popularity as a showcase for artists, films and live performances. Their affogato (espresso and SoCo Creamery ice cream) is shown above.
 
3. Restaurants and Foodie Shops: Rouge (shown right) is well known to the RI region for its authentic fine French food and wine dinners. Around the corner, Truc Orient Express is a favorite for delicious Vietnamese food (open in summer). The aforementioned Six Depot Café serves breakfast and lunch until 4 p.m. Argentinian Chef Flavio often includes specialties from his native country on the menu (local, fresh, and organically grown whenever possible). West Stockbridge Public Market on Main Street is a country store that had a makeover last year by new owner Tim Walch, previous owner of restaurants in the Virgin Islands and Seattle, WA. Hearty, delectable take-away lunches are home cooked by Tim’s sister on the premises and include pot roast, pulled pork and other deli fare. There are also plenty of organic choices on their grocery shelves. Queensboro Wine and Spirits, also on Main Street, carries domestic and imported beer, wine and spirits, with a special interest in rare, handmade wines. The Nook & Cranny Restaurant is a sandwich shop at the other end of 102 known for its great sweet potato fries.
 
4. Art Galleries: Besides the aforementioned Shaker Dam and Six Depot Galleries, West Stockbridge also is home to Hotchkiss Mobiles, featuring the creations of Joel Hotchkiss, who supplies objects for museum shops, most notably MOMA and the Guggenheim Museum. (A Hotchkiss mobile, shown right.)
 
5. Shopping Adventures: The town is home to several alluring and curious shops that will surprise and delight. Charles H. Baldwin & Sons, best known for its famous vanilla extract (made using only the finest bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar), is the producer of a collection of other fine extracts, as well as “Mr. Baldwin’s Proper Bloody Mary Mix,” table syrup and Bay Rum aftershave. Visit this historic establishment to find a treasure trove of nostalgia including an old photo booth machine and a cash register that dates back to 1888, the year they opened. Zoftique, a woman’s clothing store, offers sizes into the plus range. Equator Antiques and McGrory’s Oriental Rugs are in connecting stores on Main Street and fascinate the eye with dazzling color. Robin Greeson’s Equator carries clothing and textiles from Victorian times through the present, and is a collection of wearable items that could double as home décor. Clothing, quilts, shoes from the 30s and 40s, American Indian dresses and jewelry of all kinds… There’s such variety, quality of preservation and quantity here — every corner is a new adventure.
 
6. Rare and Collectible Books: The Bookloft, currently situated above The Floor Store, is the sister-store to the one in Great Barrington but is special in that it offers only rare, collectible and used books. The store is preparing a move to a bigger and more accessible space across from Six Depot. 
 
7. Artisans: Peter Thorne, furnituremaker and one of the founders of The Berkshire Woodmakers Guild, creates beautifully crafted furniture and cabinets in his workshop up the hill and behind his house. Anderson & Sons Shaker Tree Furniture builds reproduction Shaker furniture and objects. Also of interest are Margie Skaggs Ceramics, Hoffman Pottery and Sarah Thorne Design (Interiors). Out of Vietnam is part of Truc Orient Express and sells Vietnamese hand-crafted items (summer only, shown right).
 
8. The Farmers’ Market and The Zucchini Festival: The West Stockbridge Farmers Market, held every Thursday from mid-May through the first week in October in Merritt Green opposite the post office, offers an enticing array of freshly grown or lovingly made products from local farmers and small specialty companies. There are musical performers and activities for children to enjoy. The Zucchini Festival, a town tradition in early August, celebrates whatever you can imagine when it comes to this over-producing vegetable: A costumed pet show competition, “zuch” races in the Williams River, zucchini car races, and prizes for zucchini-related activities i.e. a zucchini catapult, weigh-off and “weirdest looking” contest. And, of course, there’s good food to eat based around the vegetable—baked, fried, roasted and iced. (Note: At the time of this writing, the future of the Zucchini Festival is unknown.)
 
9. West Stockbridge Historical Society: The WSHS presents chamber music concerts in the Congregational Church (shown right) performed by BSO musicians, and history tours through the village. The Society will reside in the town hall, in the old public library space, after the current renovation is complete.
 
10. Trails to Explore: The town is in close proximity to many hiking trails: Flat Brook Wildlife Management (West Stockbridge), Ice Glen, Laura’s Tower (Stockbridge/Housatonic), Burbank Trail, Steven’s Glen (Richmond), Shaker Mountain, (Hancock), Shadowbrook (Lenox), Goose Pond, October Mountain (Lee), Harvey Mountain and Beebe Hill just over the border in Austerlitz, NY.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/02/14 at 07:16 PM • Permalink

A Place To Write In The Berkshires: Coffee, And Contagious Motivation

The Writers Room in Washington, D.C.

By Lisa Green

A few years ago, Charles Karelis and his son Alex were sitting in a Starbucks in Washington, D.C., observing the klatch of writers consuming more tables than coffee. What if, they thought, we turned the Starbucks model on its head? What if we sold the space to write and gave the coffee for free?

The basic concept wasn’t entirely novel. There are writers rooms across the country: six in New York City alone, Karelis says, with others in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Toronto. A laptop doesn’t take much space, but writing requires a place to concentrate, and home isn’t always the best place for that.

In October of 2012, after receiving a positive response to a questionnaire circulated to potential writers looking for a space of their own — next to someone else’s space — they opened The Writers Room in D.C.

“Americans love to be alone together,” Karelis says. “They are too distracted at home, but they don’t like complete solitude.” The Writers Room in D.C. accommodates both sides of the social spectrum, with a light-filled quiet room set up with workstations, but also a kitchenette (the only place talking is allowed), equipped with, of course, the writer’s fuel, Starbucks coffee. Wi-fi and printing are no-charge extras. A membership guarantees a workstation, and no reservations are necessary. And cellphones are not allowed.

Charles and Alex Karelis.

Now, the Karelis team is looking to see if there’s a desire in the Berkshires for a dedicated space for writers, which they’re calling A Place to Write in the Berkshires. They’ve issued a query to see if there’s enough interest to move forward. The input would determine the best area for such a place. The membership fee would be dictated by the space, but with the lower rents in the Berkshires, the fee would almost certainly be under the $130 per month charged by the D.C. Writers Room.

Karelis invites writers to answer a few quick questions (no Survey Monkey here; put it in your own words, literary people!), available at the A Place to Write in the Berkshires web site, and hopes the survey will go viral among local writers.

Although he lives in D.C., Karelis isn’t unfamiliar with our area.  A lifelong academic and author of The Persistence of Poverty, Karelis was president of Colgate University but taught philosophy at Williams earlier in his career.

Considering all the writing and book festivals, author appearances and poetry slams in the region, it shouldn’t be hard to find 35 interested writers, the number they need to establish A Place to Write in the Berkshires. Responding is an opportunity to help design a writing environment space in which the laundry won’t be beckoning, the dog won’t insist on being petted, and contagious motivation, as Karelis calls it, might lead to flow.

“I want to see where people want us to be,” he says. 

A Place to Write in the Berkshires

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/24/14 at 08:59 PM • Permalink

10 Things To Love About Williamstown

By Amy Krzanik

Nestled quietly in the corner of Vermont and New York State, Berkshire County’s northernmost town is no stranger to big city influence. From its multicultural dining opportunities to the internationally acclaimed acts and films brought to the area by Williams College, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the Williamstown Film Festival, this sleepy college town has major cultural and academic pull.

1. Restaurants: For such a small town, Williamstown has an extremely varied palate. Two new restaurants—Pera Mediterranean Bistro and Tony’s Sombrero—join local Spring Street favorites Spice Root and Sushi Thai Garden, while in other parts of town diners enjoy Coyote Flaco, Mezze Bistro + Bar (shown right), Hobson’s Choice, Hops and Vines and other truly fine dining spots. Don’t forget to grab a hot coffee and a cookie from Tunnel City this winter and a scoop of Purple Cow ice cream from Lickety-Split (across the street) come summer.

2. Images Cinema: Tucked between MASS MoCA by Design and West’s Wine & Spirits, Images is the only single-screen, independent, non-profit theater in the Berkshires and it’s been open for 80 years!

3. Williams College: From free performances and lectures, to world-renowned theater and dance events at the ‘62 Center, sky-viewing at the Hopkins Observatory, and the Williams College Museum of Art, the school brings much more than just top-tier education to the town.

4. The Clark Art Institute: Opened in 1955 to house and exhibit the collection of Sterling and Francine Clark, the museum has become not only the site of seminal installations both permanent and traveling, but also an important research center for scholars, museum professionals, and researchers from around the world. A selection of works from the permanent collection is now on view, with a larger portion of the campus currently undergoing renovations and planning to reopen on July 4.

5. Williamstown Theatre Festival: The Tony Award-winning festival attracts big names to this small town, in the form of well-known stars of the stage and screen, award-winning directors and respected playwrights. Beyond the ticketed shows, WTF also offers free outdoor performances, late-night cabarets, and family-friendly workshops. This summer’s festival will run July 2 – August 17 and tickets are on sale now.

6. Williamstown Film Festival: A week-long celebration of independent film, the 15-year-old WFF offers viewers a chance to go behind the scenes, through panel discussions, seminars, Q & A’s with actors, writers, directors and producers, and plenty of after parties.

7. Nature: Whether you prefer a short, scenic walking loop or a strenuous snowshoe trek, the surrounding hills have a plethora of hiking trails. Scenery includes classic New England sights like old-growth forests, two-century-old rock walls (they make for good neighbors), open meadows, tranquil ponds and bubbling brooks.

8. Field Farm & The Guest House at Field Farm: The Guest House is a vintage modern masterpiece you can sleep in from Spring through Fall, and Field Farm is a 316-acre nature preserve managed by the Trustees of Reservations that offers year-round trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

9. Wild Oats Market: This co-op is the place to get your organic goods, including fresh fruits and veggies, cheeses, teas, beauty products and more; plus rice, nuts and other staples by the pound, and homemade gluten-free breads and desserts. They also offer a nutritious and delicious daily hot meal, plus sandwiches, salads (including a great curry chicken salad) and a wide selection of single-serving desserts.

10.  Local Farms: Cricket Creek Farm offers raw milk, cheese, butter, baked goods, eggs, grass-fed beef and whey-fed pork. Sweet Brook Farm sells maple syrup, apparel, toys, and has a fully stocked alpaca yarn shop. Summertime horse-drawn hay rides and wintertime sleigh rides let guests view the scenery and meet the alpacas. Green River Farms offers seasonal pick-your-own fruits and veggies, interactive tours, and a petting barn. The Big Pig Farm (piglets shown right) raises and sells pharmaceutical-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free grass-fed beef cattle and pasture-raised pigs, along with hay and composted manure for gardens. Caretaker Farm is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm raising food and animals using sustainable and alternative energy methods.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 02/11/14 at 03:26 PM • Permalink

10X10 Upstreet Arts Festival Returns For Charming Third Year

By Lisa Green

The 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival returns to Pittsfield for its third year, Feb. 13-24, and while in some cases the third time’s the charm, 10x10 seems to have been charmed from the get go.

It began with a premise nobody could argue with: People need get out of their self-imposed hibernation during the doldrums of winter. Artists need a creative kick to develop and present their art. Pittsfield needs activity to sustain the momentum driven the rest of the year by Third Thursdays and the Friday Arts Walks. The City of Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development and Barrington Stage Company stepped up to make that happen. Turns out people were just waiting to be lured out of their dens.

The roster truly includes something for everyone: theater, art shows, film series, concerts, comedy and dance and plenty of kids activities, all somehow embracing the theme of ten, whether it’s the number of acts in a performance, a time limitation or the size of a canvas.

And, of course, there is the original raison d’etre: The 10X10 New Play Festival at the Barrington Stage Company, featuring ten 10-minute plays by 10 playwrights (and three directors and six actors, but who’s counting?).  Julianne Boyd, artistic director of Barrington Stage, who initially introduced the 10X10 theme, says the ten-minute plays appeal to everyone. Perhaps it’s because they’re more like our modern TV viewing habits, she speculates, with our shortened attention spans, not to mention the ability to change the channel. After all, there’s a new one act every ten minutes. “If you don’t like one, there’s another,” she says.

But that doesn’t seem to be a problem. The evenings of one acts draw in many people who come to the theater for the first time, and the audiences are younger than the summertime crowd.

Painting by Michael Rousseau, one of the ten Berkshire artists featured in the TEN SPOT art show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.

“From the first to the second year, the number of attendees and events doubled,” says Megan Whilden, who runs the Office of Cultural Development. “It gives performers an opportunity to do something creative in the winter, and for the community and visitors to come out and enjoy the activities in one compact area, the Upstreet Cultural District.”

“Plus,” she adds, “it’s really affordable. A lot of the activities are free, or very low fee.” The priciest — the New Play Festival — is $30, but there are $15 tickets for preview nights, a Barrington Stage tradition in the summer season.

The Festival is scheduled to coincide with school vacation week, so kids and teens can take part in the tens, too, including a teen art show and the DANCE TEN performance showcase presenting ten community dance groups and schools throughout the Berkshires.

Each year has offered different events, although some have been such hits that they are becoming regulars on the schedule. The New Play Festival, the Ten Days of Play at the Berkshire Museum, the Real Art Party fundraiser, and the comedy club have proven themselves. Some approach the tens in a new way. Instead of a ten-minute film festival, The Beacon Cinema, along with Berkshire International Film Festival, will screen four ten-themed films (free!). Among the new events this year are the Ten Popular Arias (at the new kid on the block, The Whitney Center for the Arts,and the Ten Fingered Jazz with the Roy Gerson Trio presented by Berkshires Jazz at Baba Louie’s. The presenting organizations fund their own events, but there is a marketing fund from the city, and the Festival is getting additional support from local sponsors.

Both Boyd and Whilden pointed out the whimsical nature of the Festival. It’s just fun — something we all pretty desperately need this time of year. And although it’s called 10X10, it may be time to add another equation into the festival. For everyone —artists, the area and audiences — it’s WinXWinXWin.

The schedule is exciting and extensive, so best bet is to check out the website.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/04/14 at 09:39 PM • Permalink