Rural Intelligence: The Online Magazine for Eastern New York, Western Connecticut and the Southern Berkshires
Monday, February 08, 2016
Search Archives:
Newsletters Signup
Close it
Get The New App!

Newsletters Signup
Close it

RI Archives: Community

View past News articles.

View all past Community articles.

RI on Facebook    RI on Instagram       

Robin Hood Radio


Rural Intelligence

Forecast Looks Good For The Fifth 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival

“The spirit of collaboration is alive and well,” says Jen Glockner, director of Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development, speaking about the fifth annual 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival slated for Feb. 11-21.

The festival, proposed by Julianne Boyd, artistic director of Barrington Stage, began in 2012 with ten 10-minute plays by 10 playwrights, joined by some other 10-themed events in 10 days. Pittsfield-based artists, audiences and organizations needed an incentive to create, get out of the house and just have some fun during the doldrums of winter.

Each year, 10x10 gets bigger, with more organizations participating. You almost want to take pity on Glockner, who has to keep track of it all. A glance at the calendar of events on the Discover Pittsfield website shows a bar graph gone amuck. 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.

At this point, organizations are knocking on the festival’s door. Several new organizations have come on board, including Sohn Fine Art from Lenox, which is curating iMotif at Hotel on North, an iPhone photography exhibition. The Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market, which now has a winter market, is having Kid 10, a kid-run farmers market, with ten kid-preneurs selling their handmade food products and crafts. IS183 is presenting an exhibition of artwork at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts from K-12th grade regional students who participated in its after-school art program.

But it’s not all kids’ play, not by a long shot. Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, which has always participated in 10x10, has an event planned for nearly every day. Berkshires Jazz has singer Stephanie Nakasian presenting a musical study of 10 great ladies of jazz. Gypsy Layne Cabaret brings its“Naughty on North” show to Hotel on North. And, of course, Barrington Stage’s popular 10x10 New Play Festival is a mainstay. Glockner suggests getting tickets now; the performances usually sell out. The bonfire and fireworks at The Commons are back, too.

“Last year, we had the most people, despite the freezing temperatures,” Glockner says. At this point, it seems like it may be a milder February, all the more reason to check out the website and get your 10x10 plans together.

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Lisa Green on 01/30/16 at 01:29 PM • Permalink

‘Facing Our Truth’ In Berkshire County And Beyond

Sirker, Hampton-VanSant and van Ginhoven.

By Amy Krzanik

We hear the word “privilege” thrown around a lot these days, specifically in relation to “white privilege,” but what does it really mean, what does it look like, and what can we do about it?

Three Berkshire County activists and educators have joined forces to explore this thorny issue in an artful way. WAM Theatre founder Kristen van Ginhoven, Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant, CEO and founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, and theater educator Yvette “Jamuna” Sirker will bring a staged reading of “Facing Our Truth: Ten Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege” to Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict in 2013, The New Black Fest theater festival, based in NYC, commissioned six diverse playwrights to explore topics of race and privilege, resulting in Facing Our Truth (FOT). Since then, the series has been performed around the country each year on or around February 5 — Trayvon’s birthday.

Van Ginhoven was introduced to FOT by one of the participating playwrights, Winter Miller, in 2014 when WAM produced her full-length drama, In Darfur, and a shooting took place in Pittsfield while they were working on it. “After the shooting, there was a lot of conversation about ‘what can we do,’” says van Ginhoven. “I sent an email to a few community leaders suggesting we do this staged reading.”

In Darfur was an awakening for me about race issues,” says van Ginhoven. “I began to see all the issues happening in our own community and around the world in a different light. Storytelling, and theater, is a force for good in the world and is a great way to help people understand perspectives that are different from their own.”

The six varied plays of FOT include a folk opera, a satire about a white woman whose psychiatrist diagnoses her with “Negro-phobia,” and a piece told from the point of view of a mother much like Trayvon’s.

Yvette “Jamuna” Sirker is directing the latter, Dressing by Mona Mansour and Tala Manassah. “I chose it because it pulled on my heart, wrenchingly so. After living through the deaths of parents and two of my siblings, I’m very familiar with that moment when the funeral is over, everyone has gone home, and you’re alone with the pain.” The play, which is not specifically about Trayvon but suggests that the son dies a similar death, spotlights what it’s like for a mother left behind. Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant and her real-life son, J.V., will be playing the parts. “My son and I have had, almost word for word, this same conversation about his safety,” she says. “The audience will be able to see what so many African American women have to deal with. I can really feel the intensity of the audience when I’m left for half the piece by myself on stage.”

Gwendolyn and J.V. Hampton-VanSant rehearse.

Hampton-VanSant’s Multicultural BRIDGE organization, which aims to promote mutual understanding and acceptance among diverse groups, will be the recipient of proceeds from Saturday night’s reading, and Hampton-VanSant will moderate a panel discussion after the performance. Panelists include Pittsfield police chief Michael Wynn, cultural proficiency coach and ROPE/Youth Alive director Shirley Edgerton and MCLA education professor Dr. Christopher Himes. The audience is invited to ask questions of them and the directors.

“Berkshire County has a lot of well-informed, compassionate people of all races who wish to be part of a paradigm shift,” says Sirker. “The interest is there in this community to hear stories of people of color. A goal of ours is to galvanize these people who want to be part of that change.”

A reception will be held at the end of the evening, where the community can continue the interaction and meet the cast, which consists of experienced local actors, as well as community members and activists who are stepping out of their comfort zone.

Says van Ginhoven, “I hope this reading can serve as another way to contribute to the conversations happening in our community so that, ultimately, we can all move forward together towards a more unified existence.”

Facing Our Truth: Ten Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege
A Staged Reading and Moderated Discussion
Saturday, February 6 at 7:30 p.m.
The Colonial Theatre
111 South St., Pittsfield, MA
(413) 997-4444

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Amy Krzanik on 01/26/16 at 12:53 PM • Permalink

Searching For Bigfoot In The Hudson Valley

BRHV’s Debbie Ray and lead researcher Gayle Beatty.

By Jamie Larson

We all choose to believe in certain things that help alleviate our general anxiety about the incomprehensible complexity of existence. Gayle Beatty, lead researcher for the Bigfoot Researchers of the Hudson Valley, and her ever-growing group of seekers choose to believe in Bigfoot. So we were curious. If Bigfoots are here, what have they been up to this winter? And if we choose to believe in them, how and where can we find them, too?

“We go out in the woods with a dozen or so members from time to time,” said Beatty, who gives semi-regular talks around the region on the subject. “A lot of people are interested, but there’s a liability to taking people out. Older people could have a heart attack. ”

The Head Hunter

Gayle Beatty is BRHV’s nucleus. When she was a 15-year-old troublemaker growing up in Pine Plains, New York, she got into an argument with her parents and ran away to go solo camping up Stissing Mountain. No stranger to the outdoors, she barely flinched at the late-night screech of an owl outside her tent. But the bone-chilling, inhuman roar that followed sent her crying and screaming down the mountain and into the arms of her mother and father.

The memory faded until 2012, when she happened upon the Animal Planet TV show Finding Bigfoot and once again heard the “vocalization” that curdled her blood so many years before. Now an experienced hunter, fisherman, mother, wife and proprietor of the Hook Line & Sinker Bait Shop in Red Hook, she came to the shocking realization that she is surrounded by the cryptozoological creatures, who have abilities that range from the mythical and magical to the alien and astrological. Beatty is convinced she has found proof that the upper Hudson Valley is home to one of the largest populations of Bigfoots ever recorded.

BRHV members with “Survivorman” Les Stroud.

“I know that the Hudson Valley is known for paranormal and UFO activity and those go hand in hand with sightings of Bigfoots.” Beatty said from her BRHV command center beside a large, clean, swirling tank of minnows in the back of her shop. “There are hundreds in the Hudson Valley. Every area we’ve gone to we see a lot. They live in clans of five to 20. We see clusters of little ones in the trees. We’ve gotten eye shines from over 20 in a single group.”

Beatty says BRHV’s recent growth in notoriety has been due to its large Facebook following. And the national Bigfoot community has taken notice of BRHV’s large body of research, as did TV’s “Survivorman” Les Stroud, who came to interview the local researchers about their findings for his show on the search for Bigfoot. And Story Horse Documentary Theater, run by well-known actor/writer/director couple Jeremy Davidson and Mary Stuart Masterson, are currently writing a nonfiction performance based on Beatty and the BRHV. Whether you believe or not, there is something undeniably captivating about the joyful positivity Beatty and her friends exude.

While they don’t have any meetings currently scheduled, the group used to meet pretty regularly at The Enchanted Café in Red Hook and are currently lining up a gathering at the Kozy Kitchen in Hyde Park. The BRHV is regularly requested to give public and private presentations around the region, recently meeting with a troupe of Girl Scouts. The group also presents at regional conventions including the upcoming 2016 CNY Crypto-Para Con in Rome New York (May 13-15). Following BRHV on social media is the easiest way to keep current on upcoming events. 

How To Find A Saquatch

“You have to know what to look for; 90 percent of people walk right by them,” Beatty said. “A lot of them are in nature preserves because Bigfoot know there is no hunting. We see them in multiple-use areas.”

Beatty said some of the best places for a beginner to look are in the areas around Montgomery Place, Thompson Pond in Pine Plains, Tivoli and Tivoli Bays and any wooded public trails. She also said there has been a lot of Bigfoot activity at Olana. The landscapes made famous in the paintings of Frederic Church are apparently teeming with Sasquatch.

“This is the perfect habitat for them. In the winter they live in caves but we’ve seen they can live in unused barns,” said Beatty, adding that while they are usually brown, searchers have seen different colored Bigfoots in the area. “I’ve heard reports of a white and black one together and two reports of blond ones in Tivoli at the rec park in 1985.”

When collecting data, the BRHV look for snapped branches, animal kills, fur on barbed wire fences, really bad smells and stacked-up rocks (which they believe are potential Bigfoot graves). BRHV also look for crude structures made of branches.

“You say maybe a person or teens built that, but I say no. It’s a Sasquatch. We found a bunch of swamp flowers wrapped up with grass,” Beatty said, producing a now dried, rudimentary bouquet. This was a particularly appropriate gift for Beatty, as she also runs a business, Feather Fantasies, making elaborate flowers out of dried plants and feathers. “I felt it was a gift and other researchers have been gifted.”

Beatty said to stay safe and limit the likelihood of a Bigfoot attack, be aware of your surroundings, never search alone, be gentle and bring gifts the creatures like.

“They are so intelligent and you have to give them respect,” fellow member Debbie Ray said. “They love music and tobacco and incense and drumming. It draws them out. Other researchers knock and yell. That’s disrespectful.”

Beatty maintained that’s why they’ve been so successful at capturing images of the creatures. Bigfoot are difficult to see with the naked eye because, Beatty says, they have the biological ability to cloak, “like Predator.” Apparently that is the reason they, and other cryptozoological creatures, are always blurry in pictures.

While the BRHV doesn’t claim to have all the answers, they’re not ruling anything out. The group believes Bigfoot can cloak, that the creatures may be the offspring of Native American women, abducted and impregnated by aliens 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. Researchers ascribe a spiritual aspect to the creatures which gives them the ability to affect the weather, and that they come in greater numbers when they feel humans are mistreating the earth.

“They could be warning us that we need to stop polluting,” Beatty said.

Bonding Over Bigfoot

In February of last year, Ray, a school nurse from Hyde Park, found large tracks around her home. She called the police but she says they brushed her off. She found Beatty and the BRHV online and quickly called them out to make plaster molds of the 19-inch footprints. Since then Ray has become an enthusiastic member of the group. For the BRHV, a side effect of searching for Bigfoot has been the creation of many new friendships with likeminded locals who share an interest in the paranormal.

“We bonded. I like Gayle so much,” said Ray, dressed in a sweater covered in neatly stitched Bigfoots. “It’s fun once you get going. You’re outside. It’s just a wonderful way to spend your time.”

Both Beatty and Ray know that most people will never believe them, but that doesn’t deter them. “We feel like we’re making history,” Ray said, who’s also working with Beatty on a children’s book about how to find Bigfoot.

“No photo or video, even a clear one, will ever satisfy anyone,” the BRHV lead researcher said. “Just to go out and find proof and have a good time, that’s enough — to experience it ourselves, teach others and hopefully, some day communicate with them. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Bigfoot Researchers of the Hudson Valley
99 Mill Road, Red Hook, NY
(845) 758-6920

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/18/16 at 12:15 PM • Permalink

A Rockin’ Party Ushers In Greylock WORKS And 2016

This is not the year to settle for a quiet New Year’s Eve. Not when the organizers of the first-and-only Greylock WORKS New Year’s Eve event are engaging all resources to create a “choreographed intermingling of energies.” The party, which they’re calling UNLOCK, opens up the Greylock Mill redevelopment project in North Adams, Mass. with an extravaganza featuring a dinner and late-night dance party. Hello 2016!

Photo: Angela Cardinali

It was exciting enough last August when the principals of LATENT Productions, an architecture, research and development firm in NYC announced their purchase of the circa 1804 Greylock Mill, a former cotton spinning mill. Their intention is to repurpose and rejuvenate the 240,000 square feet as spaces for food-based entrepreneurial projects, a restaurant and large-scale events. (In the second phase, there are plans for a hotel and condos.)

“To celebrate the amazing potential of Greylock WORKS, the local community and the region, we are fast-tracking construction to make this party possible,” says Karla Rothstein, design director at LATENT Productions and co-founder with development director Salvatore Perry.

UNLOCK on New Year’s Eve will inaugurate the space and let guests get a taste of what’s to come. Since the first phase of the renovation in the former weave shed will largely focus on artisan food production, the evening kicks off with a dinner menu sourced from local farms, served family style at a long communal table. The meal will be curated and presented by Mezze Catering + Events, and prepared by Chef Daire Rooney [photo, above].

Following dinner, the dining area will be transformed into a spectacular dance space. DJs, video projections, kinetic lighting, a sunken lounge and cash bars featuring local cocktails (and popular bartenders), plus more local food and beverage vendors will contribute to the energetic intermingling.

Hewing to our region’s spirit of collaboration, UNLOCK is being produced by a core team from the Berkshires and New York including VERBOTEN NYC; Springboard Innovative Event Productions, Berkshire Shenanigans, Main Street Hospitality Group, Mezze Catering + Events and Berkshire Farm & Table.

If driving on New Year’s Eve is hanging you up, you’ll be glad to know there will be a party bus available, with pickup locations in Pittsfield and Great Barrington. Even better, special hotel rates are being provided by Main Street Hospitality Group, with shuttle services to and from each of its properties (The Porches Inn, Hotel on North and The Williams Inn).

It may be a bit rash of us to proclaim this party of the year when it’s actually the first one out, but we go to a lot of events, and if UNLOCK fulfills its promises (and with the collaborators involved, there’s no reason it won’t), we might be hoping it becomes a tradition.

UNLOCK, New Year’s Eve at Greylock WORKS

Thursday, Dec. 31 in the Greylock Mill
508 State Road, North Adams, MA
Sit-down dinner at 6 p.m.; dance party at 8:30 p.m.
$45 early-bird rate for dance party ($50 after Dec. 18).
Dinner & dance party: $195. Dinner-only: $165.
To reserve, click here.

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Lisa Green on 12/14/15 at 03:24 PM • Permalink

A New Beginning For The Ancram Opera House

By Jamie Larson

It’s been said that art grows like a weed. No matter where it’s sprung, once rooted and flowered it remains forever. The humble Ancram Opera House (in Ancram, New York) is one such enduring place. Repurchased recently by theater professionals Paul Ricciardi and Jeff Mousseau, the unassuming opera house now sits in seed waiting to grow into something great…again.

At an open house Saturday, Nov. 28 from 2 to 5 p.m. Ricciardi and Mousseau will present their vision for the former grange hall constructed in 1927. They will reintroduce folks to the Opera House, introduce themselves to members of the small town whom they have not yet met, and discuss, with us all, their ambition for a new institution that will offer performances, classes and other events. The event will feature live music and refreshments.

“It’s a beautiful and intimate space and acoustically resonant,” says Ricciardi of the place that pulled them from Hudson into the Ancram countryside. They hope it will soon entice others, from near and far, in the same way.

It’s the intimacy of the opera house that really appeals to the pair, who say they are partial to performances that draw from a closeness to the audience, noting that audience members should feel like their presence is necessary to those on stage.

Their ambitions are buttressed by impressive pedigrees. Mousseau’s theater directing resume includes a residency at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His work has been seen at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, among other places in New York City, and locally at Stageworks, Hudson Opera House, Proctor’s Theatre and Olana.

Ricciardi currently teaches acting and voice at the City University of New York/Kingsborough Community College. As an actor he has worked in New York City, regionally and abroad. Recent credits include the premiere of his new solo show, Angry and Other Stories at Dixon Place in NYC, Moving Vehicles at Club Helsinki and Hamlet at Saratoga Shakespeare Company.

Ricciardi teaches acting in the Linklater system, and will be offering classes at the opera house. While he will continue to work with world-class performers from New York and our region, he looks forward to also offering classes to locals interested in the craft.

“The driving spirit is as a meeting place,” says Mousseau, “An ideal cast would be a mix of actors from New York and the region.”

While built as a unionizing structure for local farmers, from its conception a stage was always a part of the physical and communal configuration of the hall. Whether used for local political meetings, livestock auctions or plays by local actors, the original intent of this small town building was the amplification of the performing voice.

“Along with advocating for farmers, the hall provided entertainment,” says Ricciardi. “It was a part of the history of this place from the beginning.”

In 1972, two cousins recognized the hall’s acoustic proficiency and created a dedicated opera house. But their goals were lofty and overreaching. They bought up a church and the general store and a few other buildings in hopes of creating an opera village in Ancram. When they went bankrupt, the building went through a series of reinventions, including its most recent beloved incarnation as a community performance/meeting space and yoga studio.

“Our short-term goal is to create a modest season in the spring,” says Mousseau, who adds they are grateful for those who have stewarded the opera house before them. “This building has a great history and we hope to honor that, while bringing something new to Ancram.”

Ancram Opera House
Open House: Saturday, Nov. 28, 2-5 p.m.
1330 County Rte. 7, Ancram, NY
(518) 329-0114

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Lisa Green on 11/23/15 at 01:17 PM • Permalink

Eye On Hudson: Five New Hotspots You Should Know About

By Jamie Larson

You hear it all the time: those who occasionally visit Hudson will remark on the many changes they’ve encountered since their last swing through town. New businesses are always opening and the end of summer 2015 was an especially active time for the little city’s business district, with establishments of all kinds opening their doors. But it’s not just quantity. The quality of Hudson’s new businesses continue to elevate the Hudson experience for both residents and visitors alike. Here are five new hotspots to check out next time you’re there.

Rivertown Lodge
731 Warren Street
(518) 512-0954

Formerly the Warren Inn Motel, the completely transformed Rivertown Lodge is thoroughly hip, and perfectly Hudson. With a mix of clean, finished modern carpentry and tastefully selected antiques, Rivertown Lodge is filled with beautifully designed rooms and a light-filled lobby that lends charm and calm. The supreme sophistication of the hotel is the work of partners Kim Bucci and Ray Pirkle. The latter’s experience in the New York hotel business, including at the Soho Grand, more than prepared them to run a hotel that blends the familial comfort of a mom-and-pop outfit with the high-design vision appropriate for the new Hudson. With record players, fireplaces and bikes to borrow, Rivertown is a great way to set the tone for visitors looking to lose themselves in the town.

Hudson Home
366 Warren Street
(518) 822-8120

There are more stores to shop and browse in Hudson than you could possibly hit in a day. But the new location of Hudson Home, a Warren Street staple for more than a decade, is a must see. Recently reopened in the renovated warehouse of the old Register Star newspaper building in the dead center of town, HH is gorgeous inside and out. With half of the upstairs removed, the gallery presents furnishings, housewares, art and gifts in a massive loft space bathed in light from large windows. Where overworked and underpaid reporters once slaved away in a dingy office for a dying medium, now modern elegance is elevated by expert presentation and a mastery of design. Founders Richard Bodin and Greg Feller helped set the trend of what a Hudson home should feel like, and with their striking new location they’re proving they’re also in control of driving it forward.

“We spent a long time trying to get this space so we could present the things we love in the way we envisioned it,” Bodin says. “We hope people will use it in their own lives. We want to help people create spaces that feel inviting and soothing.”

35 South Third Street
(518) 828-0798

The coolest new place in town to get a cocktail is the stylish bar/art gallery/café (with food prepared by the specialty shop Talbott and Arding) built in a former auto garage. With its big bay doors, open or shut, this Norse-modern bar is spare and airy. A lot is accomplished within the space. There’s gallery space to the right, picnic tables for café patrons to the left and a massive center island bar made with no screws or glue by co-owner, sculptor and furnituremaker Adam Loomis. He and fashion photographer Jennifer Tzar have created an incredibly original establishment. There’s sort of a purposeful unfinished quality to the way things are laid out and in the raw finish of the bar, tables and walls around the patio. It’s as if the next time you come in, a totally new aspect might have been constructed. On top of all that, the food is great, with offerings of bold cheese plates, sandwiches, salmon and trout rillettes and much more. The drink selections are comprehensive and the cocktail menu is inventive.

Back Bar
347 Warren Street

The other coolest new place in town to get a cocktail is the stylish bar/antique shop/café (with food prepared by the kitchen at Zak Pelaccio’s Fish & Game) built in a former auto garage. While you may be experiencing some deja vu, the similarities between Back Bar and Ör end at their description on paper. The feel of Back Bar is all about texture. The collection of high-end antiques and more playful garage-y elements are accentuated by the wall of windows behind the stools, which are, of course, actually the old bay doors of the former gas station and repair shop. The narrow speakeasy vibe when the doors are down creates the impression that you’re in on a secret. Even when the doors are up — revealing the more spacious back patio — you’re still hidden, closer to the narrow alley than to Warren Street. You actually kind of are in on a secret; Back Bar has only a small sign alerting you to the fact that there even is a bar tucked into designer Michael Davis’s 3FortySeven gallery, next to the food truck court, and there’s no website or phone number.The food and cocktails are worth the visit, but it’s the seemingly effortless, cool, multicultural, quasi-industrial style (synonymous with Davis) that creates the memorable experience at Back Bar.

Patisserie Lenox
504 Warren Street

Just five years after opening its first cafe in Lenox and two years after launching its second location in Great Barrington, Patisserie Lenox has come to Hudson. Acclaimed pastry chef Jean Yves and wife Yulia, who manages and designs the non-pastry aspects of the menu, were embraced quickly. The packed displays of pastries, confections and desserts are mesmerizing, and the comfortable feel of the place will be welcoming to visitors from the Berkshires — there’s that decidedly European mountain café feel that seems to be a part of the Western Mass. style. Yulia Yves said they always liked Hudson and felt it needed a casual café, where you could get in and out of for a treat or soup and sandwich, but that’s up to par with the town’s growing sophistication. Jean Yves certainly has the pedigree to pull it off with the same flare as his other endeavors. He graduated first in his class at one of the top pastry schools in Paris, worked eight years as the pastry chef in a four-star Manhattan restaurant, opened eight cafés on Long Island, created fresh pastries for major European airlines and made specialty cakes for dignitaries, including the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, and the King of Morocco. And now you can taste his work while walking down the street in our constantly evolving Hudson.

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Jamie Larson on 10/26/15 at 11:20 AM • Permalink

Frankenstein And Dracula Have Some Things To Say In Litchfield

From a “Miracle on 34th Street” production. Photos courtesy Peter Tavino.

The Rural Intelligence region excels in community spirit, and in Litchfield, some of the spookiest spirits are coming to life in Halloween Radio Plays being produced at the Oliver Wolcott Library on Oct. 27 and 28.

The library has been home to radio plays for a few years, using existing scripts of 1930s broadcasts that are available online. The productions are volunteer driven and popular enough to fill up the community room for each performance. The shows are free, but registration is a must.

“We’ve usually done them during the winter holidays,” said Peter Tavino, a civil engineer and volunteer who now manages the operation. “We’ve done A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, but this is the first time we’ve done a Halloween theme. Since both of the plays — Frankenstein and Count Dracula — have similar characters, we’re able to cast just about seven actors.”

Playing the title characters in both plays is “veteran actor” Judge Charles D. Gill, a former judge for the Litchfield District Superior Court in Connecticut, who’s as comfortable on a stage as he was in his courtroom.

Even though it’s a radio play, it’s a live performance in front of an audience, so there are costumes, sets, music and, of course, sound effects, all of which Tavino handles. When we reached him, he was preparing for that evening’s rehearsal.

“I’m trying to get the smoke machine going,” he said.

Halloween Radio Plays
With Peter Tavino & Friends
(Best for Adults)
Oct. 27-28 at 7 p.m.
Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South St., Litchfield, Conn.
(860) 567-8030

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Lisa Green on 10/20/15 at 12:06 PM • Permalink

Meet Your Makers At North Adams Open Studios

You can visit our area’s many fantastic museums at any time (and you should), but how often do you get to peek inside the studios and homes of loft-living artists? The answer is one weekend a year: October 17 and 18 from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day during North Adams Open Studios. At the Eclipse Mill at 243 Union Street, you’re allowed to wander at your own pace through the lives of painters, sculptors, potters, fabric artists, a puppeteer and a bookseller. Below, we offer a preview of what you’ll see on your tour.

Debi Pendell and her husband Carl Oman, a programmer and musician, have lived in the Mill since the beginning. They knew a good deal when they saw one and have been here for the past 12 years.

Debi’s bright studio is large enough to hold classes. Her work is mainly collage, incorporating painting, drawing and mixed media, in layers. Along with her work, shown above, Debi will exhibit collages by her friend, British artist Margaret Thompson.

Dave Lane teaches painting, drawing and mask making in his studio and at locations around Berkshire County. On the left are two of his masks created in leather.

Stop by Dave’s studio where he and Krista Duke will be working on the original puppet play, The Chronicles of Rose, which explores the Nazi appropriation of art during WWII. See some of the puppets, show above, and help them construct a scale model of Hitler’s Führermuseum. A toy theater also will be set up for the kids.

Artist couple Ed and Sharon Carson share a loft, with studio space separated by a curtain. Ed’s landscape paintings will be on display, along with his more recent digital iPad drawings and comic strips.

Sharon has painted en plein air around the world [right], and now is experimenting with printmaking [left]. The lure of the Eclipse Mill lofts for Sharon was the opportunity to “live with the work.”

River Hill Pottery encompasses a work space and shop on the first floor of the Mill, at #104. A second, attached loft functions as a living space for owners Gail and Phil Sellers.

The couple create ceramic baskets by hand, along with other household and gift items such as mugs, bowls, butter dishes and wall art.

Three large looms and a wall of thread greet you as you step into Betty Vera’s loft, which she shares with her writer husband.

Even more of Betty’s fiber art is on display in the first-floor gallery, along with photographs by Lois Linet, in an exhibit called Look Carefully. View her work and get inspired to take one of her classes at the new North Adams Makers’ Mill.

Painter Sarah Sutro will display her abstract landscapes [left], as well as works on paper using natural inks from organic materials [right], a skill she learned in Dhaka and Bangkok.

Larger works by Sarah seen inside her studio [left] and displayed in the hallway gallery outside her loft [right].

Grover Askins, owner of G.J. Askins, Bookseller on the Mill’s first floor, has transferred his used and antiquarian stock of history, fiction, music, science and other tomes from his former bookshop in New Lebanon, NY. His loft, appropriately, has an entire room dedicated to art books, with a couch where you can sit and flip through your favorites.

Other artists include quilter and fabric artist Michelle Jensen [left] and Marjorie Minkin’s abstract paintings and lexan relief works [right]. (Minkin sculpture photo from her website.)

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/12/15 at 02:32 PM • Permalink

Ralph Nader Opens A Tort (Yes, Tort) Museum in Winsted, CT

Nader AMTLBy Jamie Larson

Storied public safety crusader, polarizing third party candidate and Winsted, Conn. local Ralph Nader has finally opened the doors to the American Museum of Tort Law in his home town. If a museum dedicated to the history of personal injury law and consumer protection doesn’t sound like the most thrilling way to spend an afternoon, museum co-founder and president Nader says that’s only because you haven’t seen it yet.

“It’s a museum that relates to people’s daily experiences,” Nader says. “These are issues that impact the safety of our air, our cars, our water, our medicine…”

Inside the stately former bank on Saturday, Sept. 26, the museum held its convocation, featuring guests notable in the world of tort, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, and a performance by Patti Smith, a longtime supporter and advocate of Nader’s causes. Nader downplays the museum as a temple to his legacy, pointing out that a lot of the legal cases currently featured in the museum are not ones he championed. A notable exception is the museum’s largest exhibit piece, a beautiful red Chevrolet Corvair, the dangers of which Nader famously cataloged in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed.

“[The Museum] is about the people, but nothing is enduring without an institution,” says the 81-year-old Nader, adding that the fruit of his labor has always been the institutions he established to help educate and safeguard the public, including the national network of Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) and now the museum, which he began planning in 1998.

Aside from the Corvair and a few other artifacts, such as some of history’s most egregiously unsafe children’s toys, the museum is filled with large, nicely produced boards that outline famous cases. Frankly, there’s a lot to read in the Tort Museum, but Nader says the examples don’t just dump information on you but provide “points of thought to challenge the visitor.”

Nader says it’s important that the museum convey the value of personal injury law not just as history but as an ongoing fight between regular people and corporations that have done some unspeakably terrible things. Through negligence, penny pinching or lack of ethics, corporations have and continue to maim and murder Americans with a regularity Nader finds alarming. He also feels that those in favor of tort reform are spreading misinformation (like inflated false injury claim statistics) in an attempt to allow corporations to avoid paying what they owe to the people they hurt.

“Media propaganda gives the impression [tort law] is abused,” Nader says, his passion for the issue still raging behind his distinctive gravel baritone. “Less than 10 percent of cases ever reach a lawyer. It is still very hard to negotiate the system.”

While Nader’s legacy as a public crusader is still widely discussed in progressive circles and his name will likely be the strongest draw to the museum, one uncomfortable question shadows the Tort Museum; will lingering Democratic animosity over the perception that Nader’s third-party bid for President of the United States in 2000 cost Al Gore the election (making Nader an accessory before the fact to the Bush administration’s actions) impact museum attendance?

“Only the liberal intelligentsia still have that syndrome,” Nader says by way of addressing the 15-year-old controversy. “There were ten reasons Gore didn’t win. They wanted to scapegoat me. But it isn’t the rank and file that think that. Working people think everyone has a right to run.”

To Nader, issues of tort law are highly political because he sees the vast majority of politicians as subservient to their financial donors in what nearly amounts to a corporate oligarchy. He says there’s much more resistance and animosity towards his museum from the right.

While Nader doesn’t make endorsements when it comes to the current presidential race, he supports a lot of Senator Bernie Sanders’ positions. If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton becomes president Nader thinks she could be as bad as any Republican when it comes to the issues he cares about, calling her a “Corporatist and a Militarist.”

Nader allows that while Republican front runner Donald Trump is waging a campaign based on hateful xenophobic ideas he happens to blurt out off the top of his head and then decides to run with, he’s glad the blunt mogul is in the race.

“I actually say good things about Trump,” Nader says, his tone lightening. “Trump is putting forces in all directions and some are good. He’s knocking out [Republican candidates] who are corporate warmongers and calls out hedgefunders. And the silver lining is he galvanizes his opponents [on the left].”

Though he may not be willing to say that the new Museum of Tort Law is how he’d like to be remembered, Nader is more than willing to use it as an instrument, another weapon in his still ongoing fight for the public good. And though tort law may not be the sexiest topic for a museum, there are without a doubt some really important historical issues, lessons and truths thoughtfully displayed throughout the museum worth considering the next time you’re cutting through Winsted. And if you’re still on the fence, heck, Patti Smith thinks it’s cool, so who are you to argue?

American Museum of Tort Law
654 Main Street, Winsted, CT
(860) 379-0505

April 1 – December 31:
Wednesday – Monday, 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays)
January 1 – April 1:
Contact to schedule a private tour.

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/28/15 at 01:05 PM • Permalink

Otto’s For Sale: The End Of A Chapter In Germantown

Otto's MarketBy Jamie Larson

In just seven years, Otto’s Market and its genial owner Otto Leuschel have become an institution on Main Street in the small hamlet of Germantown, New York. In 2012, Leuschel also opened Germantown Variety across the street, an updated five and dime as meticulously curated and quality driven as the market. The stores have cemented the former Whole Foods Market VP’s local legacy as a community-oriented master businessman. In many ways, Leuschel has been directly responsible for revitalizing the town and creating a sustainable little business. In fact, the owners of the well-received new restaurant Gaskins credit the stores specifically as one of the reasons they chose to open in the town.

Germantown VarietySo it came as a shock to many when Leuschel recently put both Otto’s and Germantown Variety up for sale so he can move back home to Washington State to help support his now 87-year-old parents.

“It was a very difficult decision because I’m proud of what I’ve built, but at the end of the day it’s a business,” Leuschel says. “I’ve been on the move my whole life and never stayed in one place too long. I see my life as chapters and this was by far the greatest chapter.”

Otto’s Market was originally built as a grocery store in 1927, and when Leuschel purchased the building he did a total renovation of the space to recreate an all-American early-20th century vibe. The atmosphere, and the market’s mix of everyday groceries with specialty and local foods, managed to do what was once thought impossible in Columbia County: bring the longtime locals and metro-transplants together.

Leuschel says he spends time considering every single thing he stocks, and that by selling high-quality (rather than “gourmet”) products, he tries to give the community the feeling that they are never excluded or priced out.

He says the only difference between the two types of clientele is that locals come in when they’re looking for something specific or to get coffee and a sandwich from the back deli, whereas weekenders will often do their whole shop.

Across the street, Germantown Variety essentially became the hardware and home goods extension of Otto’s, selling everything from nails and screws to beauty supplies and children’s toys. The store proved Otto’s wasn’t just a lucky fluke but that, if well run, new businesses could thrive in the out-of-the-way little town. It’s a lesson to be heeded not just by Germantown but smaller municipalities across the region.

From a real estate perspective, Germantown Variety may be an even more interesting property because along with the store, the beautiful 1930s structure also has two renovated loft apartments and an office suite.

“It’s time for me to sell — but I’m also selling something really cool,” says Leuschel, who never thought he would be going back to Whole Foods to run a store in Washington. “For a lot of people these are more than just stores. I’m so happy I was able to be a part of the community. Saying goodbye to the kids I’ve watched grow up is the hardest part.”

Gtown Variety interiorLeuschel’s goal is to find buyers interested in continuing and growing the businesses because they have become integral to the community. But more than that, he has created two stores that could be used as a masters study in business management. During his 17 years at Whole Foods, Leuschel opened and/or ran stores that played a part in the company becoming the giant it is today. He was responsible for opening the first Whole Foods stores in New York City, San Francisco and London, among many others. He says Otto’s and Germantown Variety are run just like a Whole Foods and any buyer could inherit all the successful and proven structures and efficiencies he’s built into the operations. He hopes that also means they would keep on the much-loved and well-trained local staff.

Gtown Variety

The apartment above Germantown Variety.

“I hope to sell it to someone who can carry it on and take it further. I’ve given it all I’ve got, all my tools,” he says, adding that he’s not just selling the businesses and the buildings but the chance to live the amazing lifestyle Germantown has afforded him.

“People get me and accept me and like me and celebrate me. I have to go because my head is going to get too big! I’m cognizant of what I’m giving up. It’s great to be me here and if you want my life, it’s for sale.”

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

Posted by Jamie Larson on 09/21/15 at 03:35 PM • Permalink