Going Upstreet: Pittsfield’s 10x10 Arts Festival
It’s nice when a good idea turns out to be an equally good reality. Looking for a way to harness the growing energy and community spirit among downtown businesses — and also provide a not-so-subtle nudge to encourage people to bundle up and make the scene in mid-February — Barrington Stage Company and some neighborhood friends led the way to the first 10x10 On North festival last winter.
“Sometimes you think you have a great idea and you wonder, is it just a great idea in the office at nine in the morning or is it a great idea to a wider group of people? You’re not sure until they actually come,” says Julieanne Boyd, artistic and executive director of Barrington Stage Company.
But with a new-works short play festival there and a group art exhibition at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts as centerpieces, the newbie festival seemed to be a hit, as evidenced by the extension of the play program by an extra week to meet audience demand and the resumption of the festival this (its second) year.
In the meantime, downtown Pittsfield snagged one of the first state-declared cultural districts, dubbed Upstreet — and so the festival is renamed the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival. It spans a host of happenings and performances, launching auspiciously on Valentine’s Day and rolling through February 24.
Word has gotten out. Eighty new plays were submitted for Barrington Stage’s program last year (Matt Neely, pictured in this Kevin Sprague photo, was among the festival cast); this second time around, a whopping 186 scripts competed for those ten available slots. But, lucky for playwrights, actors, and directors who wanted to participate in that part of the festival— not to mention artists, musicians, comedians, and anyone hungry for a dance party — 10x10 has expanded conspicuously.
In keeping with what seems to be a theme among Pittsfield’s resurgent arts scene, this festival wraps together an assortment of organizations, businesses, and venues who are happy to act against type. Whether it’s slam poetry in a barbershop, art exhibited in a vacuum cleaner store or tango lessons in a lingerie shop (okay, perhaps that last one is more thematically congruent), the people invested in Pittsfield’s future don’t hesitate to mix the serious and the quirky. From the Word X Word festival to First Fridays Artwalk to the emerging 10x10, there’s a vibrant mixing and matching of resources and talents at play. It is all in keeping with the spirit of the mischievous street signs (like “Make Art Here”) dotting North Street, or the very concept of filing empty storefronts with art galleries.
Mostly shoehorned around the somewhat arbitrary theme of the ten-count, the festival includes Barrington Stage’s festival of ten, ten-minute new plays; the TEN SPOT show of ten Berkshire artists at the Lichtenstein Arts Center, a performance of ten unscripted musicals by the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe; an evening of ten stand-up comedians; and various series of spoken word poets and musicians.
Summarizing the bustling roster of activities and shows (tabulated by organizers as over 70) is difficult without getting too laundry list-y, but the above doesn’t even take into account contributions from WAM Theatre, Berkshires Jazz, Alchemy Initiative, Berkshire Actors’ Theatre, Berkshire Museum, and even a festival of films shot on mobile phones.
Sure, these businesses and organizations would like to boost the Berkshires’ lure as a Presidents’ Day weekend destination. But perhaps more importantly, Boyd (seen at left) says, it’s about building something around the Berkshire full-timers.
“We thought we’ve just got to get the people in the Berkshires out of their houses and see the richness and variety and all the excitement that’s happening in Pittsfield. That’s the main thing: it’s for us, and the Berkshires,” she says.
Is it working? On opening night last year, sitting amid the packed house at Barrington Stage’s second stage, it sure felt like it. In fact, Boyd says the festival drew a disproportionate number of younger theater-goers, who seemed to be making their first visit to the venue.
Once upon a time, the Berkshires’ cultural scene was understood as a summer phenomenon. That’s still the prime time, of course, but the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival is expanding its February toehold. And, yes, that does seem like a good idea. — Jeremy D. Goodwin
10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival
70 different events around Pittsfield
February 14 through 24
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