Kate Maguire has taken on a mighty task

The fabulous Kate Maguire has accepted a “Mission Impossible”-sized task. Berkshire Theatre Festival has agreed to take over the management of the Colonial Theatre, meaning that — in addition to her work at one of the most prestigious theater festivals in the country — Kate will have to run a major, year-round performance venue. This is going to be one tough job.

Despite a beautifully restored building, the present Colonial management has not been able to put it all together. Their board is extremely smart to reach out to Kate who does not suffer fools gladly and who knows how to fight when she has to. I have met very few people whom I respect more than Kate.

We hear that our friend Julie Boyd, the whirlwind Barrington Stage Company impresario, was also contacted about the gig and turned it down, which was probably a smart move. There’s a big difference between Julie and Kate.

Unlike Julie, a committed thespian, Kate is an administrator. Julie does an incredible job of directing as well as running her organization, while Kate concentrates on doing what she does best, recognizing and recruiting talent, running BTF, and raising money. We know that the Colonial has been in real trouble. As anyone can tell you, just having a fabulous building is not enough. The trick is the programming.

The Mahaiwe in Great Barrington has done a very good job of bringing first-class groups to Great Barrington, but it all costs big. No arts organization, no matter how deep the pockets of their board members, can keep on coming up with the necessary money. Despite having ruffled some feathers, Lola Jaffe has done a good job of collecting some very well-heeled people to sit with her on her board at the Mahaiwe.

It seems to be a real shame that the way that we do it in America is to put pressure on the very rich to come up with the necessary dollars. I have no problem with those who have the most doing the most, but I am concerned that in a country that is allegedly democratic, the arts respond to those who have the most. Nevertheless, in times of lean, it is great to know that those with some extra money can be depended on to make things better for all of us.

Person after person has told me how wonderfully they have been treated by the Colonial staff over the years. Frankly, we at WAMC have held several events at the Colonial because they have been more inviting and receptive than some other groups. On the other hand, organizations like the Mahaiwe are run as businesses and while they are charitable to some, they understand that if they don’t get the money, they can’t survive. As a not-for-profit administrator, I understand that all too well.

So what does Kate have to do to make it work? Under her leadership, the Colonial should keep doing community-type things. I loved their “Best Band” and “Guitar Jam” events. They have the help of the top Pittsfield people like Andy Mick, the publisher of this newspaper.

That’s no small thing when you are trying to fill over 800 seats. Kate knows about theater and maybe she can attract touring companies of smaller, excellent, less expensive Broadway and off-Broadway plays. She can stage her own plays at the Colonial. Along with Barrington Stage, Pittsfield could reach that critical mass as a theater destination. She can do musical events and co-sponsor events with other organizations.

WAMC has already scheduled a Dec. 7th presentation of the award-winning documentary film, “The End of the Line,” which explores the devastating effect of overfishing. After the film, the great Sam Waterston will be on hand for a question and answer session. This kind of event is exactly what the Colonial should be doing more of.

Kate is filled with ideas including launching a new lecture series featuring many of the top names in the Berkshires. She’ll be looking for generous people to underwrite that effort. The Colonial has the potential of becoming a genuine community facility with world-class theater and musical acts. It really does come down to having a manager who knows what she wants, knows how to brand the institution and knows how to fight when she needs to.

Let the first theater piece be “Kiss Me Kate.” I had to do that.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/20/10


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