Okay. So, no — sitting in front of a computer screen, even if it’s one of those really nice Retina displays, is not the same as the tingly magic you feel pulling up to Jacob’s Pillow on a summer evening or unpacking a picnic basket on the lawn of Tanglewood as the sun sets and the BSO warms up. Let’s admit that up front — then pick ourselves back up, because that’s how we model resilience.
Yet, where else in the country can we still access cultural programing that’s the envy of much of the nation? Yes, Covid-19 sucks. Big time. But the cultural offerings in the Berkshires á la Summer 2020 are still … get this: amazing. They’re not only something to take pride in — the resilience of our extraordinary cultural institutions, long may they hopefully run but they’re something to savor.
The following is a list that’s sure to satiate some longings of the culture vultures among us. There will be memorable sunsets, warm summer breezes, and reasons to dress up, but mostly they will be at home — with the exciting exception of Barrington Stage and the Berkshire Theatre Festival, which both hope to switch the lights back on in August.
In the meantime, the excitement of culture that amazes us, thrills us, makes us laugh, cry, and ponder — is still accessible with the click of a mouse. So, why not put on a nice shirt or blouse, pour a glass of sparkly, and cozy up for a performance? Or let your kiddos command the mouse as they sit with you to tour the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum of Art, or the kid-friendly exhibits at the Berkshire Museum. Maybe you would rather Zoom with adorable baby lambs at the Hancock Shaker Village, or ponder an exhibit of true strength, courage, and resiliency at a time when life was far tougher — the story of Elizabeth Freeman (aka Mum Bett), the first slave to sue for and win her freedom in colonial Massachusetts. And if it’s just you on the couch, nerd out at the Clark Art Institute’s website, or Edith Wharton’s virtual library, or watch truly excellent calming wellness-oriented videos provided by Canyon Ranch (food) and Kripalu (yoga), all free of charge. And for the Yiddish readers among you, check out the digital Yiddish library at the Yiddish Book Center!
Tanglewood: The marvelous grand dame of Berkshire cultural venues has cancelled its season, albeit late in the game as hopes faded that maybe, just maybe, there could be a way to make live performance at their summer campus work. Well, now we have Tanglewood online. Check out the streaming videos featured on the BSO at Home website, including one of conductor Andris Nelsons’ inaugural concert as BSO music director, featuring Wagner, Puccini, and Mascagni. You can also listen to thoughtfully curated music from the BSO archives. Are any of your kiddos especially curious about classical music? The BSO HomeSchool page will blow you and your kinder away. Videos, lesson plans, demonstrations. It’s all there, and extraordinary. And don’t forget the Boston Pops! They’ve got their own virtual living library of videos and sound files, and much more. Check it out.
Jacob’s Pillow: I’m not here to play favorites, but I just adore “The Pillow”. It’s heartbreaking to miss out this summer on world-class dance imported from far and wide. The Doris Duke, the Ted Shawn, free performances at Inside/Out. Well, now there’s the “Virtual Pillow,” for which I, for one, am so thankful. Archived videos, full of color, energy, and glorious movement. Interviews and essays by dance scholars. A monthly podcast. And a list of organizations that can help now-truly struggling artists navigate the next year-plus. Maybe you’ll find a charity that moves you.
Williamstown Theatre Festival: Its traditional season may be cancelled, but donors at the $600-plus level will have full access to WTF’s collaboration with Audible.com. Access includes the full season, recorded as readings of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, and the world-premiere of Cult of Love, written by renown playwright Leslye Headland, who also survived being Harvey Weinstein’s personal assistant (an experience she has written about).
Barrington Stage: The show will go on… beginning in August! Artistic Director Julianne Boyd has made the bold decision to present a re-vamped summer season that starts far into the summer and will feature carefully coordinated best-practice social distancing measures. Writes Boyd: “We think there is a strong need to do an alternate season that honors live theatre, that allows us to assemble safely and reminds us we are not alone in this self-isolated world we find ourselves in. We want to give you a safe place where you can experience wonderful stories and music and for a few short hours transport you to a different world.” I, for one, am ecstatic at the possibility of bearing witness to Boyd’s proven ability to awe audiences over and over. Among the performances, the one-man show Harry Clarke, Monday night concerts featuring cabaret jazz and the Linda Ronstadt songbook. Come September, there’ll be a new one-woman show about Eleanor Roosevelt, and The Price by Arthur Miller. The always-anticipated summer concert — this year it’s South Pacific — will be performed outdoors.
Berkshire Theatre Group: August will be the magic month of live performance. Writes artistic director Kate Maguire, “The human spirit is being challenged right now and we know the theatre has always offered a poetic sanctuary, particularly in uncertain times. We will be that resource for our community once again.” Keep an eye out for the musical Godspell, Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song, plus And a Nightingale Sang — about one family’s perseverance through uncertain times. Letters to the President will run for two special performances at the Colonial, which will also feature autumn performances of The Little Mermaid, Jr., and Peter Pan. In the meantime, BTG will be offering weekly online classes and talks on their Facebook page, along with online programing for all ages.
The Berkshire Museum: Pittsfield’s little treasure is now online! The content is so extensive and rich, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were visiting websites for New York City’s Museum of Natural History or Metropolitan Museum of Art. From mummies to meteors, landscapes to lizards … it’s all there. Podcasts, virtual exhibits, kiddo-friendly videos, and even resources for educators (sometimes a.k.a. parents).
Norman Rockwell Museum: Another beloved museum that’s bounding forth into the digital realm. And believe me, there is so much to learn! Gain knowledge about the American Constitution through art; view videos of Norman himself; check out exhibits; and listen to audio tours. It’s all here within easy reach with the click of a mouse.
Hancock Shaker Village: In tough times, great entrepreneurs innovate. And apparently this applies to nonprofits, too. First prize in my book goes to this idea: Zooming with baby animals! For varied donation levels, you can reserve a basic cuteness Zoom, or a birthday party Zoom, or even book a VIP Zoom tour of the little cuties who grow up fast!
IS183: This summer’s motto is bound to bring a smile — Since we’re not able to invite you into our studios at this time, we’re bringing the art to you! Yes, online classes for all ages with a focus on youngsters craving a creative outlet. This one’s a no-brainer.
The Mount: In addition to the grounds being open, which have always been worth a visit alone, the Edith Wharton estate has an impressive online archive. Podcasted conversational interviews, summer series lectures, a selection of Wharton’s poetry, insights into her library, and even a monthly writing prompt.
The Clark Art Institute: While this extraordinary museum’s renovated home may be off limits for now, its online offerings are extensive. Clark Connects features virtual exhibitions, videos with top-notch art historians, and archived material that’s a pleasure to peruse and explore. The grounds remain open, too, and it’s well worth a trip just to ogle architect Tadao Ando’s additions.
Ventfort Hall: No socializing this summer in this 28,000-square-foot Gilded Age “Cottage” that was built for parties, but you can still tour it virtually.
As you delve into all that our treasured Berkshire cultural institutions have to offer, I leave you with this ask: Please help us support them. They offer us so much with a generosity of spirit that’s boundless, and which transports us, enriches us, and nourishes us. If you’ve ever thought about helping out — now is the time. Please. We owe it to ourselves, our communities, and future generations. A world without art is a world we don’t want to envision. Instead, let us come together, in the spirit of love and learning, enrichment and advancement — and nurture those who nurture us.
With your help, may next summer be filled with raucous standing ovations accented with joyous shouts of “Encore! Encore!”