10×10 Festival in Pittsfield finds inspiration in art and theater
By Kate Abbott, Berkshires Week Editor
Joan Coombs and Kelly Galvin rehearse for WAM Theatre’s 10×10 event. (Enrico Spada / Courtesy of WAM Theatre)
PITTSFIELD — Jane Burke, the director of Flying Cloud Institute, a chemist, dancer and potter, has taught young women for decades.
J. Thalia Cunningham, an E.R. doctor, travel writer and photographer, works with women in Afghanistan. What has brought them where they are?
On Saturday, as part of the 10×10 Festival, they and other women across 10 decades will think about what gets them moving — and offer answers in words, performance and art.
Kristen van Ginhoven, co-founder of WAM Theatre, and Sara Katzoff, co-founder and artistic director of the Berkshire Fringe Festival, invited local writers to answer: “What are the 10 things that inspire you most at this decade in your life?” Alchemy Initiative an Diane Firtell have invited local artists to create 10-inch by 10-inch artworks taken from the same question.
“We looked up ‘inspiration,’ ” van Ginhoven said. “It’s ‘a process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially something creative.’”
WAM was inspired by a book, she said.
“Before WAM, the enormity of women’s issues felt so huge, I didn’t think I could do anything,” she said. Reading stories about women, seeing challenges and solutions set out one by one, encouraged her to believe that she could also take action.
In this show, she hopes the audience will feel that stimulation, that need to get up and do something. Looking for that feeling, van Ginhoven and Katzoff have gathered 60 pages of writing from 16 women, in many forms — scripts, lists, poetry.
Katzoff has adapted these into at 35-minute performance, which she also directs, with four actors ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-60s.
“I’m excited by the way they use the space at yBar,” van Ginhoven said.
The audience will sit along the walls and at a central table, so the actors perform among them and end up among the artwork. They will weave many voices together and talk to the audience.
“I’m excited to see how people will respond when they’re there, having a drink and some tapas,” van Ginhoven said.
“So much of the piece is about the actors’ connections to the audience,” Katzoff agree. “We pull them into the piece.”
To create the script, WAM invited responses from a range of writers, Katzoff said; they wanted to have writers from many walks of life, many economic backgrounds and professions. They ended with voices across nine decades, she said, some from women who write professionally, and some from throughtful women with wide experience.
Loren AliKhan, a lawyer in her 20s working in Washington, D.C., balances serious work with humor. Poet Nakeida Bethel-Smith works at the Elizabeth Freeman Center.
(Enrico Spada / Courtesy of WAM Theatre)
Eagle reporter Jenn Smith wrote essays about influences in each decade of her life, and freelance writer Nichole Dupont crafted short stories about different moments with momentum.
Katzoff has adapted and condensed their writing, blending voices into a narrative that moves through time, generally, from early years to late.
Some of the inspirations kept constant through time. Three or four appeared on most lists, van Ginhoven said: nature, family, friends. And some changed.
In younger writers, Katzoff found energy, climbing trees, a playful exploration.
As the writers grew older, she found common threads, sometimes between generations. Dupont writes about time with young farmers, active young people with college degrees, working in the sun and remembering the feel of the earth. Truus van Ginhoven, decades older, considers the importance of growing food and sustaining life.
“Everyone involved has been truthful and generous,” Katzoff said. “We feel close to these writers, many of whom we have never met.”
The writing is more than generous — it is honest, she said, and bare. Inspiration does not always come from bright places. Her godmother, a gardener and professional clown, is living with stage-four cancer. She finds inspiration in a painful time.
Some writers and artists find it in daily things. Rachel Siegel praised people who clean their houses regularly. Artist, blogger and writer Suzi Banks Baum thought about what she knows how to do now — skills as instinctive as finding eggs in a dark kitchen — or standing with someone in grief. Faith gained influence for some mature writers.
People in their 30s and 40s talked about how fast their lives were moving, Katzoff said, how involved and distracted they became with daily activities, and how to keep that impetus along with moments of quiet. Older voices talked about a quieter rhythm and a sense of growing strength.
She quoted Linda Bidwell Delaney, who wrote: “In my seventh decade, I don’t want to be inspired — I want to be the one who inspires other people.”
“One woman in her 60s said her age inspired her not to give a damn,” van Ginhoven said. “Her whole life she had felt intimidated — getting older made her louder, bolder, willing to go for it.”
The project, she said, has made her think about growing older. When she read the response from mother, Truus van Ginhoven, who is in her 80s, and thought of all her mother had felt and seen, her mother’s thoughts moved her to tears.
The cast and creative team of ‘The Old Mezzo’ present the check for $2400 to Shout Out Loud Productions following the closing performance on Sunday, October 28 at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA.
The cornerstone of WAM fundraising since 2011, the 100 Club makes up 25% of the annual budget. Each year, more than 100 donors giving at least $100 join the esteemed 100 Club.
Click here to donate $100 to WAM Theatre.
WAM Theatre happily accepts donations of any amount. All donations are tax deductible. You can also send a check to WAM Theatre, Inc., 440 Spring Street, Lee, MA, 01238.
HISTORY OF 100 CLUB:
March 8, 2011 marked the Centenary of International Women’s Day (IWD), marking 100 years of celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In honour of those 100 years, WAM Theatre sought to raise 100 donations of $100 to fund our 2011 events. We launched the campaign on February 25, 2011 and on December 31, 2011 the final donations came in and we completed our 100×100 Campaign grid! The success of that campaign led to the creation of the 100 Club.
….a winner…don’t miss this special opportunity…” TheEdgeBoston
“…a superb cast equal of any we see at the four major theatres in the summer…” Berkshire On Stage
“….great theatre for a great cause….” DidyouWeekend
Elizabeth Donnelly*- Sally/Pow
Erin Ouellette – Marcy/Marcelle
Rylan Morsbach – Billy/Captain Billy/Louie
Eileen Schuyler*- Alyssa
Ryan Winkles*- Joe/Johannes
*Member of Actors Equity Association
Director-Kristen van Ginhoven
Scenic Designer- Juliana von Haubrich
Costume Designer-Rita Watson
Lighting Designer-Meryl Joseph
Sound Designer-Brad Berridge
Stage Manager-Chris Donovan
Technical Director-Sam Craig
Associate Producer-Corissa Bryant
Graphic Designer-Enrico Spada
The production sponsor for this production is Mission Bar & Tapas. Other sponsors include: Berkshire Museum, Adams Community Bank, Arizona Pizza, Berkshire Bank Foundation, Cohen Kinne Valicenti & Cook LLP, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Interprint and Pittsfield Coop Bank.
Other organizations that are helping make this production possible include: Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Museum, Berkshire Theatre Group, Luminix Light and Williams College.
About WAM Theatre:
WAM Theatre is a theatre company based in the Berkshires of Massachusetts and the Capital Region of New York State. Inspired by the book ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, WAM Theatre was founded in 2009 by professional theatre artists Kristen van Ginhoven and Leigh Strimbeck. WAM’s philanthropic mission is two-fold; first, producing theatrical events for everyone, with a focus on women theatre artists and/or stories of women and girls; second, to donate a portion of the proceeds from those events to organizations that benefit women and girls. WAM has donated nearly $5000 to its beneficiaries by creating professional theatre for everyone that benefit women and girls. www.wamtheatre.com
Power of language in spotlight at WordxWord Festival
By Brian Mastroianni, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Posted: 08/10/2012 12:27:40 AM EDT
Friday August 10, 2012
PITTSFIELD — Beginning this weekend, downtown Pitts field will be all about singing, speaking, and “slamming” words, with out-of-town visitors and Berkshire County residents alike participating in the fourth annual WordxWord Festival.
Running for eight days starting Saturday, the festival is a celebration of the power of language, with actors, spoken word poets and musicians scheduled to perform in about a dozen venues along North Street and elsewhere downtown.
For Jim Benson, the festival’s founder, WordxWord fills a void in the county’s performing arts scene by supporting the kinds of artists who he said had not been given much exposure in the past.
“I’ve never been one to follow the beaten path,” Benson said. “We already have successful music and theater festivals, and I thought it would be interesting to bring stuff that is sort of underground to the forefront — there are a lot of artists out there struggling to be heard.”
It’s an idea that Benson had for awhile. A local restauranteur who owns and runs yBar, Arizona Pizza Co., and Mission Bar and Tapas, Benson had long hoped to bring spoken word and slam poetry to Pittsfield, but did not decide to make that a reality until he opened Mission in 2008.
By the following April, he began to plan the first WordxWord Festival, which was considerably smaller than it is now. Only three venues were used with the events attracting relatively small crowds. At first was a challenge to generate interest and communicate to area residents exactly what the festival was.
“It’s difficult to explain the concept to somebody,” Benson said. “No one knows how to pronounce the title of the festival, and people don’t always know what we mean when we say it is a festival about the written, spoken, and the sung.” What the festival did have was the ability to attract renowned artists to Pittsfield. In its first year, the festival featured popular slam poet Taylor Mali, who Benson had met several years earlier. With each successive year, the number of high-profile performers has grown along with interest in the event. This year, Mali will be one of nine featured spoken word artists, and there will also be events that give local artists the opportunity to perform.
“Last year, we saw the first evidence that word about the festival was spreading outside of our area,” Benson said, adding that he expects to see another significant bump in attendance this year.
Adding to interest is the fact that all official WordxWord events are completely free, with only three events sponsored by venues that are “friends of the festival” charging admission.
Benson said the operating costs will probably exceed last year’s roughly $40,000 budget. Funding comes from donations from area businesses and individual donors.
The festival received a financial boost from Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Develop ment, which gave $3,000 to the festival from a competitive eight-year grant the city received from the Mass achusetts Cultural Council. For Megan Whilden, the office’s director, WordxWord exemplifies the kind of growth that she said has helped put the city on the map as one of the state’s main cultural destinations.
“The festival is so innovative and very creative, and does so much for Pittsfield,” Whilden said. “Every time someone comes to the city for a spoken word event or a concert, they discover what else is downtown, from the new shops to the restaurants. It brings positive attention to the city.
And for Whilden, one of the festival’s most appealing aspects is its celebration of the area’s rich history with the arts and writing.
“We are all using words all the time, and the language that we use and the words that we use can be so powerful and transformative, funny and surprising,” she said, adding that the festival “makes the community more aware and excited about language and literacy.”
An examination of the use of language is exactly what the women behind the Pittsfield-based WAM Theatre hope to explore over the course of the week. Leigh Strimbeck, artistic adviser and co-founder of the theater company, which is officially an artist-in-residence at the festival, will be directing and conceiving a performance piece called “like/unlike” that will explore the influence of social media on the lives of women.
With no script written, Strimbeck will work with four professional actors during rehearsals open to the public at the Upstairs of Spice Dragon at 297 North St. They will work together to create the piece that will be staged in a workshop performance next Friday at 8 p.m.
“The festival is so interesting because how we use words now is changing so rapidly,” Strimbeck said. “A lot of social media is done through the use of words — language is how we relate to each other, our choice of language and what words we use really impact how we see each other.”
If you’re going . . .
Saturday: Opening rooftop party, Greystone Building, North Street, Pittsfield.
Monday-Tuesday: “Page+Stage,” poet-to-stage event.
Monday-Friday: Songwriters at The Lantern.
Monday-Friday: WAM Theatre “like/unlike” open rehearsals at the Upstairs at Spice Dragon, North Street, Pittsfield.
Thursday: Third Thursday ‘pop-up’ poetry events.
Friday: WAM Theatre “like/unlike” at the Upstairs at Spice Dragon, North Street, Pittsfield.
Saturday, Aug. 18: Poetry Slam finals at Shawn’s Babershop; Poetry Olympics Finale.
On the Web: For schedule info, visit wxw12.org.
Larry Murray, Berkshire On Stage, Feb 2012
You can’t have a discussion of art these days without bringing technology into the subject, and for that matter, politics. Even old opera singers can have revelations about how politics affects the world around them, while young artists consider the possibilities and limitations that technology offers in creating art and helping lead meaningful lives. If this all sounds a bit like a TED Conference, it’s because WAM Theatre has always thought outside the traditional box. The theatre company itself exists not only for performances, but as a new way to bring support to essential charitable or nonprofit causes.
2012 sees the company continuing to innovate and expand its welcome to everyone in the Berkshires using theatre as a fulcrum upon which they balance their concerns as both women and artists.
Artists in Residence at the WordxWord Festival
WAM will spend five days in Pittsfield as artists in residence, opening up the devising process to the public and completing their residency by presenting a public performance of the material created during the festival. The piece will center around the impact of technology on young women’s lives and will include interviews with community members as springboard material. The project will be directed by WAM co-founder Leigh Strimbeck and marks WAM’s official launch of devising original works of ensemble theatre that center around issues of importance in the lives of women. This project is sponsored in part by a grant from the Pittsfield Cultural Council.
Jim Benson, founder of WordxWord and WAM Theatre board member says, “Part of WordxWord’s mission is presenting new works, and new performers. WAM’s new project ‘Women and Technology’ is a perfect example of that. This piece will be current in real-time, and will have a lot to say about where we are, and will question a lot of our assumptions about what role technology and staying current with technology is doing to us.”
World Premiere of “The Old Mezzo” by Susan Dworkin
In the fall of 2012 WAM will present the World Premiere of The Old Mezzo by Berkshire based writer Susan Dworkin. The play concerns the political awakening of a great opera singer, who must risk her fame and success to preserve the freedom that is so essential to the arts. The beneficiary for this production will be a Berkshire based women’s organization. Ms. Dworkin is best known for her books The Viking in the Wheat Field and The Nazi Officer’s Wife as well as her play All Day Suckers.
The Old Mezzo is a one act play about Alyssa, who used to be a great opera singer. Now she teaches — not exactly singing – but rather the politics of singing. Her lesson is her story, and her students play characters she has known, so that they will learn the responsibilties of the artist in a dangerous world.
Wildly imaginative, fanciful and hard-hitting, The Old Mezzo is perfect for this young company since 5 of the 6 players are young themselves. Whether it is staged with recorded music or live, or a combination of both is of special interest to me.
The 24 Hour Theatre Project at Shakespeare & Company
The previously announced 24 Hour Theatre Project on April 13-14.It will bring together playwrights, directors, designers, stage managers and actors from both the Berkshires and the Capital Region. Together they will be armed and creative, with the common task of mounting 5 new short works by women playwrights in 24 Hours. (Full Story Here)
Kristen van Ginhoven, WAM’s Artistic Director says, “We look forward to collaborating with more local professional artists in the 24hr Project, to creating our first official devised theatre project at the WordxWord Festival and to ending our third season with the World Premiere of a play by a local playwright that will benefit a local women’s organization. We are so grateful for all the incredible support WAM has received since launching two years ago and are excited for the WAM Adventure to continue in 2012!”
Kristen van Ginhoven part of Stratford Festival’s 42nd Street
Additionally WAM announces that Artistic Director, Kristen van Ginhoven, has been selected for a spot in the Stratford Festival of Canada’s Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction. While at Stratford Kristen will assistant direct 42nd Street, directed by Gary Griffin.
“The WAM Theatre Board congratulates Kristen on this prestigious opportunity”, says Nick Webb, President of the Board. “We look forward to all she will bring to WAM from her time at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.”
For more information: www.WAMTheatre.com
More about WAM Theatre
Inspired by the book ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, WAM Theatre was founded in 2009 by professional theatre artists Kristen van Ginhoven and Leigh Strimbeck. WAM’s philanthropic mission is two-fold; first, producing theatrical events for everyone, with a focus on women theatre artists and/or the stories of women and girls; second, to donate a portion of proceeds from those events to organizations that benefit women and girls. WAM Theatre is based in the Berkshires of Massachusetts and the Capital Region of New York State. www.WAMTheatre.com
Pecha Kucha speech, Berkshire Museum, March 8, 2012
WAM co-founder Leigh Strimbeck participated in the Berkshire’s first Pecha Kucha on International Women’s Day. She did her speech in iambic pentameter. Below is the text and some photos. Thanks to Berkshire Museum for the photos. WAM is proud to have been part of this first event, especially as it fell on International Women’s Day!
When you give an artist a tight framework
They’re driven to bust the frame to smith’reens
Or tighten the screws for the mere exercise
Of challenging their creativity to meet
A prescribed definition of commun-
ication hence my talk today has been
Written in iambic pentameter
Hoping to tell you a tale and give you a grin.
Once upon at time, two females were born
In countries known for fair equality
(Canada and the US of A)
Raised up they were and right educated
And while not nearly in the one percent
A list of their schools shows that fortune bent
In their favor: Bennington, Emerson, NYU
To name but a few where they both studied
In theater where their hearts grew large
After many a year teaching, travelling
Performing and the like their stars crossed
In Upstate New York, where their theater geekdom
Sparked passionate discussions, comparison
Of notes and declamations of Dionysean desire
Then as final fuel to the fire a book:
“Hark! OMG! & Behold” they cried
To one another when first they spied
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof
And Sheryl Wudunn a book which
Espoused “Education of girls is
The issue major of this century”
So they met in two thousand and nine
With this vexing question foremost
‘What’ll we do to create opportunity
For both the female theater artist
And women and girls world over who !
Need a lift, a gift, from those who have
So much?” We know, we know – WAM, WAM Theatre
The world needs another 501c3!
We’ll dedicate ourselves part time to
This unique double philanthropy!
We’ll do 2 plays a year and rent a place
And each time, each show, a percentage
Of proceeds will go to a beneficiary
That helps women and girls here and abroad!
This idea may be, shall we say, the word
Oft used when women step out and try something new
“Crazy” but here’s what we both knew: these are
Crazy times, there’s no use denying it
So let’s get down, let’s go on and do it:
We’ll create theater work for us women
Directors who have it tough to find a gig
And for women playwrights who voices don’t
Get heard enough even here even now
In the United States of America –
We will do theatre that is not too sad
Plays that lift up hearts and inquiring minds
Pay our artists every time as best we can
and you’d be surprised how rare that t’is
For an upstart company with no angel, alas
But having both been theater artists long enough
To know that being asked to work for free is
A constant, and a low blow. We know
There is an energy we feel, we see
Every time an audience gathers to view
A work of theater having dragged themselves
Up and away from distractions galore
And made the strong choice to risk a slice
Of precious time to witness something novel
A community forms however brief
But the altruistic space is massive!
Kickstarter gave us a platform so we
Shot a video and put it out there
Thirty-five hundred please
Cried we, and getting just a tad bit more
Were off to the races and heading towards
Our first big work Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play
Stunning writing by one of America’s best
On love at first sight and our amygdala-liness!
(Hey, Shakespeare made up words too!)
We chose our second beneficiary the
Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts+
Produced, paid our artists and wrote a check
For $1500 to this fantastic group
Right away planning for our next deal
The fundraising 24 Hour Theater Festival
Goal of which is to bring Berkshire Artists
Together with Capital Region Thespians
Writing, acting, producing five plays+
Brand new in 24 “frantastic” hours
Now, this is big fun you must understand
Stretching our creativity like —–taffy.
Onward cried we and jumped right back in
(We’re in Spring 2011 now)
With the O Solo Mama Mia Festival
Producing 5 female performers
Over two weekends in two venues
Solo plays on the Golden Age, Depression,
How to be a Friend of Sappho’s in 10 Days,
Katrina’s devastation and, as well,
the healing powers of the Weinermobile
Bridged two states, weekends, and diffr’ing venues
WAM to Troy New York and Pittsfield, Mass
Then giving to Edna’s Hospital In Somaliland
Six hundred and dollars forty
Enough to train, for that countryside
To gain one community midwife
Reducing the rate of fistula and death
For women laboring in a land with
Maternal health care at a standard too low
WAM! Women’s. Action. Movement is here t’stay!
And galloping on not wanting to lose
Momentum gained in a hard won way
The Attic, the Pearls and Three Fine Girls
At Barrington Stage two appeared
For our longest run yet written by
Five Canadian women and performed
By three thespians local and paid
Kristen directed this treat beautifully
which ticket sales allowed us to give
Our highest donation yet to a local beneficiary
Berkshire United Way Teen Pregnancy
Prevention Initiative – handing off
One thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars!
Social media and relentless posting on Facebook
Twitter and the like allowed us to successfully
Complete two thousand and eleven’s
Hundred by hundred campaign meaning
WAM exceeded our fundraising goals
For the year and continued to plan
Our season ahead: in Lenox we invite
You to see the 24 Hour Theater
Festival redux with fifty artists meeting
At Shakespeare and Company on April fourteenth
In August come see us create for you,
as company in residence at the
Word by Word Festival a fine and new
Workshop piece of theater which concerns the
Impact of technology on lives of women
Facebook, Twitter, smart phones our second brain
Helping us? Hurting us? A boon or a bane?
And in the fall we bring The Old Mezzo
A meditation on the political
awakening of a great opera singer
by Berkshire resident playwright Suzie
Dworkin whose work is strong and – groovy.
Final Statistics to leave you with we brag:
Over one thousand audience members
Have seen our events. Our donations have now,
To organizations here and abroad
Reached pretty near five thousand dollars
We’ve work with over 100 theater
artists and proudly say just over
eighty percent have been female.
Education, opportunity, and
Bettering the lives of women and girls
Here and abroad continues to be our thrill
Along with creating the best theater work
That meets the needs of our bill –
But before I depart and risk the malign
Of leaving you with a poor, tragic rhyme,
I want to thank you for turning your ears
To the tale of 2 who set aside fears
And founded a double philanthropy
To celebrate our potential as community
Now indulge me that chance for one last cram:
Remember it, think on it: WAM, WAM, WAM!