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At Berkshire Playwrights Lab, fundraising is performance art

"We’re a theater company that develops new plays. So it stood to reason (at least in my mind at 1 a.m.) that we should at the very least be entertaining in our appeal and do what we do best … present new plays. And thus, a fund-raising idea was born." -- BPL Artistic Co-Director Joe Cacaci

Great Barrington – If the American Theatre Wing gave out Tony awards for the most amusing, creative, and irresistible annual fundraising appeals by a nonprofit theatre organization, the Berkshire Playwrights Lab surely would have won one – or maybe six. BPL has lifted fund-raising to the level of performance art.

Take a look as BPL’s baffled, beleaguered and limerick-challenged artistic co-directors Jim Frangione, Matt Penn and Joe Cacaci make their pitch this year with an ingenious device – what else? – a short film, with appearances by Dan Lauria, Wendie Malick, Treat Williams, and Tom Bloom as the limerick master:

For the past seven years, under the guidance of the founding artistic co-directors Joe Cacaci, Jim Frangione, Matt Penn and Bob Jaffe,  BPL has devoted itself to developing new work for the American theater – one of the few organizations that focuses exclusively on the evolution of new plays – more than 65 original works never seen before, including 35 full-length plays and 30 short plays that have been mounted as staged readings, and one full production – so far. Further, the staged readings, presented at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and other Berkshire venues, with casts of top-flight, well-known actors, are free of charge to attendees, and BPL is committed to keeping them that way.

“In addition to helping us mount more fully realized productions, the annual appeal is critical support for our current operating and production costs,” Frangione notes. “It helps us to keep our staged readings series robust and free of charge.”

And the process has worked: A notable number of BPL progeny has gone on to full productions in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

But it’s not easy being BPL. It takes support from those who enjoy being part of emerging new plays, often written by playwrights from the Berkshire region.

“Every not-for-profit institution does an annual appeal drive, and when it came time for BPL to organize ours in the fall of 2010, we agreed at a board meeting that I’d write a fundraising letter which would go out to our audience,” explains Cacaci. “But when I sat down to compose it, I realized a few lines in that I was boring myself to tears. It was too… I don’t know … self-congratulatory. Of course, you have to tell people what’s been accomplished as an organization if you expect to be supported. . but the approach just felt state and bland. Then it struck me. We’re a theater company that develops new plays. So it stood to reason (at least in my mind at 1 a.m.) that we should at the very least be entertaining in our appeal and do what we do best … present new plays. And thus, a fund-raising idea was born.

“So I wrote a short play, “Waiting for the Dough,”  about two guys in downtown Great Barrington who were missing BPL’s staged readings during the cold Berkshire fall/winter. The appeal was successful and so we continued in that vein. Another short play, “The Pitchman Cometh,” followed in 2012 by a rollicking Irish type ballad with an original Gil Eisner caricature, and in 2013 by a short film starring Lauren Ambrose, Dan Lauria, David Joseph, Ray Abruzzo, Wendie Malick, Treat Williams, and fleeting, very fleeting, appearances by Matt Penn and Jim Frangione.” (See film below):

 

Cacaci added: “In the films we got help from some notable actors who appeared gratis, just to support us. We enjoy producing these little events and people seem to enjoy receiving them. I’ve already starting writing the one for next year. But first we have to put on a season of new staged readings at the Mahaiwe this coming summer.”

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