SHARON—The creative team at the Sharon Playhouse was hard at work recently discussing all those little details that must be addressed before a new season, when Artistic Director Carl Andress saw an email come in on his computer.
Andress, who makes his home in Kent, said to the others, “Oh look, we just won 15 Berkies nominations!”
“It just snuck up on us, we had no expectations,” Andress said this week.
The Berkshire Theatre Awards, known colloquially as Berkies, are presented annually by the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association (BTCA), founded in August 2016 by theatre critic Larry Murray. In its guidelines, the BTCA explains that the selection of winners is not to single out the “best” in any category, but “to reward the outstanding elements of the season, the work impossible to forget” exemplifying excellence in performance, direction, design, choreography design, choreography or writing.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Sharon Playhouse’s glut of nominations is that a new administrative team was producing its first season in 2023. Artistic Director Andress, who lives in Kent with his husband, Chris Williams, has been at the Playhouse only since last January, when he joined new Managing Director Rod Christensen and Associate Artistic Director Michael Kevin Baldwin. Baldwin was the “old pro” of the trio, having first appeared at Sharon Playhouse when he was 10 years old.
“There was a lot of new energy coming together,” said Andress. “We complemented each other and brought a fresh point of view. We tend to be three rather sunny, positive people and try to draw excellence to us to build extraordinary teams. We have a shared goal to have the playhouse become the go-to destination for theatre in the area—and together I think we made a really good running start.”
He said the team is “very gratified” by the nominations.
One production received particular attention. Something Rotten! got nods for Outstanding Direction; Outstanding Choreography; Outstanding Sound Design; Outstanding Costume Design; Outstanding Lead Actor, and Outstanding Production.
Asked what he thought attracted the critics to the production so much, he said, “It was a big, splashy Broadway-style production that resonated with people. It was just electric in the house, a fun, exciting evening, and people had a great time—that’s what people want from theatre, to think a little bit and have fun.”
Other nominations went to Oliver, for Outstanding Choreography; Our Town, Outstanding Lighting Design, Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Supporting Actress, and Outstanding Ensemble.
Lifespan of a Fact received nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress,and Outstanding Supporting Actor. The last nomination is for the Larry Murray Award for Community Outreach and Support Through Theatre.
The Berkie Award ceremony will take place at 7 PM Monday, November 13th, at the Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsfield, MA.
Andress said he did not arrive until productions for the 2023 season had been selected. “I was quite amazed that all the titles were on my list of shows that should be considered. I was pleased and thought I would very much enjoy setting up and casting.”
Andress, who grew in Nashua, NH, spent time in Chicago and Los Angeles before beginning a 25-year sojourn in New York City. He worked in the city as a director doing many plays and musicals. In 2018, he and his husband bought a home in Kent for weekend visits.
“During Covid the weekend house became the house,” he related. “Then this opportunity came my way to be artistic director, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s see if I can make it to a second interview,’ and I got the job! So, I joined the team, diving into the deep end. Now, we’ve come up for air. Through the summer we found our groove together.
“I was very excited because of all the marvelous choices and we’re really, really thrilled with the way it turned out,” he continued. “You don’t see it while you are involved in it. When you see the audiences coming and the standing ovations, you realize you are doing something right, but it is really quite a time of focus when you are doing one show after another.”
He does not miss the bright lights and big city. “This is very much in my wheelhouse,” he said. “No matter how big or small the theater, it’s the same work. A project is a project whether it’s a showcase, a fundraiser, small theatre, or Broadway—it’s the same discipline. You just have to bring your A game.”
The 2023 season is all but done and one might think that things would be quiet in the lives of the creative team, but not so. “When we finish our last production on October 15th, people say, ‘Now you will get a chance to rest.’ Nooo,” says Andress. “We are closing things down and getting ready for the Holiday Show.”
The final act of the year will be the Youth Holiday Show, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which will be staged Dec. 13 through 17.
“Then things seriously heat up in January when we start planning, run auditions, do marketing, printing, etc., and at the same time we are having classes,” he said. “There are so many things going on. It’s amazing how much effort goes into it. We’re a staff of only five so there’s never a dull moment.”
All that effort certainly paid off in 2023. “Fifteen nominations is remarkable when you look at the breadth of talent in the region,” he said. “There is a lot of wonderful theater going on. It is a very serious task for the critics. For the people who do it, it is a full-time commitment, but awards like the Berkies make people understand there are memorable things going on out there.”