The Yankee Thespian Festival is coming to North Adams – to Mass MoCA on Friday, April 28 and to Drury High School on Saturday, April 29. Students from eleven high schools and middle schools as close by as North Adams and Pittsfield, and as far away as Long Island, NY and Michigan will converge on Mass MoCA and Drury High School to perform short plays, attend workshops and enjoy what Berkshire County and the Tunnel City have to offer. Mayor Barrett and Jonathan Secor, Director of Performing Arts at Mass MoCA, will welcome the participants, and a proclamation from Governor Paul Celluci may be in the works.

This is the realization of a dream for Festival founder Dr. Len Radin. Radin, a Williamstown resident who practices dentistry and directs the Drury Drama Team in North Adams, knew the time was right to bring the Festival “home” when Mass MoCA opened last spring.

“I felt that it was too much for me to both coordinate and host the Festival, and I wasn’t sure Drury was the best possible venue for it,” Radin explained, “But when I saw the Hunter Center in Mass MoCA I knew that this was the right place. Mass MoCA has really bent over backwards to accommodate us and they have been a pleasure to work with.”

Secor, along with MoCA associate curator Laura Heon will address the Festival, and participants will have a tour of the MoCA campus and the newly opened Kidspace.

Twelve years ago Radin walked in to Drury High School and said that he wanted to direct a play there. He had been active with the now defunct Williamstown Community Theatre and wanted to bring that experience to the students at Drury. The administration turned him down the first time, but his second proposal to direct a play was accepted and the program has grown from an extra-curricular activity to a full credit-bearing program in theatre arts known as the Drury Drama Team.

Along the way Radin crossed paths with the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA).

“I started my work at Drury because I loved the theatre, but I quickly fell in love with the impact it had on the students and the atmosphere it created at the school,” Radin said, “I knew about theatre, but I knew nothing about teaching, so I started taking workshops and subscribing to publications from the EdTA. I found all the theatre teachers involved to be incredibly friendly people.” In 1998 Radin received the Sir Mort Clark Drama Teacher of the Year Award from the EdTA.

The EdTA and its affiliated Honor Society, The International Thespian Society, to which the Drury Drama Team belongs, was active and popular in many areas of the United States, but not in New England. Six years ago Radin started the Yankee Thespian Festival to give young actors in Massachusetts a way to connect. The Festival has grown to include schools from all six New England states, New York state, and eastern Canada.

“The reason the Yankee Thespian Festival took off the way it did was because it is affiliated with the EdTA and the International Thespian Society; and because we are not a competitive festival. Competitive festivals have a lot to offer, but many teachers would rather stress the fun and educational aspects of theatre” Radin explained, “And since we are not bound by the rules of competition we can add lots of interesting features – like the performance by the All-Directors Cast, the International Cast (a cast made of up one student from each school attending), and the inclusion of Middle Schoolers.”

Conte Middle School, with its Drama Team directed by Maryanne Santelli, who is the co-host of this year’s Festival, led the way for Middle School participation. This year they will perform “Shakespeare Unbound” at 9:45 a.m. on April 29. Other local schools and groups participating are Drury, which will perform “Rabbit” at 11:15 a.m. on April 28; Pittsfield High School Dramatic Performance Class which will perform “Overtones” directed by Williamstown resident and Advocate theatre critic Ralph Hammann at 12:30 p.m. on April 28; and the Victory Street Players from Adams who will perform “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead” directed by Chad Therrien at 8:15 p.m. on April 28.

On Saturday at Drury nine workshops will be offered in three sessions for Festival registrants. Local speakers include Andy Hoar, Technical Director/Production Designer at MCLA, who will lead a workshop on stage management; psychologist Morton Broch of Williamstown who will lead one on the analysis of character; and Hammann who will lead a workshop on the critic’s role in the theatrical process.

Playwright Stephen Gregg, recently voted one of the most popular playwrights for the high school stage by EdTA members, will be the special guest at the Festival. He will give a brief talk to all Festival participants and then lead two workshops – one on playwriting and one on teaching playwriting. Gregg has flown in from California for the event, and his play “Poor Little Lambs” will be performed at the Festival by Harborfields High School at 7:15 p.m. on April 28.

The 2000 Yankee Thespian Festival will take place at Mass MoCA on Friday, April 28 from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m.; and at Drury High School on Saturday, April 29 from 9:30 a.m. till 5 p.m. If you want to attend any of the performances tickets are $5 per day for as many shows as you would like to see and are available from the Mass MoCA box office 413-662-2111. In order to attend the workshops you need to be registered for the Festival by calling Radin at 413-458-5833. The cost of registration is $25.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000

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