If any of you have made the drive up to Stockbridge, Massachusetts and turned just off of Main Street, you’ll have had the pleasure of seeing the home of the Berkshire Theatre Festival (or BTF). BTF opened in 1928 with a production of Tupper and Lee’s The Buffoon. With a history that stretches back eighty-five years, the Berkshire archives are immense. When we reached out to them about participating in our 75 Photos for 75 Years photo feature to celebrate the play’s 75th anniversary, Colleen Hughes was kind enough to do some digging for us. And what she found was remarkable.
The Berkshire Theatre Festival produced the regional, summer stock premier of Our Town in 1939 following the Broadway production that opened the previous year. During Frank Craven’s two week absence in July, 1938, Wilder himself assumed the role of the Stage Manager under the stipulation that he would be paid $300.00 a week – equal to about $10,000 today – all of which was donated to The Actors’ Fund.
At the time Wilder seemed baffled that he was going to take to the stage at all. In a letter to theatre critic, Alexander Woolcott, he said, “Maybe I can’t and won’t do it…The memory hazards are immense.” Wilder obviously took very quickly to the stage though, because a year later he found himself reprising his role at the Berkshire Festival – only the second of 12 times that Wilder would play the Stage Manager. Wilder was joined at the Berkshire Festival by Nell O’Day, Western movie star, Norman Leavitt, and King Calder.
Wilder’s appearance at the Berkshire Theatre Festival was the first in his long regional career. Wilder would eventually play the part a dozen times over twenty-one years and direct countless other production. Take a look at this wonderful photo provided by the Berkshire Festival and the program from their 1939 production.
To learn more about Wilder’s career on the stage, keep a look out for our upcoming article – a photo timeline of all of Wilder’s acting appearances.