Pittsfield’s Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), a collaboration between the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and the Pittsfield Public Schools, provides education, casework, counseling, and employment services to young people at high risk of dropping out of school. With the help of YouthReach funding, Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) launched a partnership in 2012 with the JRC, using theatre tools to build confidence and communication skills while placing the young people in jobs throughout Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre. Kate McGuire, Artistic Director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group, reflects on the partnership’s first year:
In the theatre, we learn to listen. For me, I was able to hear and understand the nature of these kids’ lives and learn about the challenges they face minute to minute.
At the beginning, there was so much noise. They were loud, and so aggressive towards each other in their language and sometimes, physically. By the end of the semester, we all learned to attend to each other, to listen more carefully. Order and calm and a real sense of joy set in.
The first week of the program, we went to see a movie. It was a disaster. I was amazed they didn’t get thrown out as they could not keep quiet, keep still, or keep their hands off each other.
Over the course of six months, we used actor-training exercises to encourage each young person to find new tools of expression and at the same time, sharpen our awareness of ourselves as part of an ensemble, a community. Meanwhile, BTG staff worked with each participant’s interests and ambitions to build custom internship experiences for each.
In the final week of this first year, we all went out to dinner. The youth were polite, well spoken, and we might as well have been celebrating Christmas. There was such a warmth and genuine care among us all.
We had accomplished something remarkable, and we were all aware that each one of us had changed, grown, and learned to care about each other and each others’ lives in profound ways.
The Colonial Theatre must be comfortable for everyone to walk through. We have succeeded with these young people. By the end, the kids were not a part of the BTG. They were integrated into the entire organization. Three of them continued through the summer: one in the box office, one onstage for Peter Pan, and one providing technical support. JRC staff noted the value in the relationship, and the region’s Sheriff lauded our work to one of our trustees.
Years ago I entered the theatre with the belief that we could transform lives profoundly. This work is serving that belief. What I did not know was how deeply I could still be impacted by the power of the theatre to help and change lives. I am grateful to the young people I have worked with through the JRC, and I can’t wait to meet a new class later this fall!
Artistic Director and CEO
Berkshire Theatre Group