Sara Katzoff, Peter Wise, Timothy Ryan Olson
Co Founding Artistic Directors of Bazaar Productions and The Berkshire Fringe festival
Cff: What is your line of work? Tell our readers a little about you, and your history. Please clearly state your name, business name, address, telephone, email, website and business hours of operation so they can be included in the blog post.
Sara Katzoff, Peter Wise and Timothy Ryan Olson are the three co founding artistic directors of Bazaar Productions and The Berkshire Fringe, a performing arts festival highlighting adventurous new work by emerging artists from around the world. In addition to our ten-year partnership as curators and organizers of the Fringe, we collaborate and make shows with our company, Kickwheel Ensemble Theater. We also work as directors, performers, educators, writers, musicians and sound designers with a number of schools, production companies and arts organizations throughout the Northeast.
From August 2-August 18, the Berkshire Fringe will present over 30 performances, free programs and community workshops. We have some truly amazing artists joining us this season including The Wardrobe Ensemble from Bristol, UKand Under The Table Theater Ensemble from Brooklyn, NY.
Cff: Tell a story, have we met? When? Where? Who introduced us? Oh, maybe you are my niece, well just tell a little history here. People love a setting.
Peter: Crispina and her sisters actually used to babysit for me and my sisters when we were very young - that's how I know her and her amazingly talented family. Our families both attended a church group that held mass at the chapel on the campus of a former Jesuit boys school that you now all probably know as Cranwell Resort. So I guess it's fitting that our lives cross paths again in a former church!
I was pretty young during that whole period, but I do remember her family would create these amazing art installations in the church where everyone of every age could participate and contribute a small bit to a whole big vision that John and Primm were executing. We worked for a long time cutting out and assembling small butterflies out of different colored paper. Then when you arrived at church on Easter there was this massive explosion of butterflies installed across the back wall - it was so cool. Not sure I remember much else from that age, but that definitely made an impression.
Now that I'm writing about it, I guess it really reflects on what we do at the Fringe - bringing lots of people's important little pieces together from near and far and making a big explosion of art out of it. Can't wait to work with Crispina and Chris this summer at the Shire City Sanctuary. It's not every day you get to rekindle an old family friendship from toddlerhood in the course of your work!
THE STORY OF HOW WE THREE CONNECTED
Sara: Pete and I were both locally grown here in the Berkshires. Pete grew up in Stockbridge and I grew up in Great Barrington.
Sara: During the first semester of my freshman year at Simon’s Rock, I received an email (my first email ever!) from this guy named Timothy Ryan Olson
Ryan: I was spending my junior year abroad studying Dutch theater in Amsterdam and I had written to Sara to invite her to perform in an original play I was writing for my senior thesis
Sara: I said yes and we became instant friends collaborators. We have been for the past 17 years.
Ryan: Pete, Sara and I all reconnected while living in New York and soon formed Bazaar Productions and began work on the The Berkshire Fringe. A few years later, I officiated their wedding….but we digress!
THE STORY OF WHAT INSPIRED THE FRINGE
Sara: During my junior year of college, I traveled to California to perform and train with a theater company called Dell’Arte International. While I was on the West Coast, I observed how Dell’Arte’s Mad River Festival drew artists from all over the world and attracted a huge community of patrons and supporters of all ages and backgrounds. It was really inspiring. A seed was planted.
Peter: As artists who grew up (or attended College) in the Berkshires, we had experienced how our generation of peers were not attending shows and cultural events because performances were often too expensive and inaccessible.
Sara: When I returned from California, I approached Ryan and Peter about starting a theater festival that would change that and thus, the Fringe began to take form.
Ryan: We wanted to create a festival that was committed to presenting high quality, financially accessible and adventurous new works of theater, dance, music and multi-media performance by fresh, emerging ensembles from around the globe.
Sara: Our mission was to inspire all audiences to think about and embrace theater in a completely different way.
Peter: We wanted audiences to go see live performance with as much frequency and appetite as they see movies. We wanted to make the Fringe that accessible so audiences could come and see multiple shows and events.
Sara: In 2005, The Berkshire Fringe was born. Since then, we have hosted over 550 artists, presented 130 full length productions and offered tons of free programs, community workshops and pick your own price events.
If you had the power to make one change in the world what would it be?
To value and support artists and the arts more prolifically in the following ways:
- Increase funding for vital arts programming in our schools and communities
- Provide artists with more resources, space and opportunities (particularly those in the early stages of their careers)
- Treat artists with reverence and dignity by paying them more money. (I know that might seem crass, but it’s true. We have to value both “The Arts” and “the artists” or civilization as we know it is doomed!
Cff: What is your current passion?
Ryan: The mission of the Berkshire Fringe is to shift the cultural landscape of the Berkshires by creating a vital testing ground for new work and providing resources and opportunities to emerging artists from all over the world.
Sara: We are passionate about making theater and developing long term relationships with artists and ensembles who embrace creative risk, blur boundaries between artistic disciplines and advance the medium of live performance.
Pete: We encourage everyone at the Fringe to take a risk: Artists take a risk creating the work, we take a risk presenting it, and audiences take a risk by trying something new.
Cff: How did you find that passion?
Sara: Theater is one of the only places where our full attention and presence as human beings is required. It’s pretty astounding to think about that. When else are we asked to unplug ourselves, shut off our phones and give our time, our focus and our undivided attention to something that’s happening in front of us? As artists, this creates an opportunity to connect directly with actual human beings who are participating in a common human experience! That kind of connection is becoming rarer and rarer in our rampantly digital world. We believe this is definitely worthy of celebration and preservation.
Cff: Where do you find your inspiration/motivation?
Sara: We are inspired by the vision that adventurous theater can be created, supported and promoted and that it can and should be accessible to everyone in our community. Our experience is that the diverse voices, stories and perspectives we present at the Fringe also attract diverse audiences. Seeing audiences who might not otherwise attend a show or event completely transfixed by live performance is inspiring.
Cff: Aside from working, how do you spend your time?
Sara: I love what I do. I love making theater, supporting artists and collaborating with our company (Kickwheel) I also enjoy going out and experiencing what other artists and organizations are creating and presenting. Even though this sometimes results in some blurred lines between working and not working, it’s an important part of being inspired and getting refueled.
Cff: Do you have a prized possession? What is it?
Peter: Indeed! We have this bizarre ceramic figurine we call “The Red One”. It is about 4 inches high and was given to us in 2009 with a very specific set of instructions.
Ryan: “The Red One’s” gets hidden somewhere and whoever discovers him, finds a new hiding place. At first, this game was pretty innocent. One of us would put him in the freezer, the person who found him would put him in the lighting booth, the next person might hide him under someone’s pillow, etc. , etc.
Sara: Over the last few years, the shenanigans have escalated to monumental proportions involving absolutely everyone at the festival including teams of artists, interns, staff and volunteers. In his short life, The Red One has been stolen, sold, broken, lost, rebuilt and ransomed. He has made unscheduled appearances in Fringe shows, found his way into the luggage of unsuspecting travelers, visited several foreign countries, starred in an independent film and currently has his own Facebook fan page. In 2012, he disappeared for months and we were certain that was the end of him. He resurfaced mysteriously inside a package that Peter and I were asked to open at our wedding! We could make an entire festival about the Red One.
Cff: Tell about a magical moment that comes to mind when you look back on your life experience.
Ryan: The first year of the Berkshire Fringe back in 2005, we hosted a solo performance called Saint Anthony’s Body by Philadelphia based artist, Dawn Falato. The piece was inspired by personal interviews and research into patients suffering from neurological disorders. Dawn created a haunting portrayal of the struggle between the human spirit and the body in which it dwells. It was a brilliant piece of theater and a deeply moving story of a woman struggling to gain control of her suddenly thwarted body.
Sara: Because of a listings error in the local paper, a group of audience members showed up expecting to see a very different show. When we explained the error, one of the women in the group professed that she thought the show would be “way out of her comfort zone” but decided to stay and see it anyway since the rest of her group wanted to.
Ryan: At the end of the show, she came up to us and was very moved. She spoke with Dawn for a long time and the two connected on a personal level. She also shared her belief that this work, which she hadn’t even intended to see, had been completely life changing. Life changing. Those were her words.
Sara: That story is one of many we have experienced during the course of the Berkshire Fringe’s 9-year history. The connections and unexpected conversations that emerge between our community of artists and audiences always surprises, delights and inspires us.
Cff: What is your goal or main focus for your next 12 months?
Sara: As we reach our ten-year milestone as an organization, we definitely have a lot to celebrate and will be doing just that this August at Shire City Sanctuary! This next year of planning and preparations is also an opportunity to reflect, recalibrate and take stock of where we are and where we are headed. It’s a great time to be making some big and exciting changes as we (literally) move forward.
Peter: When we started this festival, we were all in our early 20’s and we had to teach ourselves absolutely everything that went into running an organization: artist programming, grant writing, contracts, bookkeeping, web design, company management, public relations
Ryan: The three of us have planned galas, put up posters, built seating risers, made programs, painted floors and cleaned bathrooms (sometimes all in the same day!)
Peter: Over the course of the last ten years, we have planted a lot of seeds and grown a lot as individuals and as an organization. Creating this festival has always been a labor of love but it is also a labor of labor and at present, the amount of work and volunteer hours required to make it all happen just aren’t sustainable.
Sara: So the next twelve months will be spent focusing on envisioning and implementing a strategy for long term sustainability. Sustainability means building our board, building new partnerships within the community and raising the necessary funds in order to hire staff and ensure that the Fringe can thrive into the next decade and beyond!
Cff: Do you have an upcoming event or significant happening that you would like to promote with your blog posting? When? Where? Details and contact information please.
SAVE THE DATE FOR THE PARTY OF THE SUMMER
The Berkshire Fringe’s 10th Anniversary Celebration and Kickoff Party
Saturday, August 2
Shire City Sanctuary
40 Melville Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Live Performances | Food + Drink | Auction | Dance Party
More info at http://berkshirefringe.org/retro
2014 Berkshire Fringe Season
Featuring over 30 performances, free programs and community workshops.
All opening night performances are Pick Your Own Price!
August 2-August 18
40 Melville Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
For ticket info and a complete schedule, visit, Berkshirefringe.org, Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 413.320.4175.
Full schedule will be available in print and online in May.