Photos by Whitney Cox
This historic theatre survived a brief stint as a hardware store before being completely restored to its original glory, with the added addition of a state-of-the-art stage house and new back-of-house support spaces.
This 1000-seat playhouse originally opened in September 1903 and offered the residents of Pittsfield and surrounding Berkshire County region the opportunity to see some of the finest stage entertainers of the day. It closed as a playhouse in 1934, becoming a movie theatre from 1937 to 1949, and finally closed in 1952. The building was designed by local architect James McArthur Vance, but the theatre is the work of renowned theatre designer JB McElfatrick and Sons. The 1951 purchaser of the theatre used the building as a store for fifty years, but always saw the potential for restoration such that the mercantile treatment was executed in a reversible way.
Martinez+Johnson worked with the Colonial Theatre Association, a non-profit group fully restoring the theatre. The project is a Save America’s Treasures awardee, and has received significant funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition to restoring the lobbies and audience chamber, the stage house was rebuilt, new back-of-house support under the audience chamber was provided, and the loading and stage movement area behind the theatre was expanded.
M+J also designed a Visitor’s Center adjacent to the building that provides additional lobby area and new vertical circulation mitigating intrusion into the historic fabric of the theatre. A planned Phase Two will assemble more patron support and community use, more back-of-house space, and a possible second smaller stage.
The Colonial is now home of the Berkshire Opera and of many community groups. Flexibility and versatility were important considerations and as a result traveling theatre and music is a now large part of the program and the Colonial Theatre Association envisions producing or incubating theatre product as well.