By Jarice Hanson
For the Valley Advocate

In this next year, theater goers from Hartford to the Berkshires are going to have more entertainment choices than they’ve had in many years because attracting new audiences has become an art in itself. Older, more established companies are coming up with different models to appeal to younger, more diverse audiences, such as lower ticket prices, pizza nights, entertainment in the lobby, or cost-sharing productions with other regional theaters. But overall, the key to cultivating new audiences is to find a way for each theater to reflect new audience interests and needs.

Partly to survive the pandemic, many regional and international professional theaters like the National Theatre of London have begun streaming their plays to local movie theaters or directly to homes through special one-time-only online viewing opportunities, but even smaller companies have found a niche by thinking of their relationships with audiences as something that needs to be developed.

So are new economic models and new theater companies a sign that the Valley and surrounding areas will once again, like in pre-pandemic days, offer a plethora of cultural opportunities for audiences of all interests? I’m optimistic about the future and I think you will be too.

With more than entertainment in mind

One of the local leaders is WAM Theatre, based in Lenox, who have succeeded in both creating a full season of readings and plays to appeal to a wide range of potential audiences, as well as creating social change and making opportunities available to women. Since WAM introduced their model of supporting arts and activism 15 years ago, the company’s philanthropic goals have resulted in more than $100,000 donated to local and global organizations that develop and facilitate action for gender equity in areas of girls’ education, teen pregnancy prevention, sexual trafficking awareness, and more.

Originally the brainchild of Kristen van Ginhoven, who recently stepped down as artistic director, WAM has added childcare options for audiences, summer workshops for teens and the development of an Elder Ensemble, and a lively, eclectic range of works in progress delivered in a series of play readings called the “Fresh Takes” series.

Genée Coreno, the new artistic director of the WAM Theatre, and Molly Merrihew, managing director of WAM Theatre.

A new artistic director, Genée Coreno, is now at the helm, and along with Talya Kingston who joined the group in 2018 as associate artistic director, and Molly Merrihew, managing director, whose work with the group goes back to 2014. This year the company is continuing its “Fresh Takes” series of play readings. Two full productions, “Outside” by Coreno, and “Galileo’s Daughter” by Jessica Dickey, will be fully staged this year, and a new venture of creating paid production apprenticeships for BIPOC college and graduate students has recently been added. For the full season and more information, visit

And in the valley, exciting new companies and venues

Recently, on a cold, late-winter night, I saw a superb production of a show at a venue that was new to me. “To Serve the Hive” was produced by Theater Between Addresses (TBA) in the intimate Pine Box Theater in the Arts and Industry building in Florence, directed by the multi-talented Ezekiel Baskin. Everything about this production was head-and-shoulders above many small company productions — the set, costumes, lighting and sound design all worked to establish an environment that suggested life inside of a beehive, and the energetic cast kept the pace moving while showing some powerful acting chops. What was equally impressive was the number of enthusiastic young people in the audience.

The timeliness of “Hive” has great appeal, especially for an audience concerned with climate change. The story is, according to Baskin, a “queer political thriller” and “a climate crisis drama.” I inquired about the future of TBA and was informed that this company would be back at the Pine Box Studio sometime next year and would also be adding programming at The Barn Theater in Belchertown later in summer and throughout fall.

The mission of the company, according to Baskin, is to “focus primarily on creating and producing new work by queer and trans artists,” and the company hopes to reach “intergenerational audiences.” TBA has already staged performances of other shows in New York City, Boston and online. Local audiences may get a chance to catch “To Serve the Hive” this summer at the Ashfield United Congressional Church, date to be announced.

Michael Budnick
Cast and Crew of “God of Carnage,” produced by Easthampton Theater Company.

Another company you may have heard about, and will undoubtedly hear more about, is the new Easthampton Theater Company. ETC’s first two productions, “God of Carnage” and “Torch Song” sold out their runs at CitySpace’s Blue Room in Easthampton, and the company has recently announced a partnership with the Williston-Northampton School. In June, ETC’s first production in its new home will be the popular comedy, “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” As ETC’s President, Michael Budnick, commented, “the themes of egotistical fame and cult of celebrity are absolutely timeless and particularly relevant now.”

The mission statement of Easthampton Theater Company is to be “a production group created by Easthampton and nearby residents to bring quality theater productions and related cultural/educational programming to the city. Its founding board and members are dedicated to growing ETC as a premier theatrical venue and destination for the Valley.”

Milo/Cat Bezark
Jeannine Haas and Hia Ghosh in “To Serve the Hive,” which was produced by Theater Between Addresses (TBA) in the intimate Pine Box Theater in the Arts and Industry building in Florence.

The board members of ETC have strategically planned to offer a variety of programming to audiences, and Budnick said, “We like plays that are thought-provoking, might push some boundaries, reflect the diversity of the Valley — and these play very well in our progressive community. However, we also like to have fun. One of our board members and recent ‘Torch Song’ Director Jason Rose-Langston is fond of saying ‘that is why they call it a play!’”

As part of ETC’s mission, it will deliver a Summer Youth Program at the Williston-Northampton School to be directed by Eva Husson-Stockhamer, an experienced educator of performance and dance, that will also admit underserved kids through a program of grants and donations.

The newest company on the block is Valley Players, a company with the mission of producing “high-quality community theater and related arts, education, and cultural programming” throughout the Connecticut River Valley. According to President Matteo Pangallo, the company will have no set home, but instead, “we will work to identify suitable potential venues in the Valley that align with the needs of the production, its budget and its schedule.”

In an email exchange with Pangallo, he clarified that at this stage, Valley Players is going to be considering proposals for productions from members of the theater community in the area, and the hope is to strengthen connections with other members of the theater community in the area and “encourage production proposals that embrace and support a diverse and inclusive range of theatrical styles, genres, forms, periods, and modes.” This does mean however, that in the short-term, the company will not be engaging with musicals or childrens’ theater because those types of theater are currently served by other companies.

Michael Budnick and Manny Morales
Cast and Crew of “Torch Song,” produced by Easthampton Theater Company.

As an introduction to the community, Valley Players will host “Sceneathon 2024” at Bistro 63 in Amherst on Sunday, April 28, noon to 3 p.m. All proceeds will go toward raising money to support programming. A gourmet appetizer buffet and drinks will be available from noon to 1 p.m., and entertainment will be provided by actors and theater companies from the area from 1 to 3 p.m. To learn more about Valley Players and “Sceneathon,” and to sign up for more information, check

So, as you can see, theater matters to people of all ages and interests. This summer might just be a banner year for finding the right production that makes you think, feel, and connect with others in the format of live theater, for all.