A friend in Lenox has a tradition for her summer houseguests she calls Berkshire Boot Camp. Soon after visitors arrive, they embark at madcap speed on a 36-hour tour of the region’s artistic and cultural offerings. Her approach is emblematic of how seriously (or, perhaps, mock-seriously) Berkshire residents take the fine and performing arts. It’s also emblematic of just how many cultural opportunities there are during the too-short summer weekends. If you stop too much — or sleep too much — you are bound to miss some Tony-nominated actor or Pulitzer Prize-winning drama or musical extravaganza. Why miss out? Choose a themed boot camp from the list below and head west — if, that is, you think you can handle the pace.
Need to get your sitting and your clapping muscles toned up — or fine-tune your ear for witty repartee? Sign yourself up for this two-day theater arts tour, whose sample schedule (shows vary by date) begins on Saturday mornings at The Mount in Lenox (413-551-5111, edithwharton.org). Once the summer home of writer Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome), The Mount is now a museum with exquisite gardens and performance spaces.
In the outdoor Dell at The Mount, you will settle in for an 11 a.m. performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (July 11-August 19), brought to you by actors from nearby Shakespeare & Company. What fools these mortals be, especially when sitting in such a glorious setting.
After the show, you will be tempted to walk around the estate or tour the interior, which has been refurbished to look as it did during the Gilded Age. Boot campers are permitted to indulge (after all, some of Wharton’s work has been adapted to the stage, so you are sticking with your theme), but, beware, you don’t have long. You will need to hop in your car, drive about a mile into downtown Lenox for a quick lunch, and then backtrack to the main campus of Shakespeare & Company (413-637-3353, shakespeare.org).
Your boot camp continues here with a 3 p.m. performance of Intimate Apparel (July 20-August 13). This drama, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage, centers on the life of an African-American seamstress in 1905 New York City. After a short break to stroll the grounds and possibly head back downtown for a quick dinner (it’s less than a mile walk), you’ll have your second Bard experience with a 7:30 showing of Cymbeline (July 4-August 6), set in ancient Britain and directed by company founder Tina Packer.
Sitting muscles now exhausted, you may stagger your way into one of the B & Bs in nearby Lenox for some pleasant midsummer dreams of your own. But don’t plan on sleeping in: The next day, you are heading north on Route 7 to Williamstown, near the Vermont border.
Between June 27 and August 20, this bucolic college town is home to the Williamstown Theatre Festival (413-458-3253, wtfestival.org). Its acronym, when on a T-shirt, makes for an interesting conversation starter. This lively series of plays by new and established playwrights has a star-studded history (Christopher Reeve, Olympia Dukakis, and Blythe Danner are all alumni).
Depending on the date, you might catch The Clean House, the 2005 Pulitzer-nominated play by Sarah Ruhl starring Jessica Hecht, or a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters called Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow. After a matinee at the WTF, head back to Boston via the Mohawk Trail, a.k.a. Route 2, which passes through Williamstown. It’s slower than the Mass. Pike but prettier, and you might need the time to digest all the drama you’ve seen.
Start your day in Stockbridge with breakfast at the Main Street Cafe (413-298-3060). While you are enjoying your waffles or omelet, know that you are (sort of) inside a painting by Norman Rockwell; the artist spent the last 25 years of his life in Stockbridge, and his portrayal of Main Street has become an iconic image of American small-town life. After breakfast, take a short, scenic drive up Route 183 to see the canvas version at the Norman Rockwell Museum (413-298-4100, nrm.org), the world’s largest collection of his work. Marvel at the detail in Rockwell’s original paintings as well as the room devoted to his covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Spend some time walking the scenic grounds, enjoying the outdoor sculptures and touring Rockwell’s studio.
After you have had your fill, get ready for an hour’s drive to Williamstown. While the shortest way is straight up Route 7, a prettier path is to take Route 183 to Route 102, which goes through the lovely town of West Stockbridge. Cross the New York border and wend your way north on New York State Route 22, then cross back into Massachusetts and toward Williamstown on Route 43 to your destination: Williamstown’s Clark Art Institute (413-458-2303, clarkart.edu). A vast, modern building set on lush lawns near the main campus of Williams College, the Clark features work from the Renaissance to the early 20th century, with a focus on French Impressionism and the work of American artists Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent. This summer, you will want to spend some time with an exhibition on Pablo Picasso running from June 4-August 27. You will also want to enjoy a few moments outside at the Clark’s lovely three-tiered reflecting pool, where hungry boot campers can get something to eat at the nearby Cafe 7 or the seasonal Stone Hill Cafe (open starting July 1).
Then it’s back to your car for the 10-minute drive into North Adams. Settle in for the evening at Porches Inn (413-664-0400, porches.com) — a 47-room boutique hotel created from a block of 19th-century row houses — and get up early to spend Sunday across the street at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (413-662-2111, massmoca.org), where doors open at 10 a.m. The vast galleries and performance spaces focus on large pieces by well-known and emerging artists, many of whom work on-site through residencies. Fifteen new installations will open on May 28.
PICNIC OF CHAMPIONS
So you like the arts, but only in venues that let you consume food and a modicum of adult beverages along with your culture? Then sign yourself up for picnic boot camp. The fun begins at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Jacob’s Pillow (413-243-0745, jacobspillow.org) in Becket with a free outdoor performance series called Inside/Out. Bring a seat cushion and arrive early to claim a spot in a magical wooded grove that surrounds an outdoor stage. Pass around some sandwiches, settle onto a spartan wooden bench (you’ll be glad for that seat cushion), and look up to see works by emerging and established dance companies or presentations by dancers from the The School at Jacob’s Pillow.
Take a good look at the spectacular mountain vista behind the stage, because you aren’t here long. Inside/Out lasts about 45 minutes, then you have to high-tail it (in a responsible way, of course) down twisty Route 20 in time to enjoy a dessert picnic and the Saturday 8 p.m. performance on Tanglewood’s lawn in Lenox. Summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, the spectacular outdoor venue also showcases popular artists. Highlights of 2017 include two shows by James Taylor, July 3 and 4; BSO music director Andris Nelsons conducting Wagner’s Das Rheingold (July 15); and the Festival of Contemporary Music (August 10-15).
Although my Lenox friend who cooked up Berkshire Boot Camp does the Jacob’s Pillow-to-Tanglewood route in a single evening, the less (or do I mean more?) ambitious may turn these venues into a two-day experience. See an indoor performance at Jacob’s Pillow on Saturday night after Inside/Out — and then have a picnic lunch at Tanglewood the next day before a Sunday afternoon concert.
Parents with little kids: Think the score of Moana is the closest you can get to high culture for the next dozen years? Think again. This boot camp for kids and their parents begins at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket in the early hours of Friday evenings. Get there around 5 p.m. and buy a picnic at the cafe while your kids run around on the lawn. Then claim a spot in the wooded grove, ideally one near the sides, so kids who find modern dance less than thrilling can play on climbing rocks while their parents watch the free outdoor performance (Wednesday through Saturday evenings in the summer). After the show, make the 30-minute drive into Great Barrington and spend the night at one of many kid-friendly hotels along Route 7. One option is Fairfield Inn & Suites (413-644-3200, marriott.com). In the morning, early risers can hit its indoor pool or the hot tub, then drive a mile into Great Barrington’s quaint downtown for a family-friendly concert called “Tanglewood for Tots.” Every Saturday at 10 a.m. in July and August, local musician David Grover performs folk classics and his own compositions on the lawn behind Town Hall, and he always finds time for any willing kid to sing a solo. Yes, this process takes awhile. And, yes, you will tear up when it’s your child’s turn. But it’s a sweet tradition, so brush up on the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” and head on over.
On key or off, you can reward the kids afterward with a trip to the dangerously magical Robin’s Candy (413-528-8477, robinscandy.com). It’s a candy store — and it’s a feast for the eyes. Be warned, though: Your wallet might be a good bit lighter when you leave, but you will be able to say you have seen a full-size pizza made of candy.
In the afternoon, those with older children can stretch their legs with a short, scenic hike up Monument Mountain, just north of the hotels on Route 7. As you make the moderate 1.5-mile ascent and enjoy the rewarding views, tell the kids all about authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, who first met here on a hiking party organized by mutual friends in 1850.
Sunday morning, it’s back to boot camp, so pack up the car and follow bucolic Route 183 to Tanglewood, just over the Stockbridge line in Lenox. Most Sundays before the 2:30 p.m. concert, the venue offers a program called Kids’ Corner, an arts-and-crafts project with a musical theme. Starting this summer, Tanglewood is also offering musical demonstrations, sing-alongs, and games for kids and families. After they’ve have had their fun, find a spot on the lawn toward the back and soak in both the music and the views over Stockbridge Bowl. Youths 17 and under can hear world-class music (free with a paying adult) while also playing Frisbee.
Who said boot camp had to be hard?
This story has been updated to clarify what type of performances take place during the Inside/Out series at Jacob’s Pillow.