The performing arts and assorted attractions will be marching 10 by 10 up and down Pittsfield’s North Street, with plays, poets, burlesque performers and more filling up the busy agenda of the Berkshires’ latest cultural festival.
The newly minted 10X10 On North festival opens Thursday, Feb. 16, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 26, at upwards of a dozen different venues spread mostly along Pittsfield’s main drag.
Kicking off on Presidents Day weekend, this wide-ranging series of events is thought to be the first cultural happening of its kind and of this extent to be attempted in Pittsfield during the winter months.
"I think that winters are long in New England, and even when they’re mild, by about February you get a little worn out by it and you start getting a little cabin fever. There isn’t really any organized arts festival anywhere in the Berkshires in this time, so we thought it would be really fun to create something new that would both entertain our residents and also attract visitors," said Megan Whilden, Pittsfield’s director of cultural development.
Expanding beyond the Pittsfield base, Whilden teamed with Jonathan Secor of Gallery 51 in North Adams and gallerist Lauren Clark of Housatonic to curate "Ten Spot," a show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts featuring visual work from 10 contemporary artists culled from southern, central and northern Berkshire County.
Although there had been some talk of a winter arts festival in downtown Pittsfield in recent years, the impetus to make it happen this year came after Barrington Stage Company started discussing its plans to host a program of 10 new 10-minute plays. (The 10X10 On North New Play Festival will be performed at Barrington Stage’s Stage 2 on Linden Street on Thursday through Sunday on each of the festival’s two weekends.) From there, the idea came to have 10 different singer/songwriters at Mission Bar & Tapas, 10 different poets at Y Bar, and so on.Despite the organizing theme of grouping things in 10s, much like Spinal Tap’s amplifiers, this festival goes to 11 -- with nightly performances across 11 days.
As for Barrington Stage’s new play festival, contributing writers include Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Eno; Suzanne Bradbeer (author of "Full Bloom," previously produced at BSC); and Sara Cooper, who wrote BSC’s "The Memory Show." BSC’s Artistic Director Julie Boyd said the whole experience of pulling together the 10X10 On North festival demonstrated how much Pittsfield’s downtown scene has developed.
"I think each year the businesses and the organizations get closer and closer together. We’re learning really how to work together wonderfully. I think that as more businesses develop and start taking all those wonderful storefronts, there will be a more cohesive, neighborhood plan to keep things going year-round," Boyd said. "I didn’t think it would grow into such a big festival, but it’s been embraced by so many of the stores. And maybe because the weather’s been so great this year, it’s easier to imagine people coming out and participating in it."
Other highlights include a Berkshire International Film Festival-organized program of 10 short films at the Beacon Cinema shot entirely on mobile phones, featuring six films created by Berkshire filmmakers expressly for the festival and another four prize-winners and notable entries from the iPhone Film Festival; another gallery show, 10X10X25, displaying work from 10 Berkshire artists at Gallery 25 on Union Street; a program of 10-minute tangos presented by Tango Pulse at Pittsfield Bra and Girl on Monday, Feb. 20; and a 10-minute burlesque show performed by Karen Lee and poet Marc Zegan at the Ferrin Gallery on Friday, Feb. 17, and Saturday, Feb. 18. Berkshire Actors’ Theatre, New Stage Performing Arts Center, Massive Graphics and Shawn’s Barber Shop are also hosting events or contributing original programming.
The lineup at Mission and Y Bar includes many musicians, poets and other writers familiar to Berkshire audiences such as Chris Merenda, Billy Keane, Glenn Geiger, Justin Allen, Gabriel Squailia, James Burden, Matt McFadden and Emily Pulfer-Terino.
Jim Benson, proprietor of both venues, will himself perform at Y Bar on Wednesday, Feb. 22. He said he’s long been a proponent of the idea that Pittsfield should be more aggressive in touting its virtues during the winter months.
"I had the idea a couple years ago that we, Pittsfield, needed to embrace winter, and that we should look at ourselves, and position ourselves, as a winter-wonderland, a ski town. We have a ski area five minutes from town, but we spend all winter hiding and complaining," he said. "So we pulled together our poets and writers, and artist friends and family, and jumped in with 10 fingers and 10 toes."
The inaugural 10X10 On North festival takes place at various locations in Pittsfield from Thursday, Feb. 16, to Sunday, Feb. 26. Some events are ticketed and others are free. For information and full details, visit
discoverpittsfield.com/10x10 or call 413-499-9348.