Theater group looks to start Center for Arts and Ecology in Charlemont barn

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-01-2023 12:06 PM

CHARLEMONT — Jonathan Mirin and Godeliève Richard, artistic directors of Piti Theatre Co., have been taunted by the barn across from their house for years.

“It’s hard to run a theater company and live across the street from a barn and not want to make it into a theater,” Mirin explained.

That exasperating feeling is now behind them, though, as the theater company is starting a capital campaign to buy and renovate the barn at 225 Avery Brook Road with plans to turn it into a Center for Arts and Ecology.

Mirin and Richard hope to raise $250,000 by June 2024 through a two-phase capital campaign. Phase 1 entails purchasing the barn and 17 acres of land, while Phase 2 involves renovating the building and grounds. The two hope to purchase the barn and begin holding performances there by this fall while continuing to raise money for renovations.

“We have done annual fundraising for many years, but nothing at this scale,” Mirin continued.

One pony currently lives in the barn, with the owners of the property, Wendell Rheinheimer and Shana Totino, living in the vicinity as well. The owners will continue to live on the property but will sell the barn to the theater company.

Piti Theatre Co., which tours locally and internationally, produces children’s plays about historical and environmental issues. Mirin and Richard also oversee children and teen podcasting, improvisation and theater programs.

Since the company never had a permanent space to host shows, Mirin and Richard have relied on touring since Piti Theatre was founded 2004. They hope that by having a devoted location for their performances, they will have a greater opportunity to give back to the hilltowns and western Franklin County.

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“Having our own space to develop over time is a great luxury that we may have the chance to do now,” Mirin said.

On the website for the capital campaign, organizers wrote that the Center for Arts and Ecology “will be an environmental education hub where people of all ages can connect and reconnect with the natural world. In this place of meeting points and crossroads, of synergy between art and action, scientists and children, policy-makers and parents will come to nourish their vision for a livable, thriving planet and get professional support for communicating that vision with the world.”

“Having this new local [Center for Arts and Ecology] will make it possible to reach more people to teach them about ecology through theater,” commented Susan Pelis, a second-grade teacher at Sheffield Elementary School in Turners Falls whose students have performed in the theater company’s plays.

The remodeling work that needs to be done includes strengthening the floor, building a wheelchair-accessible ramp, adding lighting and digging a well. Piti Theatre Co. plans to show its first productions with minimal renovations, at which time bottled water will be distributed to guests and portable toilets will be on site to use. The idea is to use the space only each spring through fall, rather than need to install insulation and heaters to make the space usable in winter.

“I look forward to having a big space to rehearse and choreograph,” Richard said. “I hope that it will help our society to find solutions for a happy and healthy future.”

The company has already received the necessary approval from the Planning Board and is working to get permission from the Board of Health for the portable toilets. In the long-term, Mirin and Richard want to install composting toilets and dig a well, which will require approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The company is also offering a survey through which people can provide their ideas about what the space could be used for. Along with programs Piti Theatre Co. already produces, it may add hiking trails, a cafe, open mic sessions, talent shows and more.

“There is a lot of room for community input at this point,” Mirin said.

For more information, to donate to the capital campaign or to take their survey, visit ptco.org/center.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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