| Ryan Feyre
EASTHAMPTON — With the Easthampton arts and cultural scene on the rise, Michael Budnick believes there is no better time than now to promote live community theater in the area.
For the last several years, Budnick has been fully entrenched within the theater community as an actor, producer and performer – and has served on boards of various community theaters around the area, including Valley Light Opera, Exit Seven and Westfield Theater Group. But, as an Easthampton resident, Budnick felt a void needed to be filled.
“The area is really ripe to have live theater of its own,” said Budnick, a jack-of-all-trades artist and producer. “We have music venues now and a thriving art scene.”
Easthampton’s nascent buzz corroborates Budnick’s belief that excitement is brewing in the city, especially with the recent opening of the Marigold Theater and the seismic renovations of Old Town Hall for performances. For Budnick and others, there is no better time to revive a theater company in the city.
“There used to be community theater in Easthampton, and there isn’t now,” said Budnick. “So, what can be better than starting something close to home.”
A couple of years ago, Budnick began a Facebook group called the “Easthampton Theater Development Group” after many people showed interest in starting a community theater company in Easthampton.
“That group was a spark to get out there and see who would be interested in a community theater group and to also use the platform to promote community theater in the area,” said Budnick, who also specializes as a venerable marketeer. “I wanted to get the word out and say, ‘Hey, we’re really interested in doing something here in Easthampton, and we’re also interested in supporting what theater exists and what theater can come up in Easthampton.’”
The snowball effect is “Easthampton Theater Company,” a production group of nearby residents that aims to bring quality community and regional theater productions to the city.
“It’s all a rising tide,” said Budnick. “We want to be a community that produces live theater.”.
The growing optimism for community theater in Easthampton is already starting to manifest. The company is planning its first production from May 11 to 14 – a rendition of Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play “God of Carnage” will be produced by Budnick, with a director to be named later. The production will take place in the CitySpace Blue Room located in the Old Town Hall, an 80-seat “black box” venue that Budnick says is perfect for intimate theater performances.
The Blue Room – which now features a newly-installed stage, lighting, and sound production – is part of Old Town Hall’s growing presence in the community as a beacon for live performances. Eventually, the second floor will be fully renovated into a flexible, 350-seat performance arts and community space that aims to bring economic vitality to the area. The Easthampton Theater Company is currently utilizing this space for its revitalized community of thespians.
Budnick described “God of Carnage” as a dark comedy about what happens when upper-middle-class folks in Brooklyn gather to talk in a civilized manner until civility breaks down. Budnick said he chose the play because of its social relevance.
The production features four characters, all of which are currently cast from rehearsals. According to Budnick, Maggie McCally will play Annette, Thomas Piccin will play Alan, Matt O’Reilly will play Michael, and Gilana Chelimsky will play Veronica.
The “God of Carnage” production is just the beginning for the Easthampton Theater Company.
The company will also continue to grow, as Budnick said there is a growing hunger for theater in the area since the worst of COVID-19 passed. When asked how large the company is currently, Budnick said there is a bevy of people who have reached out through email and Facebook because of interest.
“Community theater is just that…community,” said Budnick “It’s as big as the number of people who are involved in the long term and the people who are involved in the current production.”
The company also hopes to find their own community space in Easthampton to house sets, rehearsals and classrooms for drama classes.
“It’s really tough to find rehearsal and set space,” said Budnick. “We rely on the generosity of community centers and churches who often donate their rooms for rehearsals.”
There have been some recent development projects in Easthampton that could house a community theater group, like the old Neil Pepin School. Budnick said he has been pushing the City Council to utilize that space for a community theater.
Tickets for “God of Carnage” are available on the Easthampton Theater Company website: https://easthamptontheater.com/. Performances are. May 11 to 13 at 7:30 p.m. and May 14 at 2 p.m..