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State Reps. Gailanne Cariddi and William Pignatelli met with local arts leaders Monday morning to discuss challenges casinos will bring to smaller venues.

Pignatelli: Casinos Threaten Smaller Arts Venues

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Greg Liakos of the Massachusetts Cultural Council has proposed four admendments intended to support nonprofit and small businesses in the face of casinos.
LENOX, Mass. — The county's Beacon Hill representatives are looking for ways to protect local cultural venues against the likely onslaught of casino gambling.

State Rep.  William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, met with proprietors of smaller and nonprofit performance venues Monday morning to discuss the "grave" threat casinos will bring.

"We're going to make a bad bill better. But it'll still stink," Pignatelli told them. "I think it is a sad day when we have to turn to gambling to pay our bills."

Pignatelli, a member of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, scheduled the roundtable at Town Hall with state officials. He was joined by fellow committee member Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and a representative from committee Vice Chairman Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield.

Casinos have been the subject of debate for about a decade and bills allowing them in the state have come to the edge of being signed into law. This year, the executive branch is pushing another bill that is expected to be debated by the legislative bodies in September.

While a casino is not proposed in Berkshire County,  the business model threatens smaller venues' abilities to bring in acts.

According to Greg Liakos, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a casino's business model is based on providing entertainment at very low costs because it generates gambling income. Often, the contracts between the casino and the acts include clauses that prevent the acts from playing other venues in a 100-mile radius of the casino.

"It's a supply-side problem. It's getting those artists," Liakos said. "Our concerns are real, are unique and to be addressed is in the interest of the taxpayers."

For example, about five years ago, the 2,600-seat CityStage in Springfield sold out two Jerry Seinfeld shows and with other events going on in town, the city was booming with energy. Since then General Manager Tina D'Agostino has tried to book Seinfeld eight times but was blocked every time because of shows at Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.

Recently, CityStage booked "Lord of the Dance" but Mohegan Sun booked it the next day. Because the casino has an additional source of income, it was able to sell the tickets for $40 cheaper and D'Agostino's sales plummeted.

"It's frustrating. It hurts our ability to book," D'Agostino said. "We really do need to protect ourselves."

Troy Siebels, executive director of the Hanover Theatre in Worcester, said casinos could put his venue out of business.

"We already feel the impact from the Connecticut casinos," Siebels said. "Our goal is to get as many mitigating things in the bill as possible."

Tina D'Agostino has already seen the effects casinos have on smaller venues while running City Stage and Symphony Hall in Springfield.
As for the Berkshires, Pignatelli pointed to the Colonial Theatre and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The Colonial sold out two shows in June for Ron White and those type of shows are threatened, Pignatelli said.

"It probably won't be in the Berkshires but it will have an economic impact," Pignatelli said. "When the Mahaiwe is boarded up, we're going to care."

The closest proposed casino is eyed for Palmer, Springfield or Holyoke. The casino bill should include provisions to prevent sinking all other venues and the business community will need to express these concerns to Gov. Deval Patrick, Pignatelli said.

Liakos shared some draft amendments to the bill that include a moratorium on building performance arts venues in casinos, prohibit theaters that hold between 500 and 5,000 people, require licenses to address impacts on smaller venues and dedication of a portion of the tax revenues to smaller venues that can prove hardship from the casinos.

Ideas of regulating the 100-mile clauses or the ticket prices were brought up but quickly rejected by Liakos and Pignatelli because of doubts they could stand up to a legal challenge.

Staurt Chase, CEO of 1Berkshire, added that the impacts will run deeper than just performance arts venues. Restaurants, hotels and art galleries will all be affected while the county loses part of its draw, he said.

"It's bigger than just performing arts," Chase said.

Tags: casinos,   economy,   

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Shakespeare & Company Names Interim Director of Center For Actor Training

LENOX, Mass. — Shakespeare & Company recently appointed Susan Dibble as interim director for the company's Center for Actor Training.

Dibble, a founding member of Shakespeare & Company, is an educator and artist. Her movement work was seen on stage this past season in "Twelfth Night" and for the past four decades she has been faculty member for the training program, teaching at the Month Long Intensive, Summer Shakespeare Intensive (formerly the Summer Training Institute), and various workshops.
"We're truly thrilled to welcome Susan Dibble on board as interim director of training," said Artistic Director Allyn Burrows. "Susan has a keen eye on all that is exciting about the training program and the company's work: a vigilance toward the specificity of language and honesty in acting, a generosity of spirit, and a clarity of purpose on stage. She brings a depth of knowledge from within and a breadth of experience from elsewhere that will enrich the training on a personal and a professional level for all participants going forward."

Dibble is a choreographer, dancer and teacher. She graduated from SUNY College at Purchase with a B.F.A. in Dance in 1976. For the past 39 years, she has worked at Shakespeare & Company as a master teacher of movement and dance for actors, movement director and choreographer, at the same time teaching at a variety of universities including the NYU Tisch MFA in Acting Program. She joined the faculty of the Theater Arts Department at Brandeis University, where she is a full professor and teaches Movement for Actors, Modern Dance, Choreography, Clown, Mask, Period Styles, and Historical Dance. She has been on the faculty at Brandeis for 31 years and served as Theater Arts Department chair for eight years. Dibble received the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Festival of Creative Arts Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Arts at Brandeis.

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