Gonna connect the dots here. Susan and I LOVE Wicked Tuna - which is a National Geographic Channel reality show featuring the adventures of some very salty tuna fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Not guys who drag nets, but guys who catch 800 pound fish with a line and a spear. Every Sunday night at 9 pm.
Guys who go out every day, 7 days per week during tuna season, to earn enough money to carry them to next year. And each trip out of the harbor is an investment in time, payroll, fuel and equipment. They are in the hole unless they score a few giant fish at least. Fish that bring between $3,000 and $15,000 each, depending on size and quality. Just getting a fish on the line does not mean a payday. It seems AT LEAST half the fish they hook either pop the line, drop the hook, or end up being sharks. I know the show amplifies the personality conflicts between boat captains, but it makes for compelling television.
These guys are real. They have families. They swear. They drink beer. None of them has ever met an "R" in the middle of a word. They love what they do, although any unbiased observer might conclude the risk and reward are askew.
Now what does this have to do with Hampton Terrace - and more fundamentally - why Susan and I LOVE living in Massachusetts?
Because here in the Berkshires, our lives are populated with guys like this.
I cannot tell you how many times people ask if running an inn is like the old "Newhart Show" where "Dick Loudon" moves to Vermont to run an inn. The ever-expanding cast of odd characters was fodder for potentially decades of funny episodes. (Larry, Darryl and Darryl)
Susan and I have recently come to the realization that our lives are exactly like this. We have Bob the painter, Chris the landscaping guy, Wade the plumber, another Bob the heating guy, "Cajun Don" who does small carpentry jobs, another Chris who does larger jobs, chain-smoking Scott and his brother who do major construction for us, Antonia and Jose - our housekeepers since 2006, aided by their children, siblings and cousins as needed... Curt who delivers milk. And when I go to the local Ace hardware store: Rudy, Brian, Jenn, Collette, Kevin. At the corner gas station: Big Glenn and Little Glenn. At the local grocery: Earl, Leslie and Michael. And on and on.
Why do we appreciate these "salt of the earth" people so much? We have a mutual dependency for sure, but just like I know every one of the Wicked Tuna captains and crew would sacrifice everything for a fellow fisherman in need, I feel the same about the cast of characters who support Hampton Terrace. If the heat goes out in the middle of the night....we have it covered. Pool pump shorted? Solved.
I grew up in a place where it mattered whether you were white or black (in every possible scenario). You either grew up on the right side of Vineville Avenue or the wrong side. Where did you go to school? ...which church? ...which high school sorority or fraternity? ..old money or new money? ...which country club? ...which civic club?
And it is not like I was on the wrong side of the tracks there. My family has been in Macon since the 1840s, and we DID belong to the country club, etc. I just hated watching how people acted to those who did not meet their criteria for inclusion.
No such issues here. Although I know Lenox MUST have a well-hidden clique of some who might worry about such things, I have never been impacted by them. In 17 years...can't name one.
The wealthiest person in the Berkshires - Jane Fitzpatrick - drove a Ford Escort station wagon and literally never met a stranger.
So when I see Dave, Paul, Tyler, chain-smoking Dave, and the others on Wicked Tuna, I also see Bob, Wade, Chris, Antonia and Jose at Hampton Terrace. Hard-working, family-oriented locals who are loyal to us, and completely without pretense. And we try to be loyal to them.
What will be their mood today? How did the Sox, Patriots, Bruins or Celtics do last night?
We never want to take for granted that one of America's great mansions is located across the street from Hampton Terrace.
Ventfort Hall is MUCH more than a restored historic home. A very aggressive schedule of tours, performances, special events, teas, parties, lectures, etc. keeps visitors flowing twelve months a year. It is the ONLY "Berkshire Cottage" that attempts to stay open through the winter.
Buit as a summer home in 1893 by Sarah Morgan (sister of J.P.) and her husband, George (cousin and business partner with J.P), Ventfort Hall has 28 rooms, which includes 15 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and 17 fireplaces. Sarah and J.P. each inherited large estates from their father, and Sarah spent most of hers on this home. As was the case with many of the great Berkshire estates, Ventfort Hall went through a half-century of alternate uses, including abandonment, until a local not-for-profit was created in 1994 to save the property. Over the subsequent years, millions have been raised and invested, primarily through the efforts of benefactor Tjasa Sprague, who can still be seen daily, overseeing projects in the mansion.
One of the interesting angles to note, is that Ventfort Hall is a work in progress. The deterioration was so severe in some areas, that quite a large investment had to be made in "things you do not see," such as the roof, exterior brickwork and foundations, code issues needed to allow occupancy, heating, remediation, etc. And utimately work has been finished on many of the grand interior spaces, such as the Grand Hall, staircase, dining room, parlors, studies and second floor bedrooms.
I am proud (Stan Rosen) to have been added to the Board in the early 2000s, and I was asked to Chair the first event held in Ventfort Hall in half a century. We had to wait until the Building Inspector approved an occupancy of 100, and we planned a party to reintroduce Ventfort Hall to the Lenox community.
We pretended we were George and Sarah Morgan, inviting our friends to see our new summer cottage in 1893. The entire evening was an authentic throwback, including the music played by the string quintet in the minstrel gallery, the food served both at the cocktail reception and at the seated dinner, the wines offered, the after-dinner entertainment and cigars... A wonderful evening, only surpassed by the "White Star Line Party" a year later. Another story, for sure.
Pardon the ramble down memory lane. Back to the present: Ventfort Hall is a MUST-SEE for those visiting the Berkshires and even worth a trip to the area - coupled with several nights at Hampton Terrace. As a matter of fact, mention you are visiting Hampon Terrace because of Ventfort Hall, and I am likely to offer you a discount.
We've often spoken of the embarrasment of riches that are The Berkshires. The Berkshire Theatre Group is a major spoke in the Berkshire wheel - a recent marriage of Berkshire Theatre Festival (established 1928) and the Colonial Theater (built in 1903).
BTF has been presenting Broadway level theater for 86 years, and has featured too many famous actors and actresses to name, in two historic buildings in Stockbridge. Add to this, the new opportunity to mount performances in the Gilded Age era Colonial - and you can see why so many people are excited when new seasons are announced. With the addition of the Colonial, Berkshire Theater Group can now program year-round.
But as demonstrated above, BTG does not stop with its own productions, hosting a variety of comedy, music, touring companies and the like to suit all tastes.
Tickets for all performances can be purchased at the Berkshire Theatre Group Website, or by calling
In this forum I have often mentioned the IS-183 annual costume "ball" as the best party of the year in the Berkshires. Start planning for the 2014 version: The Vermilion Cotillion on April 12th in Lenox.
This primary fundraiser for the area's not-for-profit art school, (children and adult art education) has grown into something whose reputation for insanity cannot be denied.
Susan and I were honored to be named last year's Chairs - and let me tell you how it works:
The party is full costume. Don't be intimidated because EVERYONE dresses up and no one feels overdressed or underdressed. A free, open bar halts anyone's concerns in that category. There are usually 400 to 500 people - and the party floats every year to a different, usually unconventional location. Last year's party was held in an undeveloped shopping center space. The year before that....an abandoned gym in the middle of nowhere. This year - a converted horse barn on one of the Berkshire great estates, Eastover.
The Berkshires are known for attracting "creative" types. Actors. Artists. Musicians. They LOVE this party and the planning committee involves literally many dozens of people. And THAT is why this party is SO crazy.
Last year, our original party theme started with the premise that there is a "Berkshire Energy Vortex" feeding local creativity. The "decorating committee" added the twist that such a vortex must somehow involve Flash Gordon-type 50s sci-fi props and costumes. And then others threw into the mish-mash an "Electric Swing" music theme - which is like Tommy Dorsey with a club beat. Picture a canvas where the paint brush is passed from person to person until there is no more room on the canvas. The IS-183 party.
THIS YEAR, the theme is Vermilion Cotillion, which means "RED." I cannot speculate beyond that for reasons listed above. The decorating committee meets weekly at this point and the team (which is drinking beer and eating pizza) goes whatever direction it wants until literally the final minute before the party. The location is Eastover, one of the original great estates in Lenox. The century-old horse barn, called "Tally Ho" has been hosting parties for many decades, but I dare say it won't see one like this again. The "dance party" portion (which includes open bar and a silent auction) begins at 8 pm and is only $50/person. This makes this fundraiser more "inclusive" than otherwise. But most patrons of the art school will start at 6 pm at $175/person, which includes a full, hosted dinner. Last year, the dinner was held at the location of the dance. This year, the dinners will be hosted by restaurants and private individuals all over the Berkshires.
We TOTALLY endorse this event as a "must do" if you want to get a real sense of the Berkshires. Fun and unpretentious people. A great cause. For information, CLICK ON the IS-183 website, or call 413-298-5252, Ext. 100.
Located about one block from Hampton Terrace, Shakespeare & Company presents its 2014 Summer Season - celebrating the 450th birthday of The Bard.
Tickets are now on sale through their website, and special packages are also available for those who make it a goal to see as many of the summer's offerings as possible. We have plenty of guests who try to do that, but no one is more committed than Judy Newman, who has stayed here 56 nights since 2007. Originally referred by the Shakespeare & Company box office, Judy waits until the S&Co. schedule is announced, and then locks in at least three visits per summer. Judy has been here so many times, we don't even check her in. She goes right to her room and we see her at breakfast.
Although Judy tends to come on weekends, most of our Shakepeare and Company guests like to come midweek, when they can save up to $70/night at Hampton Terrace, compared to the weekend rates. We also do not have a midweek minimum, which helps those who cannot stay three nights on the weekends. This is also true for our guests who are interested in Jacob's Pillow, Williamstown Theater Festival, Berkshire Theater Festival and Barrington Stage Company.
But don't think you are limited to Shakespeare at S&Co. This talented group of actors can do anything - and they also tackle mysteries, romances, comedies - virtually no limit to their range. And they have been known to relocate Shakespeare's most iconic works to a different time and space. After all, where did West Side Story come from?
And here at Hampton Terrace, we are very proud to have hosted many of Shakespeare & Company's most beloved actors: John Douglas Thompson, Malcolm Ingram, Johnny Lee Davenport, Olympia Dukakis, and more.
Additionally, Hampton Terrace has twice hosted actors and the production team for "Broadway in the Berkshires," a bi-annual fundraiser for the Shakespeare and Company educational activities. And we have also twice hosted the after-party, which in 2013 featured an impromptu sing-a-long with Academy Award-winning composer, Alan Menken.
Founded by Tina Packer more than 30 years ago, Shakespeare & Company has reached iconic status in Lenox, home of the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. How proud we are to have such an important attraction literally walking distance from our inn.
Shakespeare & Company programs all year round, but concentrates its most expansive productions during the June through October "season." During this period, at least four different productions are rotating simultaneously. And then the entire calendar changes over several more times.
From November through Spring, the company presents other interesting shows - usually not Shakespeare. They are committed to helping the Berkshires build and sustain a twelve-month tourist season.
Lisa G. found us through a Living Social coupon a couple of years ago. Since then, she has been back twice with her husband and twice with her mother. Proof enough that she likes it here.
But last week, Lisa resigned from a high profile and high stress job in Connecticut, and she called over this past weekend to see if she could stay at Hampton Terrace for three nights this week. With her husband's blessing, she is enjoying some quiet time before tackling life's next challenge.
This morning at breakfast, Lisa was explaining to me why she considers Hampton Terrace such a respite. Firstly, she likes how she can park her car in our front driveway and leave it. A good thing, since last night it was buried under a foot of snow.... She walked a block to Nudel and had dinner at the kitchen counter, talking with Bjorn, the chef. Today, she said he plans to walk around town, maybe hike a little in Kennedy Park, and grab some lunch at Haven. Tonight, she says she will try Nudel again, since the menu will be different.
Secondly, she volunteered how comfortable she always feels here. She has been reading a book in front of the fireplace in the living room. She said she appreciated how much she feels at home, as opposed to how she would feel reading a book in a hotel lobby.
Finally, she remarked how good our housekeeping is. Convenient. Comfortable. Clean.
I should pay her for creating a new slogan for us.
Alan Menken and the stars of "Broadway In The Berkshires" weren't the only cherished Broadway guests to join us in 2013.
John Douglas Thompson is a frequent Hampton Terrace guest, a close friend, and a Broadway star. He made his Broadway debut as Flavius, opposite Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar in 2005, and later appeared as Le Bret in Cyrano de Bergerac, alongside Jennifer Garner and Kevin Kline in 2007.
In 2009, Thompson had a breakout year, playing the title roles in Othello at the Theatre for a New Audience, and The Emperor Jones at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Both performances garnered high critical acclaim, with the New York Times stating: "There may be no better classical actor working in the New York theater right now.”
He received an OBIE Award for his performance in Othello, along with a Lucille Lortel Award for the same performance. The New York Times lavished praise on him, calling him “one of the most compelling classical stage actors of his generation.”
He is currently playing the lead on Broadway in "A Time to Kill," starring alongside Tonya Pinkins - you recognize her name from our previous blog post.
Occasionally someone will reference magic at Hampton Terrace. Fine. We like to hear that. BUT….no one will deny REAL magic – the Disney kind - occurred late one Monday evening, this summer, in our living room.
Magic takes special ingredients, and it is undeniable that there was something brewing in the cauldron that evening. Deborah Grausman, a local friend with a foot in Shakespeare & Company, and a foot squarely with the New York musical theater crowd, had just produced her second “Broadway in the Berkshires,” to benefit the education programs at Shakespeare & Company.
Many Broadway leads have taken advantage of the “intensives” at S&Co. Even beyond a professional connection – for many Broadway actors – the Berkshires are like comfort food. So when Deborah comes calling, those who can, respond.
The sold-out performance at the Tina Packer Playhouse consisted of one show-stopping musical number after another, hosted by John Douglas Thompson.
This could have been magic enough, but we were in for a historic surprise. The actors, sponsors, and major benefactors of the evening were invited to Hampton Terrace for an “after-party,” and this is where our story begins.
Alan Menken has won eight Academy Awards and 11 Grammies for his scores and original songs from iconic Disney musicals, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas, as well as Broadway shows, Little Shop of Horrors, and Newsies. His daughter, Nora, performed in Master Class this summer with Deborah, and she was part of the “Broadway in the Berkshires” line-up. Her parents drove up from New York to see her, and serendipitously stayed at Hampton Terrace.
I have to admit: I threw a few of the ingredients into the cauldron as well. When Alan checked in that afternoon, I gave him the typical tour and steered him close enough to the Steinway to see John Williams’ letter. He said, “Ooh…Johnny played this piano!” I responded, “And you will too.” I told him about the after-party and he agreed he would sit down for a song, but not to expect more. “Of course not, Alan…”
So fast forward to after 11 p.m., when there were easily more than a hundred guests in our living room, dining room and bar – sipping champagne and eating chocolates from Chocolate Springs. Terrific jazz pianist, David Grausman, was playing the Steinway, when Alan Menken finally responded to the nudging and sat down to play his “one song,” “Part of Your World,” from The Little Mermaid. Deborah Grausman took the lead (Touring Company, Fiddler on the Roof), along with Lauren Jelencovich (currently featured vocalist with Yanni, Grand Prize in Ed McMahon’s Star Search). Encouraged at that level of professionalism coming from beside the piano, Alan continued on…
He played a dozen songs or more, perhaps surprised that virtually every one in the room knew all the lyrics to every song. Several highlights jump out…
“Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors: This rendition went to a whole different level when Jonathan Rayson took the part of Seymour. Jonathan played Seymour on Broadway, and in the national touring company. Just as impressive, was when Kat West jumped up to be Audrey in this iconic duet. Kat was the stage manager for “Broadway in the Berkshires” and although her resume of backstage management is long, even her friends did not know she could sing like this.
“Somewhere That’s Green,” Little Shop of Horrors: Joining Alan on the piano bench is Tonya Pinkins – a very familiar face to many. Star of Broadway, films and daytime soaps, she has won about every award there is, including a Tony. Watch this clip the whole way through. How they end the song sums up the evening here at Hampton Terrace.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this Berkshires adventure...!
The world-class theatre companies that call the Berkshires home have their own way of making the holiday season special. Right here in Lenox, MA, through December 29, Shakespeare & Co is presenting a radio-play adaptation of an American cinema classic: It’s A onderful Life.
George Bailey’s Christmas Eve odyssey is a tale that defines the Christmas spirit for many people. This radio play presentation (scripted by Joe Landry) features five actors playing more than 50 roles, and creating oodles of handmade sound effects. A pre-show introduction to how those sound effects are created gives the audience an insider’s peek, as they follow protagonist George, and Clarence the angel, on the journey to show George just how much he matters to the people and the world around him.
Playwright Joe Landry got his start in the business early – his first job, at age 12, was in the film department of the Fairfield, CT library. His love of film and theatre grew from there, and his parents encouraged the habit, introducing him to more theatres and opportunities. His work has been widely produced, and It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, can be seen across the country this holiday season.
As always, we’re sure this Shakespeare & Co. production will be excellent. For more information and tickets, visit the Shakespeare & Co. website.
Can’t help but mention that Shakespeare & Co.’s home base is just a two minute drive, or a nine minute walk, to your cozy quarters at Hampton Terrace.
Photo via the Shakespeare & Co. website.
Norman Rockwell created what are widely known as the iconic images of America in the 20th century. Images of personal moments, small town places – images known as America to the world, but known to Berkshires residents as “home”. Norman Rockwell moved to Stockbridge, MA in 1953 with his wife Mary and three sons. The people and places of the Berkshires became his subjects, and the rest – well, the rest is history.
That history can be explored at the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge, MA. Rockwell himself established the trust that paved the way for the museum, so that subsequent generations of fans could enjoy the legacy he left behind, up close.
Currently the museum is featuring an exhibit called “Norman Rockwell: Home For The Holidays”. Until January 26, 2014, you can view Rockwell’s depictions of the holidays – greeting cards, advertisements, props he used to stage his subjects, and more.
When you visit the Norman Rockwell Museum, explore the town of Stockbridge itself. You can still see some of the places featured in several of Rockwell’s works – Stockbridge’s Main St, for example, is still there, made famous by his painting “Main Street At Christmas”. The 1862 firehouse on Elm St. in Stockbridge is another famous Rockwell destination, featured in his piece “The New American LaFrance is Here!”
Savor unique downtown shops and restaurants. Enjoy a stroll. A visit to the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce website can give you all the information that you need to fill out a day of discoveries.
Photo via the Norman Rockwell Museum website. "Home For Christmas" by Norman Rockwell, 1955.