Artistic Director Julianne Boyd’s 28-year tenure with Barrington Stage Company, the Massachusetts theatre she co-founded, has come to a close, with former Shakespeare Theatre Company associate artistic director Alan Paul set to succeed her in the position—the theatre closes their final offering of the season, the world premiere of Laura Winters’ All of Me, October 9.
Boyd founded Barrington Stage already somewhat of a New York theatrical legend, having conceived and directed Eubie! on Broadway in 1978 and Off-Broadway’s iconic A… My Name is Alice, among many other groundbreaking productions. But it was a drive to get more hands-on with her art that led Boyd to the world of non-profit regional theatre. Over her time with Barrington, Boyd grew the company from performing in school auditoriums and cafeterias during the summer months to being a full-fledged regional theatre with programming over the summer and beyond in their very own state-of-the-art theatre in downtown Pittsfield, now attended by a dramatically larger audience curated and developed by Boyd’s on-the-ground work with the community around her.
Under her guidance, the theatre developed such works as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a revival of On the Town, American Son, and Mr. Saturday Night, all of which transferred to Broadway; and The Chinese Lady and Engagements, which played Off-Broadway runs after their time at Barrington.
We recently got to chat with Boyd by phone as she was preparing to end her nearly three-decades with Barrington, about her time with the company and what’s next.
Tell us about your original vision for the Barrington Stage Company.
Julianne Boyd: I think expanding the arts—not only more months, but to the youth as well, to try to find ways to get youth into the theatre—has been a calling of ours for a long time.
Twenty-eight years ago, I had been at the Berkshire Theater Festival for two years, and the thing that I noticed is at that time, the theatre in the Berkshires was all just summer theatre. I thought that was really important to not just do what I call summer stock. I wanted to do a regional theatre in the summer that went into the later seasons, the spring and the fall. The very first year, we did Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and it was so successful that we ran it in the fall and it sold out again. That’s when I knew that this is such an arts-loving community. Offering theatre outside of the summer season became my first raison d'être.
And then we got involved in education programs. We realized how important it was to work with the youth in Berkshire county who didn’t have the wherewithal or the knowledge of theatre or of the arts at all. Arts was not a primary subject in schools. There were a lot of youth who really were kind of lost. As we started developing these year-round programs, we realized that our theatre feeds into our education programs and vice versa. We do a show now and usually we bring about 2,000 kids in to see them. I never did that when I was at Berkshire Theatre Group, because it was just for the summer season.
You've been involved with some pretty iconic commercial productions on and Off-Broadway. What made you want to make the switch to non-profit regional theatre?
Boyd: In New York commercial theatre, I never got to know the audience. It was more impersonal. The show that made me realize this was a show I did at Manhattan Theatre Club years ago. It was called Tea, by Velina Hasu Houston, and it was about Japanese war brides. When we did it at this small 170-seat Off-Broadway theatre at City Center, it was great. People would come up there gobsmacked by the show and about that feeling of being misplaced—I got to talk to a few. But then we did it at The Old Globe, and the audiences weren’t rushing to their car to save on the $25-an-hour parking. They wanted to stay and they wanted to talk. I loved getting to know the audience, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want.’ It made me realize the importance of community in theatre, so then I started working in regional theatre—and I loved it!
What have been the biggest challenges of your tenure?
Boyd: When we started, we were performing in a school auditorium, and that was a really big challenge for 11 years. We brought in 150–200 lighting instruments. We brought in a soundboard. We had to bring in everything and make a theatre—every single year. By our third or fourth year, we'd started Stage 2 and took over a cafeteria in the school and made that into a theatre. That’s where we started [The 25th Annual Putnam County] Spelling Bee, in a cateteria, which was appropriate. So that was the challenge in the early years, taking over the space in the third week of June and building a whole theatre.
The challenge now is getting a younger, more diverse audience. Every single theatre I know is facing that. Older audiences keep getting older and then they won’t be here. How do we replace that? Those people who are used to going to theatre with a younger audience who aren’t used to it, who are into Instagram and everything else that takes a nanosecond in video. That’s a challenge we’re all facing right now.
What makes you most proud of your tenure?
Boyd: It’s got to be the shows. I couldn’t believe when we did The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It took off. I remember Bill Finn before the first preview said, ‘Oh my God. I don’t know if this is good. I’m nervous.’ I said, ‘No, Bill. It’s great. Just wait.’ And at the end of the first preview, we knew we had a hit—we just knew. Those are the kind of moments you can’t replace, where you have something special. On the Town was the same way.
Boyd: I’m going to do a lot of traveling. My husband and I, and even with our kids, when they were small, we travelled a lot. We used to go to Japan all the time. We’d lived there for a summer and then we’d go back every couple of years. And it’s been far too many years, not only because of COVID, but because I wouldn’t have the time. So I want to travel while I can. I want to keep on opening my mind up to new cultures.
I’d also like to just spend some time going to theatres in other cities. I haven’t been to Chicago theatre in 20 years. I haven’t been to Minneapolis. I haven’t been to The Old Globe in a long time. I just want to experience theatre in this country.
How'd you come to choose A Little Night Music as your final production directing as artistic director?
Boyd: I've done a lot of Sondheim. I did Night Music many years ago, in 1998, and I've always loved it. It's a perfect show for the summer. It's like a romantic comedy of errors. It's funny, but it's so witty, and I love the emotions. There's so many misplaced emotions in the play. Everybody thinks they want "A," but they really want "B" and they don’t know what they want. It's kind of Shakespearean when you think about it. I just love every single part of it.
A lot of Night Music is about remembering and rekindling the past. Did that resonate with you as you finish your time with Barrington?
Boyd: Absolutely. This time around, I'm really thinking about the Quintet [of Liebeslieder singers who interject the action with commentary songs throughout the show] as the storytellers who are creating this along with Madame Armfeldt, who's telling the story to her granddaughter to pass it on to the next generation. That wasn't as meaningful to me in 1998 as it is now. Being an artistic director, it resonates with me—passing on your life, passing on your philosophy.
What are you passing on to your successor, Alan Paul?
Boyd: I said to him, ‘Get to know the staff. Get to know our audience. Get to know the community.’ We have a really close relationship with all of them. Our audiences are really faithful and loyal and the community is really behind us. If you don’t have the relationship with your community, how do you give them what they want, and how do you expand what they want?