Keynote speaker Julianne Boyd, left, artistic director and co-founder of Barrington Stage Company, and emcee and 'Connecting Point' host Carrie Saldo at Women in Business luncheon.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The key to Julianne Boyd's success with the award-winning Barrington Stage Company sounds simple: Get people in the doors.
It's how she got people in the doors that's made the theater company not only a magnet for up-and-coming playwrights and seasoned actors but an integral part of the Berkshire community.
"The idea of bringing in the youth, with the parents, is a really strong idea that's really stayed with us all 18 years," said stage company's artistic director and co-founder. "It's really important to get families together and make it a family event."
Her efforts in developing youth programs and a year-round theater presence with Barrington Stage Company, now entering its 19th year, were recognized on Wednesday at the annual Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Luncheon at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.
The chamber's director of programs and events, Christine Hoyt, joked the chamber staff — mostly women — had "taken over" the event from chamber President Michael Supranowicz but he'd be back next week for the chamber's annual meeting.
Gwen Davis, vice president of commercial lending at TD Bank, the luncheon's gold sponsor, spoke to her bank's commitment to diversity and noted "half our TD store managers, half our Berkshires commercial lending team and more than half our wealth management team consists of women and women are found in every level at TD."
Emcee Carrie Saldo, a print, radio and television journalist now with WGBY's "Connecting Point," said she was struck by tidbit about Dr. Ruth Westheimer when doing a story about Barrington Stage's very successful production of "Dr. Ruth, All the Way," starring Debra Jo Rupp.
The diminutive sex therapist was a collector of turtle objects, and had them scattered about her apartment.
"Here was this amazing woman who spent her career sticking her neck out," she said in introducing Boyd to a who's who of community, arts and business leaders around the county.
"Julie consistently sticks her neck out for the arts and for this community, and makes it a vibrant and beautiful place to live."
Boyd said she did seem to do that — putting it down to growing up in a tight-knit family in Easton, Pa., with three older brothers. "If you wanted to be heard you needed to talk and stick your neck out," she laughed.
She married her college sweetheart and moved to New York City before finding her way to the Berkshires in the early 1990s.
Barrington Stage was established in 1995 by Boyd and Susan Sperber after Boyd's two-year stint as artistic director at Berkshire Theatre Festival. Their goal was to create a sustainable year-round theater company with deep roots in the community.
"We wanted to have a relationship with the residents of Berkshire County," explained Boyd. Their understanding was that "if we're really going to make an impact on the community, especially the youth, we need to be around for longer than that amount of time."
The stage company looked high and low for a production venue — not finding one in Great Barrington despite the presumptive name. Instead, they found themselves at Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield with the full support of then Superintendent Thomas Consolati, whom Boyd called a mentor in helping understand students.
Gwen Davis of TD Bank was applauded when she spoke of the number of women in the financial services group.
Consolati saw the company as a way for the school to turn its 500-seat theater into a true community center — and give students an opportunity beyond academics. In addition to youth programs, children were admitted free and those 14 through college at half-price to production. (The Mount Everett auditorium is now the Consolati Performing Arts Center.)
But with more than a third of its audience deriving from the "Pittsfield corridor" of Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, Lanesborough, Dalton, the company in 2005 purchased and perservered through the yearlong renovations of its current home on Union Street in Pittsfield. It more recently purchased the Veterans of Foreign Wars post as its "Second Stage."
"We knew the community was behind us," said Boyd, noting the City Council had authorized $500,000 toward the project from the GE Economic Development Fund. "It's really important when you move somewhere to know there are poeple who want you there. We always felt that way about Pittsfield."
The company has continued its educational efforts with the 11-year-old Playwright Mentoring Program, Youth Theatre and KidsAct theater camp. Coming up is an ambitious project to create a Berkshires version of the poetic "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" using professional actors, local playwrights and the stories of local girls. "We have to empower the youth," said Boyd.
She also reminded the crowd that the company may be an arts nonprofit but it employs a work force of 13 to 14 full time that burgeons during the main theater season of May through October, bringing in actors and others who spend money in and around the city. With more than 50,000 patrons a year, it's also an important part of the tourist industry.
"We're really a business ...," Boyd said. "It costs us money to work and we bring in money and because of what we do, we hope the kind of product we create, people will spend money in Pittsfield as well."
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