Nearly twenty-five years ago, not-for-profit theatre company Barrington Stage Company was created in the bucolic Berkshire mountains of Western Massachussetts.
Now the fastest growing arts venue in Berkshire County, BSC was co-founded by Julianne Boyd “with a three-fold mission: to produce top-notch, compelling work; to develop new plays and musicals; and to find fresh, bold ways of bringing new audiences into the theatre, especially young people.”
Each year, BSC attracts nearly 60,000 patrons to its Pittsfield venues. Some of the most revered work that made its debuts at BSC include the Tony Award winning The 25thAnnual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the acclaimed revival of On The Town that transferred to Broadway in 2014, and the timely play, American Son, now open on the Great White Way.
This week, BSC wraps up its twenty-fourth season with The Glass Menagerie, playing now through Sunday (October 21). Boyd – who serves double duty as BSC’s Artistic Director and director of The Glass Menagerie– reflected on this year’s offerings, teased what’s in store for next year’s milestone quadranscentennial anniversary, discussed her own creative process and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: Looking back at this past season, what were some of the biggest personal highlights for you?
JULIANNE BOYD: Productions of The Cake and The Chinese Lady, as well as our wildly popular production of West Side Story, choreographed by Robert LaFosse.
Which production(s) marked the boldest detour(s) from BSC’s typical offerings?
Probably The Chinese Lady– it was a new play by Lloyd Suh directed by Ralph Peña. It had a very specific aesthetic that was different from any other plays we’ve ever done. The subject matter – that of the first female Chinese immigrant to come to the US – intrigued our audiences.
You’re wrapping up the season with a new production of the classic The Glass Menagerie. Why is this the perfect play to conclude the season with?
It’s a great American classic that we perform not only for our usual Berkshires/New York/Boston audience, but also for 200 high school students. This play is a great way to introduce serious theater to young people.
How do you decide which productions you want to direct versus which ones you want to outsource other directors for?
If I have a strong gut reaction to a play, I seriously consider directing it. Then it has to fit into my schedule and allow me time to support the other productions in the season as well.
The Royal Family of Broadway was the first of three world premieres that debuted this season. When I interviewed Will Swenson about the production, he said that he was drawn to it because of the chance to work on something new. From both a curating and directing standpoint, do you prefer working on and presenting new works or revivals? Why or why not?
I love them both but am committed to finding the best new plays and musicals we possibly can. We must look forward in theater – and support writers working today and the ideas that feel they must write about. I love the sense of urgency that many writers have today. It’s tremendously exciting.
This year’s shows tackled lots of very topical issues – including women’s rights (in Typhoid Mary and A Doll’s House, Part 2), gay marriage (in The Cake), immigration (in The Chinese Lady), and racism (in Well Intentioned White People). Did you select these shows as part of a larger narrative structure to comment on what’s going on in the political climate of this country?
Yes, I love producing, and sometimes directing, plays that deal wirh social issues. I love introducing topical issues in dramatic form, getting our audiences involved with those issues and then having lively discussions with them after a performance.
Laura Benanti hit it out of the park when she headlined the 24thAnnual Gala (read my review here). Would you consider this event a success?
A huge success! She is a spectcular performer, multi-talented with wonderful stories, both hilarious and touching. Our audience loved her.
What can you tell me about the plans to celebrate BSC’s landmark 25thanniversary next year?
Ah! Just planning it now. I can’t say too much other than I know we are doing a classic musical and a world premiere musical – and probably the winner of the Burman New Play Contest.
During my interview with A Doll’s House, Part 2 director Joe Calarco, he mentioned that “BSC is like a second artistic home for me” and that “Julie trusts me and always is there to support my vision of a piece.” What’s the process for how you attract/select the talent that is represented across BSC’s stages each summer?
I can’t say specifically. We’ve worked with Pat McCorkle, our casting director, for years. Once the actors and directors and designers are at Barrington Stage, we try to do everything we can to make it feel like their home. We support them (with parties, get-togethers, wonderful housing), listen to any concerns they have and deal with them immediately so they can concentrate on their work at hand and do the very best work they are capable of.
Manhattan Theatre Club will be next to put on The Cake, opening in February 2019. What do you think is it about this play that keeps the demand for productions of it to continue increasing?
The unbelievablly real characters Bekah Brunstetter has created. There are no villains in this piece. Bekah has given a big heart and soul to Della, the lead, who is a character you want to dislike but can’t. Ultimately, you understand why she feels the way she does but don’t agree with her. If only the rest of the country could be as open …
What makes beloved shows like The Glass Menagerie and West Side Story stand the tests of time and stay relevant for contemporary audiences?
The writing is brilliant and the characters are as vivid now as when they were written. We can still identify with these characters and follow their journeys as if they happened yesterday.
What else can you tease to me about your 2019 season?
A hilarious musical about fracking!
Is there anything else that you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?
We are thrilled that American Son, a play we commissioned and premiered, is now on Broadway. As The New York Times pointed out this past Sunday, regional theater is really the birthing place of many exciting new plays. Eighteen of the thirty-two new plays and musicals we’ve produced have moved on to New York or around the country!