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Boyd explains decision to leave Barrington Stage Company after 2022 season

Julianne Boyd
Barrington Stage Company

Barrington Stage Company founder and artistic director Julianne Boyd announced Wednesday that she will step down at the end of the 2022 season. Since Boyd created the company in 1995, it has expanded to a five-building footprint in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and has produced 41 world premieres – three of which moved on to Broadway. She spoke with WAMC about stepping down, what comes next for the company, and the changing world of theatre in the United States.

BOYD: We just came off of a really successful year, probably the one of the most successful years ever, believe it or not, in the middle of the pandemic. And you always want to sort of retire on a high note, retire and let people- And also, attracting a new leader is easier when you've had a successful season. So those are two of the really important reasons for me. I also want to spend more time with my family. I mean, I've been doing this for 27 years. So it'll be 28 by the time I truly retire in September of 2022, and I have three children, seven grandchildren, a husband, and I'd really like to spend more time with my family. You know, if the pandemic taught us anything, it was spend more time with your family. And I'm looking forward to doing it. And lastly, I really want to start traveling again. And I think now, with the pandemic almost over, my husband and I can start and we probably traveled more than almost any couple I know when I wasn't running a theatre. And so now I want to get back to that a little more.

WAMC: As the founding director of the Barrington Stage Company, are you confident that the next person to step in is going to be able to steer it forward through what will be the biggest transition in its leadership to date?

I certainly hope so. There is no guarantee. But what we did is, we put some guarantees in place. But of course, the ultimate guarantee will be the person. I think we're in a good financial place. I think that we're well positioned in the city of Pittsfield. I think we're well positioned in the community. We've done so much of the community work in the top level productions we have, and we have 29 fantastic associate artists who are attached to the theatre. Attached, by that I mean, they've done several productions here, they consider it their second home. And I think having the artists in place, having the finances in place, and really being an important part of the community will attract, I hope, that kind of exciting leader that we're hoping for.

Now, at this point, is the search entirely internal, entirely external? How's that shaping up?

Well, it is- It hasn't started yet. They're gathering all the information together, we have this search committee, but it will be both internal and external. I think mostly external. We're looking for someone with a national presence, someone who understands and can continue, to some extent, the kind of work that we've done, but yet bring a new vision to the theatre. We'd like a continuation of the values, but an extension of the vision.

So at this point, are you fully retiring? Do you have any anticipation of working elsewhere after your time at Barrington?

Well, I still have another, almost a year to go. So I'll retire in September 2022. I hope to direct one or two shows a year. I'd love to direct one at Barrington, one somewhere else. And really, I will keep involved in the community. That community work is very important to me. But I don't want the day-to-day responsibilities of running a theatre. I think I can turn them over to somebody with a new vision, with new energy. And basically, theatre needs a continuation of new blood, and I think this is a good time. So I'm sort of- I say that I would semi-retire from theatre, but fully retire from the day-to-day work of an artistic director.

Your departure comes amidst a lot of discussion and debate within the theatre industry about a variety of issues, ranging from labor rights to conversations around racism and structural inequity in the broader national structure of America. Certainly, we just saw shakeup at the Williamstown Theatre Festival after an exposé about conditions at the festival in the LA Times. Does your departure have anything to do with that new conversation about the world of theatre that's taking place right in front of us?

Not really. I mean, I'm 76 years old, I'll be 77 in December, close to 78 when I retire. I'm looking at it more as an opportunity for someone to create a vision based on a lot of the issues that are that are coming forward right now. It's the perfect time for someone to bite that off and to forward our thinking. We've done a lot of work in, as you know, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We've done many, many plays that have had a Black cast or BIPOC casts. We've had a Chinese immigrant, first female Chinese immigrant, we've had Asian with Japanese tea brides, we just did ‘A Crossing’ with a total Latina cast. So these are the kinds of things we want to continue. But of course, we want the theatre to be equitable for everyone of every color, and we want to make sure our employees are as well represented as possible. So not- It doesn't really, but I'm sure that's going to be some of the subject matter that a new artistic director will be taking on, as well as, I'll continue with that until I retire. But I think that there will probably be a new – I'm only guessing – there'll be new protocol in place. And I think we started them this year and they’ll continue.

Looking at the company as it stands today, what do you think should be high in the list of priorities for your eventual successor, bearing in mind that there's still many months before that will actually happen?

That's a good question, Josh. I think the two most important things to me is somebody who understands the high level of productions we have. They're fantastic. I mean, the actors are superb. The physical productions I think are unbeatable in many ways. But in partner with that, it has to be someone who understands and wants to work with our community. The Pittsfield community and the broader Berkshire community are really important to Barrington Stage and I think a new artistic director must embrace both.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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