Julianne Boyd

Julianne Boyd, the artistic director and co-founder of Barrington Stage Company, in Pittsfield, has announced she plans to retire at the end of the 2022 season. 

PITTSFIELD — Timing is everything, they say. For Julianne Boyd the time is now to announce plans to retire as artistic director of Barrington Stage Company, the theater company she has run since she co-founded it with Susan Sperber in 1995.

After 26 years at the helm, Boyd feels she has accomplished everything she wanted to accomplish. Moreover, she said, “because we had such a good year and a difficult one because of COVID, I felt this was a good time to leave. I would never want to leave the theater in a bad place.”

As her 77th birthday approaches late next month, Boyd wants unencumbered time to spend with her family: Her husband, Norman Boyd, who has a dental practice in New York; their three adult children — two daughters and a son; and especially their seven grandchildren who range in age from 7 months to 15 years, two who have birthdays around Independence Day.

“Planning to take off to spend time with my family (around) the Fourth of July has been a Herculean task,” Boyd said with a slight laugh.

Boyd will remain with Barrington Stage until sometime after the end of the 2022 season. A search firm has been hired to find her successor.

“They’ll start with community members, our associate artists, the entire group that make up the important stakeholders. We want every voice heard,” Boyd said during an interview in her office at the Wolfson Center on North Street. She is hoping the new artistic director will be in town by August.

Meanwhile, she said, “I’ll have everything in place for the ‘22 season.” While she is giving up her office at the Wolfson Center, Boyd has no plans to sell her Pittsfield house.

“I’m not leaving forever,” she said. She intends to remain part of the community; to “help if I can.”

Boyd was born Julianne Mamana and raised in Easton, Pa., one of five children — three older brothers and a younger sister. She earned her undergraduate degree at Beaver College (now Arcadia University), where she met her husband-to-be.

She was a freshman; he was a junior.

“His [all-male] college choir was visiting my [all-female] college and he stood behind me in line for dinner,” Boyd said.

“My sister, June, who was in high school, was visiting me at the time. She thought he was cute and began a conversation with him. I joined in. He asked us to go to the concert he was performing in that evening. I wasn’t planning on going but I went reluctantly. The rest is history.”

They’ve been married 50 years.

She has a doctorate from The City University of New York with a specialty in the history of traditional Japanese Bunraku puppet theater and how it affected Japanese society from the period of post-World War II occupation under Gen. Douglas MacArthur on.

Boyd attributes her career in theater to her father’s passion for the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

“He was a great believer in after-school activities,” Boyd said. “My three brothers were all into sports. My father loved Gilbert and Sullivan and thought theater would be a great after-school activity for me. I had no problem getting in front of an audience.”

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“Because we had such a good year and a difficult one because of COVID, I felt this was a good time to leave. I would never want to leave the theater in a bad place,” said Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director Julianne Boyd of her decision to retire at the end of the 2022 season. 

Her interest in theater developed through her teen and young adult years. She saw touring shows in Philadelphia. She fell in love with Theater of the Absurd when she played Lucky in a college production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot” and was drawn to the work of Andre Gregory and his Theater of the Living Arts.

“He was redefining theater,” Boyd said. “I was mesmerized by the possibilities of theater.”

She knew that she didn’t want to act. Her first try at directing came in her junior year at college when she directed something for a student play festival. Even then she was thinking only of teaching in college. That changed when she answered an ad for a sound technician at an Off-Broadway theater. One job at a small Of-Broadway house led to another small job at an Off-Broadway house, then another, doing various jobs, all without pay. A small show she directed drew a favorable review from the influential weekly newspaper, The Village Voice.

It was while she was reading scripts at Manhattan Theatre Club that she came across some recordings by James Herbert “Eubie” Blake that led her to the notion of creating a revue around the music of pianist-swing-jazz songwriter. “Eubie!” opened on Broadway in September 1978. It earned three Tony Award nominations and won a Drama Desk Award for best musical.

“It was the first time I was ever paid for directing,” Boyd said.

She and Joan Micklin Silver created the revue “A … My Name is Alice” which opened Off-Broadway in 1983, which was followed in 1992 by “A … My Name is Still Alice” and “My Name Will Always Be Alice” (also titled “Alice Revisited”), which Boyd produced at BSC during its first season in 1995.

Boyd came to the Berkshires in 1993 as artistic director of Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, a position she held for two seasons.

She created Barrington Stage Company after leaving BTF because, she said, “we were trying to reach the community on more of a year-round way. When I was at BTF I had so many people come up to me and ask why don’t we do something in the fall.

“When we started BSC the idea was to do theater that would affect the lives of people beyond the crammed summer.”

The company performed in the Consolati Performing Arts Center at Mount Everett Regional High School for nearly 10 seasons but it became problematic. Because of school schedules and demands, the length of seasons got smaller — 10 weeks to six or seven weeks, ending in mid-August. Equipment had to be taken down at the end of each season.

Julianne Boyd

Julianne Boyd, artistic director of Barrington Stage Company, plans to travel and spend more time with her seven grandchildren following her retirement at the end of the 2022 season.

Problems notwithstanding, BSC began drawing attention beyond the Berkshires. Its production of “Cabaret” in BSC’s third season was remounted in Boston where it replicated its Berkshires success. In 2005, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” became BSC’s first show to move to New York.

In Barrington Stage’s eighth season, Boyd and her board began looking for a new space. Their eyes were on the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington but were outbid for the building by what was then Berkshire Opera Festival.

Eventually they found what they were looking for in a music hall on Pittsfield’s Union Street that was for sale.

“We did our production of ‘Hair’ there and doubled the audience we had when we did the show in Great Barrington,” Boyd said. “It was important for the board to see we had an audience in Pittsfield.”

Losing the Mahaiwe “was the best thing that could have happened to us. We wouldn’t have had the second stage,” Boyd said, referring to BSC’s smaller St. Germain Stage in the Blatt Performing Arts Center on Linden Street, several blocks from the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage.

Nor, in all likelihood, would BSC have had its Wolfson Center on North Street, which houses offices and rehearsal rooms; the Octagon House on Union Street for staff housing; or the expansive production center across town on Laurel Street.

Since 1995, the BSC’s budget has grown from $249,000 to a little more than $5.2 million. Audiences have grown from “probably a few thousand” in 1995, Boyd said, to roughly 60,000 in a normal non-COVID season. The company has produced 41 world premieres, sending three to Broadway and 10 Off-Broadway. The theater also has launched several programs in the schools and ethnic minority community and spearheaded the city’s annual 10X10 Upstreet Arts Festival, the centerpiece of which is BSC’s 10X10 New Play Festival.

Boyd is looking forward to indulging her twin passions for family and travel. She and her husband are heading to Japan and a big trip to Italy for the entire family is in the works after Boyd’s final season comes to an end.

She is eager. But she also acknowledges there are things she will miss.

“First, working with the artists who have become part of the BSC family … some of the most talented artists working today, many who have become close friends,” she said.

“Secondly, collaborating with our very dedicated staff and board, who jointly saw a way through the pandemic and never gave up trying to bring theater to our community — knowing it was important to bring people out of isolation into a common experience that offered a sense of a shared humanity.

“Lastly, working with the BIPOC community, finding plays that tell stories that resonate deeply with them, and developing ways to develop a more inclusive and diverse audience to the theater …”

Regarding the future, she wants “to be there for my grandchildren. I want them to know about art.

“I am also excited about leaving the theater in the hands of someone who will build on what we have [created].”

Jeffrey Borak is The Eagle’s theater critic.