The Alliance of Theater Artists and Producers, otherwise known as StageSource, marks its 15th year of service to the Boston and greater New England areas this year. Those who have entered the theatrical job market during the years of its existence may not appreciate the importance of this milestone, but those who remember Boston "B.S." (Before StageSource) certainly do.
In the early '80s, theater in Boston looked like it might finally become a growth industry. More theaters were producing plays every year--and more people were going to see them. It should have followed that more Boston actors would be working more of the time, yet good actors with great qualifications were pushed aside over and over again while producers regularly cast their Boston-based shows out of the New York market.
This was partly a reflection of the prejudice actors in all regional markets face when competing with the cachet of (and abundance of venues in) New York. But in un-agented Boston, actors had an additional problem: "there were a lot of theatres and a lot of actors," says StageSource Executive Director Eric D'Alessandro, "but no center." With nobody to lobby for these actors as a group, each actor had to be his or her own promoter and supporter. Also, without a recognizable heading to find groups of actors under, producing organizations were at a loss as to how to find local professional talent.
"People were always calling me up [at the Massachusetts Cultural Council and New England Theatre Conference] and asking, 'hey, Jack, what's happening?,' remembers Jack Welsh of Baker's Plays. "It was clear we needed to create a cultural center for the theater community."
With the help of the NETC, MCC's Philip Alvare commissioned a survey designed to determine how the needs of Boston theater professionals could best be met. In an instant, almost, the response was overwhelming: Help Boston with employment issues. Provide a central communications organization that could showcase the city's talent and bring it together with producing organizations.
Their mission clearly laid out for them, Welsh, Pat Dugan, Judy Braha, Michael Maso (of the Huntingdon Theatre Company), and Dona Sommers (now Executive Director of AFTRA New England) set out to create just such an organization. First they held open discussions, collected opinions and ideas, and spread the word. Then they applied for and received a $1,000 seed grant from MCC--funding Welsh says was "the best money [MCC] ever spent"--and in 1985, StageSource was finally born in a donated office off of Boylston Street. The ambitious little project certainly did its time starving in a garret in true artist form, yet its popularity grew quickly, and so did word of its mission. Dona Sommers served as the first executive director, and during her tenure saw StageSource evolve from being a purely Boston-oriented organization to one that began to one actively representating the entire New England region, with Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all included within its sights.