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.
The first and most natural service offered by StageSource was a Talent Bank, essentially a file of member headshots and resumes that producers could rifle through and pick from when casting. Two years after the organization's founding, in 1987, a member Hotline was developed so actors could find out where the work was. Increased member interest and demand then led to a workshop series that covered all aspects of the theater business, from standup techniques to auditioning. The workshops gave novice actors and seasoned professionals a way to brush up on skills, and to network with each other as well as with those who make employment decisions. These artist/producer conversations continue to be a staple of the SourceSource diet.
Given its short history up until that point, it was also only a matter of time before StageSource added annual auditions to its roster of services. The organization now administers the AEA Boston auditions, and the non-union auditions have been particularly successful. "Last year, 55 producing organizations saw more than 400 auditioners," states D'Alessandro. Of such beginnings, one can be sure, great careers are born.
Yet of all the StageSource projects and services, perhaps none is more daring in scope than THE SOURCE - The Greater Boston Theatre Resource Guide, which appeared in its first edition (there are now six) in 1990. This essential book is a who's who of producing organizations and StageSource members throughout New England as well as a clearinghouse of information ranging from rentable spaces to the location of fight choreographers to the nuts and bolts of getting a good headshot.
Situated now in far more spacious quarters at 88 Tremont Street, StageSource continues to grow. Membership hovers at around 1,500, with over 110 producing organizations from American Repertory Theatre to the smallest two-person startup group taking part. The Talent Bank, Hotline, workshops, and auditions keep everybody in the loop, as does a quarterly newsletter. And recently, a webpage was launched at www.stagesource.org.
The organization still employs only one part-time and two full-time professionals, relying on a huge amount of volunteer labor to maintain its many services and projects. The fact that, for example, the person signing an actor in at the auditions in the morning will doubtless be auditioning later that afternoon has the added advantage of giving StageSource a human face. Says Lori Frankian (Executive Director, 1991-95), "People are really proud to be a part of this organisation." D'Alessandro adds "New England is very spread out artistically. Theatre professionals need a responsive information center that can address their needs and make the community's diverse parts accessible to each other." In its busy first 15 years, StageSource has done just that.