Not only did the school have the space Boyd needed, but Consolati also suggested offering childcare at the high school, "so that for five dollars a performance, young couples could bring their kids ages two through eight and leave them in the nursery." In addition, they agreed to admit children under 13 free to any performance with an adult paying full price, and to offer half-price admission to kids 14 and older. In this way, they reasoned that theater in Sheffield could become a family habit. In her desire to attract new young audiences, however, Boyd has not conceded to doing plays that would appeal only to the young. "We did the plays we wanted to do. If they had explicit language or material, we would say so, and tell parents to use their own judgment."
The resulting theater--The Barrington Stage Company--has been a success from the moment it appeared in 1995. In its first season, its The Diary Of Anne Frank won an Elliott Norton/Boston Theatre Critics Award for outstanding production. In its third season, Cabaret won two Norton/Boston Awards, four Outer Critics Awards, and moved east from the Berkshires to Boston's Hasty Pudding Theatre for a successful commercial run. "We don't consider ourselves a summer theater," says Boyd, who casts her seasons almost entirely out of New York's immense pool of talent. "We are a quality theater that performs in the summer."
This insistence on quality has paid off. In six years of operation, BSC has tripled its budget. While the company generally offers a big, commercial-type musical, along with a comedy or two, many of their offerings are smaller pieces that make demands on audience perceptions and conventions. This year, for instance, it will produce its first mainstage world premiere with Suzanne Bradbeer's Full Bloom, a chilling look at the effect our culture's obsession with beauty has on a beautiful young girl. "Everything is drawing me to kids," says Boyd, of her decision to do the play. "We're just not taking care of our youth."
It was this attitude that also drew her to engage some of Great Barrington's at-risk students into a theatrical investigation of the many issues that now face our teenagers. The result of their voyage of discovery was a production of Eric Bogosian's Suburbia, which played to sold-out houses. The teenagers involved went on to form their own non-profit, the Railroad Street Youth Project. The play and its cast will return this summer as a part of BSC's Stage II series, which teams professionals with local actors in a series of three plays.
In addition, Barrington Stage has both a summer acting program called KidsAct! for students aged eight to 17, and a youth theater that allows local students to work with a professional director and choreographer. Amazingly, every student and every local actor in Stage II and youth theater productions are paid. "They're used to doing this for nothing," remarks Boyd, but she has no intention of being a part of the potentially exploitative tendency of professional theaters to take advantage of the desires and dreams of students and community actors. "I am so tired of working for nothing," she says simply.
Like any artistic director, Boyd has to argue every decision that she makes with a Board that asks tough questions, such as whether she has the financial resources or the staff to accomplish a project. "People don't realize how much work it is. The summer season is only a few months, but the work goes on all year." How does she manage it? "Chutzpah." She then adds that when she asked a friend for some words of wisdom on running a regional summer theater, "She said, no matter how much energy you think you need, it's twice as much. It needs twice as much time, twice as much everything." But that doesn't phase Julianne Boyd. She's already running off to the next rehearsal.