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Arts

New performing arts director rebrands ‘The Umbrella’ with edgier fare

Photos by Patrick Lee

Randy Elkinson as Howie in “Rabbit Hole.”

As the newly minted performing arts director of a beloved 30-year-old Concord arts institution, Brian Boruta faces several interesting challenges.

He wants to follow through on a personal mission to bring new and unusual productions to a suburban clientele that, while appreciative of the arts and culture, may be more accustomed to seeing the curtain rise on “Little Women” than on cutting-edge theatrical works.

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He wants to maintain an open dialogue with the community on the subject of the arts, and keep his finger on the pulse of the community’s desire for ever-changing offerings.

Boruta’s first challenge may simply be to accustom people to a new name for his organization, long known as the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts. It’s being rebranded as “the Umbrella,” in the hopes of eliminating a long-standing issue of people confusing it with Boston’s Emerson Majestic Theater and other Emerson College-related entities.

“Brian is a young upstart, in the best way, and his plans for the program here are quite edgy,” said the Umbrella’s marketing director, Deb Wells.

Boruta has professional credentials as well as big ideas; in May he will be presented with the 2014 Young Alumni Achievement Award by Framingham State University, and he’s an adjudicator for the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theaters.

Most immediate on Boruta’s docket, however, is the Umbrella’s production of “Rabbit Hole,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama written by David Lindsay-Abaire, which opens Friday evening and runs through March 9.

Patrick Lee

Noah Virgile as Jason in "Rabbit Hole."

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The story, which involves a couple coming to terms with the death of a child, is not typical community theater fare, Boruta concedes, but it does reflect the direction in which he hopes to take the Umbrella.

“My charge as performing arts director is to develop a specific point of view as far as who the Umbrella is when it comes to programming. There are so many local programs that produce theater at a professional or semiprofessional level,’’ he noted. “I like to say my mission is primarily to produce stuff that matters. I like works that carry some social message or other meaningful content that goes beyond their mere entertainment value.”

For example, shortly after Boruta came on board, the company produced “Next to Normal,” which he describes as “a musical that highlights a family’s struggle with mental illness.” More recently, Boruta oversaw a production of “Side Show,” a story of conjoined twins who become a vaudeville act, which he says is “a testament to the strength of the human spirit.” Later this season will be “Angels in America,” an award-winning play about gender, race, and societal biases.

Though his interests and experience are both deeply rooted in the field of performing arts as education and not merely entertainment, Boruta’s involvement with the Concord ensemble began as a performer.

After being cast in a few productions and becoming acquainted with the organization’s staff and board members, he offered his services as a freelance director and designer.

“And so naturally, when the board of directors decided to commit their energy to expanding the program and secured a grant which assisted in funding a new position of director of performing arts, I decided to throw my hat into the ring,” Boruta recalled.

As of now, the performing arts program has expanded from one or two productions a year to five full-scale productions, as well as a concert series, a lineup of locally focused talks on technology, entertainment, and design, and a film program that is about to launch.

“I believe that it is crucial for organizations like ours to use the arts to start a dialogue with the community around certain issues,” Boruta said. “We want to create global conversations around art. We want the community to understand that we are not afraid to have difficult conversations. We as an organization are socially conscious and socially engaged, and interested in tackling issues that are important to them.”

“Rabbit Hole” opens at 8 p.m. Friday and runs through March 9 in the Umbrella’s black-box theater at 40 Stow St., to be followed on the main stage by “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and then “Angels in America.”

Like any theater director, Boruta hopes that audience members will enjoy the productions, but he also hopes they will tell him just what they think.

“We need as many voices as possible to join in our conversation about the arts,” he said. “I’m one hundred percent accessible and am open to any conversations about what the Umbrella is offering. I work for and with this community.”

Tickets for “Rabbit Hole” are $25, $20 for seniors, $15 for students. For other performance times, tickets and other information, call 978-371-0820 or go to www.emersonumbrella.org.

WARM SOUNDS: Cold Chocolate, an adventurous bluegrass band that mixes in roots music and even touches of funk, will perform two sets Friday starting at 8 p.m. at the Amazing Things Arts Center, 160 Hollis St., Framingham.

Tickets for the all-ages show are $18, $17 for seniors, $15 for Amazing Things members, and $9 for children under 12, and can be ordered at www.amazingthings.org or by calling 508-405-2787.

FOUND IN NATICK: A boy on the cusp of adolescence guides his younger brother through the complexities of family dynamics and dysfunction in the TCAN Players production of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers,” which opens a six-performance run Friday at the Center for Arts in Natick, 14 Summer St.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, with the schedule repeating March 7-9. Tickets are $18, $16 for TCAN members, and $9 for students and seniors, and are available at 508-647-0097 or at www.natickarts.org.

THE MALI THREE: Brandeis University’s MusicUnitesUS world music series presents Trio Da Kali, three musicians from southern Mali, in concert Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Slosberg Recital Hall on the school’s campus, 415 South St. in Waltham.

Brought together for the first time at the BBC Proms in London last year, the trio combines the deep, vibrant voice of Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté, daughter of legendary singer Kassé Mady Diabaté, the balafon playing of Fodé Lassana Diabaté, and Mamadou Kouyaté providing bass lines in the tradition of his father, ngoni maestro Bassekou Kouyaté.

Tickets are $20, $15 seniors, and $5 for students. To reserve tickets, call 781-736-3400 or go to www.brandeis.edu/tickets.

CARNAVAL IN ACTON: The Fernando Holz Band celebrates Brazilian Carnaval on Saturday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Acton Jazz Café with a program of Brazilian pop, samba, jazz and bossa nova. Tickets are $12.50. To reserve a space, call 978-263-6161.

TASTE OF AMERICANA: Boston-based singer-songwriter Amy Black and the band Girls, Guns and Glory, named Americana Artist of the Year at last year’s Boston Music Awards, perform Saturday at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse, 262 Chestnut St. in Franklin.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; the concert begins at 8. Admission is $20. For tickets or more information, call 508-528-2541 or go to www.circlefolk.org.

THE WINDS OF MARCH: The Metropolitan Wind Symphony presents a winter concert Sunday at 3 p.m. in Cary Hall, 1605 Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington. Featured pieces will include “La Fiesta Mexicana” by H. Owen Reed, “Piece of Mind” by Dana Wilson, “Dixieland Live!” by Lewis Buckley, “Hail to the Spirit of Liberty” by John Philip Sousa, and “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” by Robert Jager.

Composer/performer Lewis Buckley will set the stage for the concert with a talk at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $18 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $6 for students (ages 4 and younger get in for free), and can be purchased in advance by calling 617-983-1370.

Go to www.mws-boston.org for more information.

Contact Nancy Shohet West at nancyswest@gmail.com.

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