Julianne Boyd, who cofounded Barrington Stage Company in 1995 and spearheaded its growth into a powerhouse regional theater that produced 41 world premieres and sent productions like “On the Town” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” to Broadway, will step down as artistic director at the end of next season.
“You always want to leave when you’re doing well,” Boyd, who will turn 77 in December, said in a telephone interview with the Globe. “Other than my children, my family, and my husband, it’s been the greatest joy in my life. Now is the time to pass it on to someone who has a new vision for the theater.”
Boyd’s own vision, along with her drive and attention to every detail of a production, elevated her company’s reputation and made it a magnet for high-profile collaborators. Last month, Billy Crystal starred in performances of “Mr. Saturday Night,” a new musical-in-development, adapted from his 1992 film, that could be Broadway-bound.
A national search will be undertaken for Boyd’s successor, who will assume the post in the fall of 2022, according to a statement from Barrington Stage, which is based in downtown Pittsfield. The company’s mainstage, named after Boyd and the founding board president, is a former vaudeville house that Barrington Stage bought and renovated a decade after the company’s founding.
Boyd’s original goal was to extend the theater season in the Berkshires beyond the summer months, but she also expanded the scope of the theater produced in the region.
“Julie’s imprint on the city of Pittsfield and Berkshire County is part of her extraordinary legacy,” said Barrington Stage board president Marita Glodt in a statement. “Her commitment to community and the arts has been instrumental in shaping the Berkshires as a destination. The theatre has flourished under her inspired leadership.”
Many other artistic directors came and went over the years in the Berkshires, the latest being Mandy Greenfield, who left Williamstown Theatre Festival last month. But Boyd remained a constant.
While juggling the myriad duties that come with leading a theater company, she directed numerous productions herself, ranging from musicals like “Company” and “West Side Story” to dramas like “The Best of Enemies” and the premiere of “American Son.” Boyd paid attention to the development of new work, creating a mentoring project for young playwrights, a conservatory program to train aspiring musical-theater artists, and an annual “10 by 10 New Play Festival” of 10 10-minute plays presented on the company’s second stage in a former VFW hall.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Boyd was determined to find a way to keep producing theater. Planning to present a solo play titled “Harry Clarke,” she had extensive modifications made to the company’s mainstage, from the removal of seats to the reconfiguration of the air conditioning. When state authorities nevertheless refused to authorize an indoor performance, Boyd moved the production outdoors, staging it in August 2020 under a tent in a parking lot.
Then again, resourcefulness had long been a signature trait. After Boyd and Susan Sperber cofounded Barrington Stage in 1995, the company’s first production, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” was staged in an actual bar and grill in Housatonic, whose owner held a barbecue during the show to make a little money. “We were always searching,” Boyd said of those early days. “I would say: ‘There’s a space? We’ll make a theater out of it.’ "
Barrington Stage’s second production was “The Diary of Anne Frank,” presented in the auditorium of the Mt. Everett Junior/Senior High School in Sheffield. Before each show, Boyd and the stage manager would stand in the school’s doorway and count the cars in the parking lot. “One night we counted 25 cars,” she said. “There were maybe 50 people there.”
Soon, though, the company began to attract wider attention, especially after its 1997 production of “Cabaret” transferred to Boston. The show that put Barrington Stage on the national theater map was William Finn’s “Spelling Bee,” which premiered in 2004 in the school’s cafeteria. “Once it got good reviews, we had people driving up in limousines to the cafeteria door,” Boyd recalled. (”Spelling Bee” featured a couple of young actors who would go on to be well-known: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, a star of “Modern Family,” and Celia Keenan-Bolger, a 2019 Tony Award winner for her portrayal of Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”)
Most of the company’s productions in its early years, such as a 2005 revival of “Follies,” were staged in that high school auditorium in Sheffield. When Barrington Stage produced Jerry Herman’s “Mack & Mabel” in 1999, at the high school, Boyd tried to prepare Herman for the unusual venue as the pair were driving up to the high school. “I don’t care where it’s done,” the composer-lyricist told her, according to Boyd. “As long as it’s a wonderful production, that’s all I care about.”
At Barrington Stage, it often was. Boyd’s seasons were noteworthy for their consistent quality, bolstered by the artistic relationships she forged with the likes of composer-lyricist William Finn, playwright Mark St. Germain, actress Debra Jo Rupp, director John Rando, choreographer Joshua Bergasse, set designer Beowulf Boritt, and actors Jeff McCarthy and Mark H. Dold. Her 2017 production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” starred Aaron Tveit, who recently won a Tony Award for his performance in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”
“If somebody comes to me with a challenging artistic desire and I can say yes to it, if I can find a way, then I’m serving the artists,” said Boyd. “Ultimately, what an artistic director has to do is not only find the work but serve the work. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, that I’ve been able to serve the work.”