After nearly four decades serving the Greater Boston theater community, StageSource will close later this year.
The organization, founded in 1985, just a few years after the Huntington Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theater opened their doors, reflected Boston’s emergence as a serious theater town. That landscape would soon include SpeakEasy Stage Company and the Nora Theatre, joining the already-established Lyric Stage Company, New Repertory Theatre (then in Newton), the New Ehrlich, and the (mostly touring) Underground Railway Theater. As the Boston-based theater community grew, StageSource became an important resource connecting local theater artists with jobs and theater companies with talent.
“StageSource was unique,” says Jeff Poulos, who ran the organization for a decade. “There are lots of service organizations across the country akin to ArtsBoston, which focus on marketing, ticketing, and audience development, but far fewer support the artists themselves.”
Over the years, StageSource developed a popular annual event that allowed actors to audition for several theater companies at once. Among a range of services and programs, it created the StagePage, a listing of upcoming productions, and the Prop Co-Op, which allows participating theater companies to access an inventory of props.
The pandemic, however, placed enormous pressure on the member-based organization, as job opportunities dried up and many theater artists left the profession or the city.
“Several factors led to this decision,” says StageSource board chair Michelle Aguillon. “Providing appropriate staffing to run our programming and compensating them equitably became a challenge as our membership was reduced. We couldn’t raise member fees during the industry downturn when available jobs dwindled.”
At its peak, membership exceeded 2,000, but most recently dropped closer to 1,400.
While many in the theater community have expressed surprise at the news of StageSource’s closing, others saw the writing on the wall. When executive director Dawn M. Simmons left in 2021 to focus on serving as co-producing artistic director of the Front Porch Arts Collective, they say the organization struggled to regain its footing.
Actor and playwright Jen Lewis took over as interim executive director until last fall while the board and handful of staffers worked on a three-year strategy, including a staff proposal to run the organization on a shared leadership model, but, Aguillon says, “We couldn’t make the numbers work.”
The board hired a consultant to assess the organization’s viability and concluded that StageSource could no longer stay afloat. Board member Beth Peters offered to help with accounting and with keeping the webpage going, then stepped into the role of interim executive director to take the time needed to shut down the organization.
“StageSource is involved with so many other organizations; this work is a bit like unwinding a spider web,” says Peters. “We are speaking to several organizations in the hopes of continuing the services the community values, including the job fair, auditions, and the Prop Co-Op, at least, but it’s really hard to do this in the middle of everyone’s artistic season. We will continue the e-newsletter through the end of March so members know what is happening.”
“This conversation has been going on for 18 months,” says Aguillon. “But we will continue member benefits as long as we can. The board is committed to taking the time we need and making decisions thoughtfully and with intention.”
Rumblings have already begun concerning grass-roots efforts to keep the New England theater community connected, not at the advocacy level of StageSource, but in a way that might provide networking and job opportunities.
“StageSource was like a congress of the theater community,” says former executive director Julie Hennrikus. “Both organizations and individuals had their needs met.”
In addition to sharing information about auditions, jobs, and classes, Hennrikus says, StageSource led important work on safety for artists and better practices around equity and inclusion.
“I hope that from the ashes, a new phoenix will arise, because the work continues,” she says.