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ArtsEmerson renames Paramount stage to honor founding director Orchard

Robert J. Orchard at the Paramount Theatre Mainstage, which will be named for him next month.
Robert J. Orchard at the Paramount Theatre Mainstage, which will be named for him next month. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Emerson College Thursday announced the Paramount Theatre Mainstage will be renamed the Robert J. Orchard Stage in honor of the retired founding director of ArtsEmerson and creator of its “The World on Stage” program.

“In the space of just nine months, Rob launched an Office for the Arts at Emerson and began presenting and producing work that focused primarily on international performers, while also including emerging artists, family-friendly performances, local artists, and community partners,” said Emerson College president Lee Pelton. “It’s an honor and a privilege to recognize him for that effort.”

The naming is part of a fund-raising campaign to create long-term financial security for the program. In addition to naming the stage after Orchard, the campaign establishes The World on Stage Fund.

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“We are interested in bringing in large, ambitious projects as well as smaller shows,” said David Dower, who leads ArtsEmerson, along with co-artistic director P. Carl and executive director David Howse. “The World on Stage Fund reduces our vulnerability to economic uncertainties.”

“Producing theater is a high-risk, high-reward enterprise,” Pelton said. “But our mission is to add rather than extract value. At Emerson, we’re trying to use art for enjoyment, but also to bring to the forefront important critical and social ideas about the world in which we live.”

The World on Stage Fund also recognizes Orchard’s more than three decades developing and managing theatrical productions, first working alongside Yale Repertory Theatre founder Robert Brustein as managing director, then founding the American Repertory Theater with Brustein and serving as managing and executive director there, before launching ArtsEmerson in 2010.

“When Emerson was bringing these new spaces (the Paramount, and the Jackie Liebergott Black Box) online, I saw it as a real void in the Boston cultural scene,” Orchard said. “International companies are eager to perform in Boston, and the combination of local audiences, as well as the talented faculty and students allow us to get a new perspective on issues these works are tapping into.”

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Although Orchard is semi-retired, he will continue to scout new work and shepherd productions he initiated through 2018, including the Melia Bensussen/Kirsten Greenidge adaptation of J. Anthony Lukas’s “Common Ground.”

Turning over the reins of a project he had started a few years earlier has been, he says, surprisingly seamless.

“One of the things that attracted me to David and Carl,” Orchard said, “is their experience as community organizers, in addition to their theatrical sensibilities. When you bring productions from other cultures, you need to be sure to develop relationships with those communities in this area. David and his team have met so many people in the community.”

Dower says The World on Stage Fund may “increase our capacity to be more ambitious in what we can imagine presenting, but doesn’t reduce the pressure to become more connected to the communities around us.”

Orchard will be honored at a fund-raising event on Oct. 6, and the stage will take its new name on Oct. 10.


Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.