Northern Stage elevates a new leader

  • Northern Stage Managing Director Irene Green middle, and Box Office Manager Susan Dicken, left, help Martha McNealus, of Woodstock, find her tickets before a matinee of Matilda at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Northern Stage Managing Director Irene Green, right, talks with Producing Artistic Director Carol Dunne during a meeting at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2018. Green joined the theater company in 2013 as sales and marketing director. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2019 10:00:08 PM

Irene Green admits to a single regret about her evolution from the performing side of the theater business to a role on the management side.

“Except for opening nights, it’s harder to make it to performances,” Green, who became managing director at Northern Stage in November, lamented during an interview at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. “I don’t see as much as I want to see, as much as I used to.”

What Green gets to see backstage and offstage helps balance out those performances she’s been missing while overseeing the company’s $3.9 million budget, helping the artistic team meet its goals and raising a daughter.

Take Matilda the Musical. During November and December, Green’s first two months on the job, about 60 young Upper Valley actors, many from Northern Stage’s youth programs, took turns keeping the Barrette Center buzzing.

“The show is selling super-well, and it’s so cool to see the way the local kids are at the forefront,” Green said in mid-December. “To be at the helm while that’s happening is amazing.”

Productions like this, she continued, remind her of growing up in the 1990s in Pella, Iowa. Best known for making and distributing windows and doors, the town of 10,000 people supports an opera house and an acting company.

One February vacation week during her early teens, the then-Irene Erkenbrack started attending the Missoula (Mont.) Children’s Theatre company’s annual youth workshop at the Pella Opera House. Acting and singing soon became a habit.

“I looked forward to it every year,” recalled Green, now in her mid-30s. “Those memories stay with you.”

Those early acting experiences inspired her to join Pella’s Union Street Players. In her mid teens, she was co-starring in productions of The Music Man, The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls, among others.

After graduating from Pella Community High School in 2001, she headed to the small, private Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, to study music, theater and dance.

“At that point,” Green recalled, “I was still pursuing the performance side of things.”

Then, during her senior year, she spent a semester-in-residence at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minn., where she worked for company founder Eric Bunge.

“She was in our production of (Henrik) Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, and she was also participating in our administrative, fundraising and marketing training,” Bunge, Green’s predecessor at Northern Stage and now the company’s director of special projects, said recently. “I noticed her attention to detail, how quickly she picked up on things, and her incredible attitude, her positive attitude.

“Her capacity to learn was extraordinary.”

Green continued learning onstage tricks of the musical-theater trade while earning a master’s degree at the University of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. But not long after she returned to the States, Bunge called her from Commonweal. The theater had just undergone a major expansion, and Bunge needed someone who could handle the box office between stage roles.

“She got there in early 2008, and she moved very quickly up the ladder,” Bunge said. “First the box office, then sales and marketing.”

Following Bunge to the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minn., in 2011, she served in similar capacities, learning still more about attracting sponsors and enticing businesses and individual theatergoers to buy season tickets.

“What I learned was that playing a part in a theater like this is really about building community — onstage, administratively and in education and outreach,” Green said. “Eric was always at the forefront of the larger mission, and I’ve had the privilege to see that over the years.”

Her education continued in 2013. Shortly after replacing founding artistic director Brooke Ciardelli at Northern Stage, Carol Dunne recruited Bunge to lead the campaign to build the Barrette Center, and gave him license to choose the team he needed to achieve the goal.

Hence, another call to Irene Erkenbrack, with the news that this small company in east-central Vermont needed her help.

“I told her, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help a theater company turn around, build a new theater,’” Bunge recalled. “I told her that I knew we had a fighting chance to make it happen.”

Her fiance, Fred Green, a health and wellness specialist at the Mayo Clinic, agreed to follow her.

By the fall of 2015, with the company ensconced in the Barrette Center, Green was streamlining the ticketing and subscription process, spreading the word about upcoming productions and, occasionally, performing in them. Her last acting role, before becoming Bunge’s deputy managing director, was in A Christmas Carol.

By January 2018, Green was helping Dunne with community outreach, observing Bunge’s preparation and assembly of the budget and otherwise learning the operation inside and out. Her performance in those roles helped Bunge and Dunne make the case to the Northern Stage board for Green to succeed Bunge, who in October became the company’s director of special projects, in charge of long-term planning.

Now Dunne finds herself encouraging her new partner to stand her ground if she thinks a budget request seems unreasonable, even if the request comes from the artistic director herself.

“There’s a good butting of heads, where the managing director is trying to hold the artistic director accountable to the viability of the company,” Dunne said. “She’s very, ‘But Carol: If it doesn’t support what your dream is, let me know.’ ”

Green’s identification with Dunne’s vision goes back to her days and nights onstage.

“I understand what happens in the rehearsal room,” Green said. “I have an empathy and understanding for what goes into a show. To understand all that is crucial if you’re trying to support the creative people.”

Dunne, meanwhile, is providing Green, who lives in White River Junction, with flexible hours to do her work while raising her daughter, Piper, who’s now a little more than a year old. Her husband, Fred Green, works as a machinist at Hypertherm.

“I talked at length with Irene about maintaining that balancing act,” Dunne said. “Northern Stage becomes a way of life for you and your family. She needs to spend some time away from the office, get out of the building. On days when her day care is closed, we encourage her to bring Piper here. We really want to be a model for women in the workplace.”

Green, meanwhile, wants to keep Northern Stage at center stage in White River Junction’s revitalization as a cultural hub.

“When I got here in 2013, you could see the energy and the excitement,” Green said. “To be a part of that is certainly humbling. Really cool.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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