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New Huntington Leader Brings Audience Behind the Scenes

Wednesday’s BU Night to launch community events

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Peter DuBois (above), the new artistic director of BU’s Huntington Theatre Company, says there is an “incredible symbiosis” among students and professionals in Boston. DuBois’ directorial credits include a version of Richard III (below), in which he cast four-foot-five-inch actor Peter Dinklage in the title role. Photos courtesy of Rebecca Curtiss

Peter DuBois has a world of experience in the performing arts — his arrival in Boston came at the end of a four-year term as resident director at New York’s Public Theater, preceded by stints in Prague and at Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre. In his new role as artistic director of the Huntington Theatre Company, however, he’s taking his cues from an unlikely source: the restaurant business.

“I’m interested in the idea of connoisseurship,” DuBois says. “When you go into a nice restaurant now, you know exactly where the beef was raised and where the vegetables came from, and the waiters and waitresses can talk to you about the preparation. I want us to take a similar approach to theater, and really pull back the curtain.”

Three months into his job, DuBois has plenty of ideas about how to cultivate appreciation for the Huntington, starting with Boston University Community Night on Wednesday, September 10, one of a series of locally focused events designed to reintroduce the Huntington to its target audiences. He plans to expand the Huntington’s Web presence, adding podcasts to the behind-the-scenes videos already posted. He’s also particularly invested in getting students more involved with the theater — as audience members, of course, but also as the next generation of playwrights, actors, and directors.

“There’s an incredible symbiosis,” DuBois says. “I think the energy changes when there are students in the audience — there is a focus and enthusiasm that really changes the dynamic of how you watch the show. What we can offer students is a gateway to the profession. The relationships when they come to work on a show will last them a lifetime.”

Relationship-building has long been a key part of DuBois’ career: his studies at Brown University with playwright Paula Vogel, who wrote her Pulitzer Prize–winning play How I Learned to Drive while in residence at the Perseverance Theatre, led to his job in Juneau. While there, DuBois launched a professional training program in collaboration with the University of Alaska Southeast and raised more than $2.5 million during endowment and capital campaigns. He also worked with playwrights to develop The Long Season, a musical about Filipino immigrants in Alaska.

In 1998, when he was recruited to the Public, the country’s preeminent theater for Shakespeare and new works, he began collaborating with other companies, such as actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s LAByrinth and the renowned Wooster Group, cofounded by the late monologist Spalding Gray. DuBois went on to win acclaim — and an Obie Award — for directing Measure for Pleasure, a Restoration-comedy satire by David Grimm. His 2004 staging of Richard III also drew notice for his casting of Peter Dinklage, the four-foot-five-inch actor from the movie The Station Agent, as the troubled king.

But after a decade in New York, DuBois was ready to run his own company again — and he’s excited about Boston, despite the unique challenges the city presents for an artistic director. Unlike New York, where theater is a key part of the city’s economy, the Hub is known more in the performing arts world as a tryout town for shows that later move to Broadway. “I’m now somewhere where theater is not the center of civic life,” he says, “and we have to create that culture here, give people experiences that make them want to come through the doors.”

He’s encouraged by the proliferation of small and midsized companies that are flourishing around the city, as well as the continued success of programs such as the Huntington Playwriting Fellowship, which counts BU grads and new faculty members Lydia Diamond (GRS’09), Melinda Lopez (GRS’00), and Ronan Noone (GRS’01) among its alumni. Most of all, he’s excited about the direction he sees for Boston theater, as more young artists are resolving to stay here instead of heading to New York or Los Angeles.

“It seems like a lot of students want to start their own companies,” DuBois says. “I think it represents something kind of heroic, saying, ‘I’m not going to wait for a phone call.’ It’s artists creating their own destinies.”

Boston University Community Night is Wednesday, September 10, at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave. How Shakespeare Won the West, by Richard Nelson, begins at 7:30 p.m. A reception with DuBois is at 6:30 p.m. Reserve free tickets and a spot at the reception at www.huntingtontheatre.org/RSVPBU.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

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