Irene Green to Replace Eric Bunge as Northern Stage’s New Managing Director
Apr 16, 2019 02:28PM
● By Kevin
Phtoto From The Valley News
We caught up with Green to chat about her background, her plans for Northern Stage in the future, and lots of other fun topics in this exclusive Q&A.
Woodstock Magazine: Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background? What got you interested in the arts?
Irene Green: I'm a Midwesterner. I grew up in Iowa, in a small-ish town of 20,000. My dad is a retired college professor, and my mom is a middle and high school librarian for a public school. My parents are academics and have a huge love of literature that they passed on to me. I have been passionate about the arts since I was a child and decided in the seventh grade that I wanted to pursue a career in theater.
Aside from personal relationships with friends and family, there have been no experiences in my life – then or now – that were as meaningful to me as the ones I had inside a theater. As an undergraduate, I trained as a performer, then toured with a theater company for a year after graduation, followed by graduate school in the UK. I received my Masters degree with distinction in Acting Musical Theatre at the Central School of Speech and Drama, part of the University of London.
I moved to Chicago and worked as a freelance artist for a couple of years before being offered a job at the Commonweal Theatre Company in Lanesboro, Minn. I was part of the resident acting company and served as the Sales and Marketing Assistant for the organization. This was my first introduction to the administrative side of theater. A year later I became the Box Office Manager, and two years after that I accepted a position as Director of Sales and Marketing at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. The opportunity at Northern Stage was offered to me in 2013, and I joined the company as the Director of Sales and Marketing in August of that year.
WM: How did this opportunity present itself to you?
Green: I was promoted from Director of Sales and Marketing to Associate Managing Director at Northern Stage in January 2018. Eric Bunge, Northern Stage's previous Managing Director, announced in the summer of 2018 that he was ready to begin a new chapter in his professional life. Eric has been a mentor of mine for almost 15 years. He founded the Commonweal Theatre Company, and I first met him when I interned with the Commonweal as a college student in 2005. Both he and Carol Dunne (Northern Stage's Producing Artistic Director) were interested in a long, healthy succession plan for the Managing Director position. The Associate Managing Director role prepared me to apply for the Managing Director post. The by-laws of Northern Stage stipulate that the board of directors hires two positions for the organization: the Producing Artistic Director and the Managing Director. The board was very committed to a fair and open hiring process. I applied and interviewed with the personnel committee, and the Board voted to offer me the position last fall.
WM: You've been in this role since November. How have you become acclimated to your new responsibilities? What have you done for Northern Stage so far?
Green: I remember sharing at a weekly lead team meeting a couple of years ago that I was ready for a new challenge and the next step in my career. I had held the title of Director of Sales and Marketing for seven consecutive years at two different companies and was ready to take the next step in my professional journey. This has been a big next step. I am absolutely excited by the challenges that come through my office door daily and amazed at how the incredible staff at Northern Stage is able to turn almost any challenge into an opportunity.
I'm not confident that I'm completely acclimated yet – I'm giving myself at least 12 months to experience an annual cycle with the organization in this role. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about our finances (and reporting on them) and getting to know community members who are part of the Northern Stage family in a new way through my new role, which has been joyous.
Since becoming Managing Director in November, I:
- Envisioned and spearheaded a campaign to honor Eric Bunge's time with the company, resulting in over $30,000 of philanthropy toward Northern Stage
- Led the creation of our $4 million annual operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which was approved by the board in January
- Worked with the Board and staff to revamp, reenergize, and refocus the ongoing cultivation and stewardship efforts of the board with our patrons and stakeholders, the genesis of this idea came from a seminar that Hypertherm hosted for Upper Valley nonprofits last fall – thank you Hypertherm and the HOPE Foundation
- Contributed to a small, and so far successful, restructuring of our membership model
- Committed to and have delivered on a few improvements in our quarterly financial reporting and projections
- And, have been delighted to support the production department as the two most senior staff members have both had new babies enter their families in the past two weeks
WM: What are your plans in your role for the future? What things would you like to be seen done?
Green: I believe the art leads the organization, so a primary role of mine is to help make possible Carol's artistic vision for Northern Stage. I think this company is on the tail end of a growth phase in its lifecycle. We moved into our new home, the Barrette Center for the Arts, in 2015, and since that time we have seen explosive programmatic growth in our state-of-the-art facility, evidenced by the doubling of our budget in the last two years.
Our educational programs are sold out with waiting lists, as are many of our performances. Many young people and their families who participate in our educational programs share with us how our work is impacting them in deep and positive ways. New play development is blossoming in real and unexpected ways. We have burst onto the national theater scene with productions we've taken off-Broadway and with Carol's founding of the BOLD Theater Women's Leadership Circle, a cohort of five female-led professional theaters across the nation that are working to advance women in leadership in the industry.
We have championed a community engagement model, with our patrons and community members living at the heart of our operations. What comes after this growth? Maturity, stability, depth. Northern Stage is 22 years old. We have grown to a mature, institutional level in so many areas – but not in quite all. There are some infrastructure weaknesses in the internal operations of the company that I'd like to address. We are working hard to achieve financial stability, which is incredibly difficult in the business model of live professional nonprofit theater. We are constantly striving for artistic excellence and refining what we do. There is no status quo in art making. We are thinking about how to begin to attract audiences as a destination theater. We are approaching our 25th Anniversary Season and thinking together strategically about what that means and where we go from here.
WM: Aside from theater, what other activities do you enjoy? Do you have other hobbies?
Green: My husband and I have a 17-month-old daughter, and I am loving being a mom! Our daughter is so fun and funny, and it is a miracle to watch her grow. I love cooking and traveling – international trips, exploring the US, daytrips – they are all fun in my book, and taking long hikes with my dog, a 70-pound Dalmatian/lab mix. I learned to ski since moving to New England five years ago, and that's a new hobby. I try to get out at least a couple of times each winter. I aspire to garden, but for now it's still on the bucket list.
WM: What makes Northern Stage so special to you?
Green: I think it's very rare to see a theater company as reflective of and indispensable to its immediate community as Northern Stage is. Community engagement is one of our core values, and we really do put our patrons and the Upper Valley at the center of what we do. Through doing this, we find the most enriching experiences for artists and audience alike, for the businesses who sponsor and support us, for the kids who train with us and then perhaps when they are ready, step into a main stage show. It is such a privilege to be a cultural institution in a rural region. We have a voice that matters and contributes to public discourse. In an era when moments of public convening are vanishing, the theater – a place where turning your phone off and looking at other human beings is a requirement – becomes a medicine for our modern lives. The theater we produce is of truly excellent quality, and it's such a pleasure to be part of it.
WM: Is there anything you'd like to say to the community at large?
Green: Thank you. To everyone who donated to the Campaign for Northern Stage and contributed to our new home, to everyone who supports us with a donation year in and year out, to the first-timer who came to the theater this season, to the businesses across the street from us that make White River fun and funky, to the subscribers who join us on a season-long journey, to the parents who drove their kids back and forth and back and forth so they could be in Matilda last December, to people who speak well of us and recommend us to others, to our volunteer ushers who brave snowstorms to hand out our programs, to our board and staff who work tirelessly in service of our mission – to everyone who believes in us and believes that theater matters.