The guy with the golden rolodex
When I spoke with Orchard in his office 10 days before the season was to open, he was his usual ebullient and focused self: well read, well bred, and well tailored. Orchard does not so much radiate can-do spirit as embody it. What is an impresario if not artistic entrepreneur?

I listen to Orchard expound on some of the projects ArtsEmerson has in motion: he’s talking with Dublin’s Abbey Theatre about their plans to reinterpret the 22 plays of W.B. Yeats, which will soon enter the public domain; meanwhile, he has invited the Abbey to stage a workshop production here of an original work by Tom Stoppard, John Guare, and David Hare based on Joyce’s Ulysses. Listening to him is in itself a low-key powerfully linear performance.

Several months ago, when ArtsEmerson was still void and without form, I asked a performance-world professional who had been a sometime Orchard collaborator and a sometime competitor how he thought the kick-off might turn out.

“Rob is a guy with a golden Rolodex with vast connections in the international theater community,” he said, thus identifying himself as too old to be a member of the iPhone generation, but old enough to know what he was talking about.

When ArtsEmerson unveiled its first season this summer, the results were indeed impressive: in addition to the already mentioned Tectonic Theater Project and the Abbey, there was the front-line “legends” category: the Elevator Repair Service, New York Theatre Workshop, the Druid Theatre, Paris-based Peter Brooks (a true living legend), and the Theatre for a New Audience. Basil Twist puppet theater straddles the worlds of adult and family performance. And Rude Mechs and the Oxford Playhouse are representative in the “pioneer” of emerging talents.

1009_liebergott_main
EMERSON COLLEGE: president Jacqueline Liebergott sees the three-tiered, multi-disciplinary ArtsEmerson as a way to unite performers, students, and academics with audiences in a new and flexible way.

A publicist for a competing Boston theater group was heard to remark on her way out of the ArtsEmerson announcement, “Well, we’ve got our work cut out for us now.”

The Paramount and the already renovated Cutler Majestic around the corner are just the most visible performance spaces out of a total of four. Cradled inside the Paramount complex is the intimate Black Box theater, which will be used for of-the-moment performance work, and the Bright Screening Room, to be used for film.

Orchard no doubt recognized the clear impact that the MFA had on the local music scene when, several years ago, it began programming cutting-edge music bridging the indie and international sensibilities, and the undeniable success enjoyed by the Institute for Contemporary Art, with its wide-ranging schedule of films, talks, dance, and music. Orchard recruited Dan Hirsch, who had helped the MFA win its musical chops, and Rebecca Meyers, well known for her work with the Harvard Film Archive.

“Dan and Rebecca are in the fullest sense my collaborators,” said Orchard. “They are another set of eyes and ears — much younger eyes and ears, I might add.”

When I asked Orchard to sum up in a sentence how he saw the ArtsEmerson mission, he apologized for sounding like a marketer before saying, “To be international without having to go to the airport.”

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