PITTSFIELD -- Talk about your humble beginnings.
"The first year, we used to count the cars in the parking lot," said Barrington Stage Company’s Artistic Director Julianne Boyd, recalling the theater group’s first season in Sheffield in 1995.
"There would be about 40 or 50 people," she said. "We kept on going because we knew we were doing something important."
The hard work has certainly paid off.
Barrington Stage, which moved to Pittsfield in 2006, is coming off one of its most successful seasons in its 17-year history, with attendance hitting a record 51,000 in 2012 following $1.4 million in ticket sales.
And, Barrington Stage has already registered more than $115,000 in advance sales for its 2013 season, which it will officially announce Monday.
Boyd has been with Barrington Stage from the beginning, and Wednesday, she gave a brief synopsis of the company’s history as the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Women in Business Luncheon at Berkshire Hills Country Club.
The gathering was attended by 170 people according to the Berkshire Chamber of Com merce, which sponsored the event.
Boyd, who co-founded Bar rington Stage with Susan Sperber, described how BSC started in the auditorium of Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield, why it decided to move to Pittsfield, and how the company has grown since then, highlighting the nonprofit’s trials and tribulations along the way.
"You may think of us as a nonprofit arts organization," Boyd said. "We see ourselves as a business."
It was different at the start.
Boyd said the company originally included Barrington in its name because it hoped to open in Great Barrington, but went to Sheffield because it couldn’t find a performance space there.
Barrington Stage started at Mount Everett after now retired Southern Berkshire Regional School District superintendent Thomas Consolati expressed an interest in Boyd and Sperber’s idea. Consolati was interested in exposing young people to theater, and it was at Mount Everett that Barrington Stage began focusing on youth.
"The idea of bringing in youth with their parents started down there," Boyd said. "And it stayed with us."
A lot of the group’s early years were spent "developing audiences" Boyd said. But problems arose at Mount Everett because the company could only use the auditorium for six months every year.
Interested in providing year-round theater, and frustrated by its inability to find another performing space in South County, Barrington Stage decided to completely move to Pittsfield after a search of patron’s ZIP codes revealed a third of the company’s audience lived in Central Berkshire County, Boyd said.
The company encountered several unforeseen infrastructure problems after buying the former Berkshire Music Hall on Union Street.
"Our problems really began," she said. "We had to learn how to renovate a theater."
But Barrington Stage was able to overcome them. She said the company has always felt welcome in Pittsfield.
"It’s important to know that people want you there," she said. "I’ve always felt that in Pittsfield."
Boyd said she is proud of Barrington Stage’s playwright mentoring program, which also helps at-risk youth. One of that program’s segments is designed for youngsters who have been in legal trouble.
"It’s so important to us to work with youth, and to work with the youth at risk," she said. "That’s the future of Pittsfield. We feel very strongly about that."
In 2013, Boyd said Barrington Stage plans to present an adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s Obie Award winning play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf" based on the experiences of young black women who live in Pittsfield.