Resident to receive Off-Broadway award

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Terry Byrne will be honored with a Lucille Lortel Award for her years of service to Off-Broadway.

BLOOMFEILD, NJ — Bloomfield resident Terry Byrne will be the recipient of a prestigious Lucille Lortel Award presented by the Off-Broadway League. She will be receiving the Edith Oliver Service to Off-Broadway Award.

A Lucille Lortel Award is the Off-Broadway equivalent of a Tony Award for a Broadway production. An Off-Broadway theater is defined as one operating in Manhattan with between 100 and 499 seats. The Off-Broadway League is a membership organization of Off-Broadway theater owners and managers.

“The award is about service over a period of time,” Byrne said recently at her home. “In my case, I joined the board of directors of the Off-Broadway League in 1993. I’ve been on the board since.”

Byrne, the wife of Bloomfield High School theater instructor Brandon Doemling, was elected president of the League in May and is the first woman to hold that position. The organization was founded in 1959. She said the bulk of her work is negotiating League collective bargaining agreements with various unions. She has also served on numerous committees. All the positions are voluntary.

“We do this work in addition to our full-time jobs,” she said. “You have to find the time.”
A lifelong love for theater has carried Byrne to the upcoming ceremony and her service award. Most rewarding for her is the challenge that theater must draw together artists from different fields.

“Theater is the greatest art form,” she said. “It’s the one that appeals to me because of the collaboration. Everybody must come together. That’s appealing to me because I like people. And what I love about Off-Broadway is that you can wrap your arms around it. You know everybody.”
Unlike Broadway productions which must attract large audiences since by definition a Broadway house has 500 or more seats, an Off-Broadway show, with fewer seats and overhead costs, can take a risk. It can even change people’s minds, Byrne said. Something else to its advantage is that there is little reliance on big-name actors.

“Off-Broadway is a way to highlight a story that may not be heard,” she said.
As a young girl, Byrne was not involved in theater and came to it later on. She grew up in suburban Philadelphia and attended West Chester University as a French language major. But an interest in acting made her switch majors. It was then that she met Doemling, a fellow-student inhabiting a parallel universe as a future detective.
“Brandon was a criminal justice major,” she said. “He changed to theater.”

They married right after college and headed for NYC with the hope of acting careers.“We pursued that and all the crazy jobs,” she said. “But we began to go into other theater paths and we found other satisfying things. Brandon eventually segued into educational theater.”

Byrne began to work in theater company management. Starting a family, she looked for a regular job and was hired
in 1991 at the West Side Theater, in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, as the general
manager.

“I’m an organized person,” she said. “And I remember in college I did stage management. That’s a great experience.”
Much of a theater manager’s work involves human resource, Byrne said. You not only have to direct people, but also keep them interested. Another challenge is taking care of an old building which is the West Side Theatre. Dating to the late 1880s, it was originally the Second German Baptist Church. It became a theater in 1973. Under Byrne’s management, numerous well-received plays and musicals have been produced there, including “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which ran for 12 years.

Byrne also determines what shows will be produced with an eye toward production and operating costs, scheduling, contents and ticket pricing. Two stages are located in the theater, on the first and second floors. Seating is 249 and 270, respectively. Two shows are sometimes presented simultaneously.

“It’s a very diverse job,” Byrne said. “It’s a lot of paper-pushing, to be honest, like any management job. But I’ve never gotten bored. It changes from day to day and you keep learning. That’s how I got involved with the Off-Broadway League. It’s mission is to keep Off-Broadway viable.”

That mission is a balancing act — keeping the shows profitable and making sure the people are treated fairly, she said. And there is always the chance Off-Broadway will generate a big hit that moves to Broadway. “Hamilton” began Off-Broadway.
“The list is endless,” Byrne said.

The Lucille Lortel Awards ceremony is scheduled for May 5 at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts. Byrne said her pastimes are travel, American history and going to the theater for fun.

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