MEMBERABILIA: Spotlight on Ocean Reef Members
The Irrepressible Barbara Olcott
A mainstay of the Cultural Center at Ocean Reef
I have never met anyone with as much energy as Barbara Olcott. This petite blonde, who might possibly be mistaken for a teenager, has been a leader and an influential force at Ocean Reef for nearly four decades. She has served on the Board of the Ocean Reef Club and on numerous committees. And for 19 years Barbara has been the guiding light of the Entertainment Committee at the Cultural Center. (For the last five she was chairman.) This year she took on the additional task of co-chair of the 2023 All Charities Auction and Gala, the premiere event on the OR calendar.
Barbara and her husband Emery discovered Ocean Reef in the early 80’s. Without giving it a second thought, they quickly settled into a “much too small” condo in The Landings with their brood of five young children. (The melded family included His: two boys and a girl. Hers: one boy. Theirs: a baby boy).
For most people being a mom to a family of seven would be exhausting, but Barbara Olcott did it all and still had energy enough for tennis, pickleball and golf.
It was a formidable schedule, but Barbara felt keenly that something was missing.
All of Barbara’s life she had loved the arts. Before coming to the Reef, she had been a professional photographer and an amateur theatrical producer. Twenty-seven years ago, along with founder Gerry Mack, Barbara effectively raised the necessary funds and launched the Great Water Music Festival in Wolfeboro NH, located near a family compound, created years ago by her great grandfather, the founder of Filene’s, the famed Boston department store.
The Music Festival experience had given Barbara Olcott a taste for what she liked best and felt most qualified to do – that is, to raise the finances for an artistic endeavor and then to gather the talent that could bring it to fruition.
Barbara needed an involving project, where she could be a producer. She found it at the Cultural Center at Ocean Reef,
Cultural Center – love at first site….
Forgive the pun, but Barbara became involved with Ocean Reef’s Cultural Center shortly after it opened the doors of its beautiful new building in 2001.
The Cultural Center was the vision of three members – Tom Davidson, Alan Goldstein and the late Dick Farmer. They raised the money to build it; supervised the construction; and ultimately planned the programming, which was designed to entertain and sometimes educate the Ocean Reef Club membership.
Quick to spot help, where it could be useful, “the boys” (a fond nickname for the remarkable triumvirate) recognized that Barbara had learned interesting lessons in establishing the music festival in New Hampshire. “I certainly found out that classical music and dance don’t sell,” says Barbara. When Tom asked her how to arrange for first run movies, she promptly came up with a list of film brokers. “In the end Tom knew the head of Sony, who made sure we got our movies.”
Barbara began her official connection with the Cultural Center as a valued member of the Entertainment Committee. “It was the only committee we had. We picked the shows, movies, lectures. A few years later Alan Goldstein asked me to chair that committee.” (Barbara ultimately was tapped to be Chairman of the Cultural Center.
One of Barbara’s first tasks as Chair was to create new committees for the diverse activities that had formerly been lumped together in the Entertainment Committee. Also along with John Hunt, the Cultural Center president, she continued to choose the live performances. “We often traveled to New York to see for ourselves potential Cultural Center attractions.”
Come to the Cabaret
A few years ago, Barbara – who has been passionate about Broadway musicals from the time she was eight and her mother took her to see Mary Martin in Peter Pan – had an inspiration. Why not cabaret at Ocean Reef.
Many talented Broadway stars, who are between gigs in the theater, put together small traveling cabaret shows. Why not introduce this sophisticated genre of entertainment to OR members.
Cabaret has proved to be a popular addition to the Cultural Center’s agenda. Talented performers like Kate Baldwin and Jason Robert Brown perform, not in the auditorium, but in the Compass Room of the Cultural Center, where dinner is served at small candle-lit tables and there is an intimacy between the audience and the performer.
Barbara believes that introducing Cabaret to Ocean Reef rates as the second accomplishment that she is most proud of. First place goes to her 5 kids, 13 grandkids and one granddaughter. “They all love to visit Ocean Reef. Sometimes at Christmas we are 28 strong.”
Outside the Gate
In addition to Ocean Reef, there are two other places where Barbara Olcott’s involvement is greatly appreciated.
One is Wolfeboro NH. In this little town near her summer home, Barbara Chairs and chooses the music for the Great Water Music Festival. In a beautiful tent on the grounds of a castle, audiences of up to 1000 people can enjoy a variety of musical performances.
Barbara’s other favorite haunt is NYC. For 10 years she has been a valued board member of the Dramatists Guild Foundation, an organization that for six decades has supported playwrights, composers, lyricists, librettists for the American theater. Barbara was recently one of three honorees at the organization’s 60th Anniversary Gala. That’s a very big deal!
Last Word on Barbara Olcott
“There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.”
Featured Above: Barbara with Alan Goldstein and Tom Davidson at the 2001 ribbon cutting for the new Cultural Center at Ocean Reef.