At ART, transition to new artistic director was a rocky one, but ultimately a success

Christopher Wallenberg, American Theater magazine, July/August 2011 issue

In May 2008, Diane Paulus was named the third artistic director in the 31-year history of American Repertory Theater. She has shaken up the vanguard company with her audience-embracing, populist vision.  "You know, when you take over a theatre, you can sort of gingerly, over many years, turn the ship in a different direction. But I guess that's not my nature. I really felt that I was going to have to deliver and show the audience at ART what I meant. So I went pretty deep pretty fast. That was my modus operandi: Let's not just talk the talk, let's walk the walk."  Paulus generated buzz, stoked tickets sales and stabilized ART's finances. But she also suffered slings and arrows from some longtime ART staffers and supporters unhappy with her radical re-jiggering.  Almost a year later, Paulus feels more emboldened than ever: "Making change at an institution is hard because people are used to doing things the way they want. You have to deal with changing expectations. A lot of it has to do with how you communicate and how you continue to help people to understand what you're doing, and how everything you're doing relates to the mission of the theatre."  The transition to new leadership internally was a rocky one, with bruised feelings all around. "When a big leadership change like this happens, there are lots of vulnerable people," says a longtime former ART staff member who has also worked under Paulus. "And maybe she didn't have the administrative experience to really shepherd that transition smoothly. But she didn't come in and do anything malicious.... She's figuring out how to honor the past, while also saying, 'This is where we're taking that legacy now.'"


At Chicago's black theaters, new artistic leadership to bring sweeping change

Kelly Kleiman, Chicago News Cooperative, 7/5/11

Compared to the rest of Chicago's theater community, where companies can rise, fall and change directions seemingly from show to show, African-American theaters have been a bastion of stability -- or, according to some critics, stasis.  Now signs of change are sweeping through the black theater community. Last month, eta Creative Arts co-founder Abena Joan Brown retired after 40 years; next month, Congo Square will announce a new artistic director; in the fall the Black Ensemble Theater will open a cultural center in Uptown with two theaters and broader programing.   Philip Thomas, the new president and chief executive of eta Creative Arts, said: "We have a strong subscriber and donor base, but it's aging.  We want to maintain that, but we want to cultivate young people to populate the new base of support."  That can be a challenge: The taste in theater subjects varies widely between older and younger audiences. Theatergoers between 30 and 40 seem less focused on struggles against segregation and more willing to see portrayals of a variety of African-American experiences, according to Reginald Lawrence, artistic director of MPAACT. For the older generation, "there was this notion of the need for black work to be universal, when the thing that makes theater remarkable is its specificity," Lawrence said.  Other black companies also are focusing on the future. In seeking a new artistic director, the 12-year-old Congo Square is "making the transition for longevity," said Daniel Bryant, the theater's interim producing artistic director. Lawrence faces a similar challenge at MPAACT. "The staying power of the black theaters -- that's been by sheer force of will," he said. "We must know that the infrastructure is in place for the next 20 years. It's a function of age in the most positive sense, being old enough to have to think about succession."


Three UK theatres where new artistic directors have turned a theater around

Mark Shenton, The Stage [UK] blog, 7/6/11

A big theatre is like a big ship: it has a very big turning circle.  It has to plan its moves carefully. And it needs a strong captain at the helm with steady hands to plan and then hold its new course, especially in the stormy weather that may have caused it to change routes in the first place.  Even then, having come out of one storm, there's always the prospect of more bad weather ahead. The captain has to be ready to make some more changes to the routing, or be able to steer through the eye of it. But of course, too, the captain doesn't do it alone; he's also got a strong crew around him, who are all behind him.  That it can be done has been proved again and again: Chichester [Festival Theatre] and Hampstead [Theatre], for instance, were both slowly sinking ships when Jonathan Church and Edward Hall respectively inherited them.  This year's [Chichester] season proves just how brilliant [Church] is at getting the mix right.  Meanwhile, Hampstead used to limp from flop to flop, a pale shadow of its former self as one of London's premiere new writing houses.  But Edward Hall has found [its old magic] again; now you don't dread a visit there, but actually look forward to it again. The lifeblood of any theatre, of course, is good writing, and good actors to give it flesh and blood. That's the formula for success that has been engineered, with the occasional misstep along the way, by Kevin Spacey in his artistic directorship of the Old Vic.  After a sometimes rocky start, he turned around its fortunes, in every sense, and now the theatre ably competes with its neighbours in the capital's liveliest theatrical district.


Intiman Theatre board seeks input from artists before a formal search for a new AD

Misha Berson, The Seattle Times, 7/6/11

The board of directors of Intiman Theatre, which laid off its staff and canceled its 2011 season in April due to crushing financial debt, is inviting local theater artists to submit potential blueprints for reviving the company.  Intiman board chair and hotelier Bruce Bradburn said the trustees have been meeting to consider possible options for future restructuring and fundraising for the operation. But he added that deciding on an artistic and production plan for Intiman is an even bigger priority, if the organization is to move forward.  "We recently had a forum with a really good group of a dozen local artists who've worked with Intiman, including some former associate artistic directors, actors, some costume and set designers, the whole gamut," said Bradburn. Throughout July there will be individual discussions with artists about their visions for the company's future, but "this isn't a formal hiring process for a new artistic director," he said.  However, Bradburn said choosing a particular artistic course and leadership for Intiman, or deciding that the deeply indebted theater is simply no longer viable, "is a relatively imminent decision. We have to be on track to know where we're going by October 1, if we want to start approaching funders."  Asked about the odds of survival for Intiman, one of Seattle's most prominent drama institutions since its founding in 1972, Bradburn said he is "not pessimistic; but let's say cautiously optimistic."

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