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Lamos And Ross Named Directors Of Westport Playhouse

Theater veterans Mark Lamos and Michael Ross have been named artistic director and managing director, respectively, of Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut, as the historic theater enters its 79th season. The new leadership team will assume their positions on February 1, 2009.

Tony Award-nominated director Mark Lamos was appointed following a year-long, nationwide search by the theater's board of trustees. He will take the helm from Joanne Woodward and Anne Keefe, who served as interim artistic directors during the 2008 season. Lamos, who from 1980 to 1997 was artistic director of Hartford Stage, accepted the 1989 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater on behalf of Hartford's body of work. Most recently, he directed "Cymbeline" and "Seascape" at Lincoln Center Theater, winning a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival for the latter. Under Lamos' direction, PBS' "Live from Lincoln Center" telecast of "Madama Butterfly" won a 2008 Emmy Award for New York City Opera. Lamos will direct the upcoming "Adriana Lecouvreur" with Placido Domingo, opening in February at the Metropolitan Opera.

Michael Ross most recently served for six years as managing director of Center Stage in Baltimore and previously worked in management with two Connecticut theaters, Long Wharf Theatre and Hartford Stage. In addition to management consulting for theaters across the country, he was program officer for National Arts Stabilization. He currently serves on Theatre Communications Group's board of directors. Ross will succeed Jodi Schoenbrun Carter, who served as managing director from 2006 to 2008.

Lamos, who last season was asked to take over from Paul Newman the direction of the Playhouse's "Of Mice and Men," said, "At that time I had no idea that Westport Country Playhouse would attract me on so many levels. I started to learn more about its dazzling history, the parade of great artists who had worked there over nearly 80 seasons, its constant commitment to excellence and its important contribution to the history of American-- as well as Connecticut-- theater. Then I saw the beautiful Playhouse theater and began to feel a quickening of the heart.

"These things are intangible, of course," he continued, "but rehearsing in that vital, intimate space, so lovingly restored by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, along with a group of passionate board members, I began to feel an indescribable attachment not only to the theater but also to the community of board members, donors and audiences to whom it mattered so deeply."

Lamos noted that as he met many of those associated with the Playhouse he began to sense that "this could be a wonderful fit for me right now." He added, "When it became clear that my old colleague Michael Ross was interested in working with me, there was no reason not to accept the chance to take the Playhouse into a new moment, a new era, a new direction."

"We are excited to welcome Mark Lamos as our new artistic director and Michael Ross as our new managing director," said Sandra Walters DeFeo, president, Westport Country Playhouse board of trustees. "Building on Joanne and Annie's artistic success, this exceptionally talented team shares the board's vision to bring the venerable Playhouse to the forefront of American theater as it approaches its 80th anniversary season."

Ms. DeFeo also praised out-going managing director, Jodi Schoenbrun Carter. "The decision to bring in a new managing director originated with Mark and the idea of him and Michael Ross coming on board as a team became a requirement of accepting our offer. The board recognizes and appreciates the significant contributions Jodi has made in the last two years and is grateful for the wonderful work she has done as managing director. The Playhouse is a stronger place because of her, and her passion has been inspiring to all."

Lamos concurred. "I want everyone to know that my enthusiasm for having Michael as a partner in this endeavor began well before I met with Jodi, and was completely independent of Jodi's qualifications or her performance as current managing director - which has been superb," he said. "This decision has only to do with my chance to work again with a valued colleague I've long admired."

The 2009 Season
Interim artistic directors Woodward and Keefe created the Playhouse's 2009 season last October.

"Michael and I will take over this varied and entertaining season as we prepare for future ones," commented Lamos. "Once the season begins, I look forward to meeting our audiences and to directing a production of my own---as yet to be decided. We are hoping to stay with most of the season as announced, since it is already in the planning stage. There may be some changes or rearrangement of announced plays. My intention, however, is to honor the outgoing artistic directors' vision as we move forward."

Lamos added that he is "thrilled that this season will include the participation of my good friend Michael Wilson, director of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,' who followed me at Hartford Stage." He also is enthused to work with Playhouse veterans John Tillinger, A.R. Gurney and Paxton Whitehead.

The 2009 series of six productions will commence on April 21 and run through December. A season schedule is available at www.westportplayhouse.org.

Mark Lamos, a resident of Sherman, Connecticut, is a director of plays, musicals and opera. The New York Times has called him "a poet of the theater," and his work receives a chapter in Samuel L. Leiter's "The Great Stage Directors: 100 Distinguished Careers of the Theater," along with legendary directors of the twentieth century. Born and raised in Chicago, educated at Northwestern University, Lamos began his career in the theater as an actor, first in Chicago and then on Broadway and in regional theater, most notably the Guthrie Theater, where he spent over three seasons, and the Old Globe Theatre, where he played the title role in "Hamlet," directed by Jack O'Brien. He made his film acting debut in "Longtime Companion."

Lamos spent 17 seasons as artistic director of Connecticut's Hartford Stage, for which he accepted the Tony Award in 1989. During his tenure at Hartford Stage he staged acclaimed productions of many classics, including 14 Shakespeare plays, as well as a cycle of Ibsen dramas, including the full-length "Peer Gynt," starring Richard Thomas. Many new plays and musicals moved from Hartford to New York and beyond, and the theater premiered new work by Tony Kushner, Simon Gray, Tom Stoppard, Richard Foreman, Anne Bogart and many others. Lamos received the 1989 Connecticut Medal for the Arts and three honorary doctorates for his work at Hartford.

He made his Broadway directing debut with a transfer from Hartford Stage of "Our Country's Good," for which he received a Tony Award nomination as Best Director. His other Broadway credits include "Cymbeline," "Seascape" (Tony Award nomination for Best Revival) and "The Rivals" (Lincoln Center Theater); and "The Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Deep Blue Sea" (Roundabout Theatre). Off-Broadway credits include A. R. Gurney's "Buffalo Gal" and the world premiere of Gurney's "Indian Blood" (Primary Stages); "Big Bill" (Lincoln Center Theater); "Tiny Alice" (Lortel Award, Drama Desk Award nomination); Lee Blessing's "Thief River" (Signature Theatre); "Love's Fire" (seven one-acts by Guare, Wasserstein, Bogosian, etc. for The Acting Company at New York Shakespeare Festival); Jon Robin Baitz's "The End of the Day" (Playwrights Horizons); and "Measure for Measure" (Lincoln Center Theater, Lortel Award).

Lamos was the first American director to stage a play with a Russian company in the early days of "perestroika"-- O'Neill's "Desire under the Elms" at Moscow's Pushkin Theater. He was guest director at Canada's Stratford Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, the Guthrie Lab, McCarter Theatre, The Old Globe, Ford's Theatre and the Kennedy Center where he directed "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." His most recent productions include "Edgardo Mine" (Guthrie Theater), "The Circle" (A.C.T. San Francisco) and "Lulu" at Yale Repertory Theatre. Last fall, Lamos directed "Of Mice and Men" at Westport Country Playhouse.

In the realm of opera, he will direct "Adriana Lecouvreur" with Placido Domingo for the Metropolitan Opera, opening in February. His extensive work in opera includes new productions for the Metropolitan Opera, including the world premiere of John Harbison's "The Great Gatsby" (also seen at Lyric Opera of Chicago), numerous productions for New York City Opera, and new productions for San Francisco Opera, Glimmerglass Opera and the opera companies of Santa Fe, St. Louis, Seattle, Washington, Toronto, Portland, Dallas, Gothenburg and Munich. Opera world premieres he has guided include "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" (New York City Opera), "Central Park" (Emmy Award nomination for Best Direction, televised for PBS' "Great Performances"), Dominick Argento's "The Aspern Papers" (PBS' "Great Performances"), John Harbison's "Winter's Tale" (San Francisco Opera), and Tania Leon and Wole Soyinka's "Scourge of Hyacinths" (Munich Biennale). New York City Opera won an Emmy Award for the Lamos'-directed "Madama Butterfly," televised on PBS' "Great Performances."

Lamos was named a Beinecke Fellow at Yale School of Drama in 2007 and has been awarded the Stanford Chair at University of Miami in Coral Cables this year. He has lectured at Yale and was a visiting adjunct professor in the Department of Theater at the University of Michigan.
Ross Will Head Playhouse Management

"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Mark Lamos, helping to lead the Westport Country Playhouse," said Michael Ross, the Playhouse's newly appointed managing director. "I've known Mark for almost my entire career. I have enormous respect for him and I'm a great admirer of his work. I couldn't be more excited about embarking with him on a new era at the Playhouse, a theater I've long revered for its rich and storied history. I'm looking forward to working closely with the Playhouse's talented staff and dedicated board. And I'm deeply thankful to be coming home to Connecticut."

Ross served since 2002 as managing director of Center Stage in Baltimore, the award-winning State Theater of Maryland, where he managed a $7.5 million dollar budget and oversaw operations, finances, audience development, ancillary programming, strategic planning and fundraising. He completed the theater's $6.8 million initiative to increase its endowment; developed highly successful community engagement, accessibility and young audience programs; and increased contributed income 54% over five years. Previously, Ross was managing director of Long Wharf Theatre (1997-2002), where he was on the producing team for the commercial transfer of the Pulitzer Prize winner, "Wit." During his tenure at Hartford Stage (1986-1996), he moved up from box office and business manager to general manager. He also was program officer/project director at National Arts Stabilization, and worked with Baltimore Opera Company and Alley Theater, Houston.

Ross served as a consultant in fundraising, systems, board development and strategic planning for theaters nationwide, including Kansas City Repertory Theatre, SITI Company, Wilma Theater, Trinity Repertory Company and Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. He has been a panelist for programs hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts, Theatre Communications Group and New England Foundation for the Arts, among others, and was an adjunct professor in Yale University School of Drama Theater Management Program. Ross is currently a member of the board of directors of Theatre Communications Group and National Women's Hall of Fame.

Celebrating its 79th season in 2009, the venerable Westport Country Playhouse is creating extraordinary, quality productions of new and classic plays. The Playhouse has produced more than 700 plays, 36 of which later transferred to Broadway, most recently the world premiere of "Thurgood" and a revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" with Paul Newman, and in earlier years "Come Back, Little Sheba" with Shirley Booth, "The Trip to Bountiful" with Lillian Gish and "Butterflies Are Free" with Keir Dullea and Blythe Danner. The list of actors, directors and other theater artists who have worked and continue to perform on the Playhouse's legendary stage reads like a "Who's Who" of the American theater. They include, in recent years, Karen Allen, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Chenoweth, Jill Clayburgh, Jane Curtin, Richard Dreyfuss, Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Earl Jones, Eartha Kitt, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Plummer and Gene Wilder; and in past years, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Helen Hayes, Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Gloria Swanson and Jessica Tandy.

For its artistic excellence, the Playhouse received a 2008 Westport Arts Award for Theater Achievement, a 2005 Governor's Arts Award, a 2000 "Connecticut Treasure" recognition by then Connecticut Lieutenant Governor M. Jodi Rell, numerous Connecticut Critics Circle Awards and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts, among other significant honors. The Playhouse was designated as an Official Project of Save America's Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is entered on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places.

Following a multi-million dollar renovation completed in 2005, the Playhouse enhanced it rich history as a summer venue into a year-round, state-of-the-art producing theater, which has preserved its original charm and character. Last year, 85,000 attended or participated in Playhouse programming. In addition to a full season of theatrical productions, the Playhouse presents educational programming and workshops; a children's theater series; symposiums; music; films; and readings of short fiction, classical works and new plays. Westport Country Playhouse serves as a treasured home for the theatrical arts, its audiences and its artists. For the State of Connecticut, it is a true cultural landmark. The Playhouse is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization.

For more information, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Information about the Playhouse is also available at www.westportplayhouse.org.

 



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