South Coast Rep Announces Search for Artistic Director

Forty-six years after founding South Coast Repertory, David Emmes and Martin Benson have decided it is time to begin the search for their successor. They have greenlighted a detailed leadership transition plan that is set to culminate later in the year with the naming of a new Artistic Director to join the leadership team.

This does not mean, however, that Emmes, the Producing Artistic Director, and Benson, the Artistic Director, are retiring. They will continue to serve in their current capacities until a new Artistic Director is in place, at which point they will assume the titles of Founding Directors. In their new roles they will serve as counselors and advisers to their successor. They will continue to play an active role in assisting the new Artistic Director in the finding and development of plays, and they will continue to direct productions.

"We're stepping back, but not away," said Emmes. "We think it's incredibly important that SCR not lose artistic momentum. We believe we can help the next leader through the transition period as he or she becomes familiar with the particular needs of such a large and complex organization."

Though Benson and Emmes will be involved in the hiring process, SCR's Board of Trustees will choose the new leader: "We know that in order to keep growing, the theatre needs new ideas, new blood, new chemistry," Benson said. "SCR will need someone who is responsive to changing times and circumstances."

SCR has always taken a deliberate, evolutionary approach to change, and the succession plan is no exception. It began to take shape at a board retreat in March of 2008 and has been continuously refined until the founders felt that it - and they - were ready to move forward.

"David and Martin are visionaries," said Wylie Aitken, president of SCR's Board of Trustees. "They transformed SCR from a company with $17 and a station wagon into a three-theatre complex with a $9 million annual budget and numerous awards, including a Tony. Together with the Orange County community, they've created one of the most successful and stable arts institutions in the country. We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate that they have led a process to ensure the continuity of SCR's future artistic leadership. We are also grateful that they are willing to stay on to share their wisdom and insight as we identify a strong artistic leader to partner with our Managing Director, Paula Tomei, to carry on SCR's long history of service to Orange County and the National Theatre community."

For more details on the coming changes, please see the Q&A below.

Q&A with David Emmes and Martin Benson

Why now? Is something wrong?
Nothing's wrong. We're both healthy, and the theatre is doing well artistically and financially. But we're both in our 70s now, and we know inevitably there comes a time for change. We wanted to begin this process before anything went wrong, so that we can help to ensure the smoothest possible leadership transition to support SCR's continued success well into the future. Our succession plan is built to suit SCR's unique needs, but it was inspired in part by the example of other artistic directors who remained at their theatres for a period of time to facilitate an effective transition with minimal disruption.

Why are you both stepping down at the same time?
We started the theatre together, and we think it only makes sense for us to go out together.

Will you choose your replacement?
The board will choose our successor, but we will be very involved in the process. Though we won't be official members of the search committee, we will help screen and interview candidates and give our recommendations to the committee.

What kind of person are you looking for?
We've had numerous conversations with the board about this, and we all agree that the new artistic director must be someone whose values are consistent with SCR's - someone who places a high importance on literature, stewardship, community and collaboration. The new leader must be someone who has shown his or her commitment to a collaborative artistic process - that is something SCR has always prized. Of course, they also must have a history of artistic achievement. And they will need to be someone who can partner well with Managing Director Paula Tomei.

Is Paula's role changing?
Yes. Once the new Artistic Director starts, Paula will rise to the level of Co-CEO, reporting directly to the board. Working in conjunction with the Artistic Director, she will continue to set programmatic assumptions to ensure that artistic and other programming is aligned with the mission and operating goals and meets board-approved budgetary guidelines. She will also continue to have primary responsibility for the Production, Marketing, Development and Business departments and will work with the board on major campaign fundraising, planning and recruitment of future leadership.

Once the new artistic director is in place, what will your roles be?
We will assume the titles of Founding Directors, and we will serve as counselors and advisers to the new artistic director. We will continue to serve as board trustees. We'll still be reading play submissions and attending rehearsals and readings and offering input to the new artistic director.

Will you still be in the office every day?
Not every day, but often. We'll share an office and be in and out, working there and from home, and sometimes, at the behest of the new Artistic Director, traveling to other theatres to scout productions that might be good fits for SCR.

Will you still direct plays at SCR?
Yes. We plan to each direct at least one show a year, and we'll work with the new artistic director to determine which shows those will be.

How long will you serve as Founding Directors?
As many as five years. Either of us can choose to retire sooner if we wish.

Will this change affect South Coast Repertory's commitment to new work?
Absolutely not. Our mission and programs will remain intact. Our new leader will be someone who shares our values and believes in the importance of literature and the development of new plays.

What's the timetable for all this?
The search committee will come together in April. After that, we expect the process to take about four to six months, with the new artistic director in place - we hope - by the start of the 2010-2011 season in September.

In the meantime, who is planning and producing the 2010-2011 season?
We are. We've already identified several projects we're excited about, and we'll be announcing preliminary titles for the new season in March.

SCR Founders' Biographies
David Emmes (Producing Artistic Director) is co-founder of SCR. In May 2008, he and Martin Benson received the Margo Jones Award for their lifetime commitment to theatre excellence and to fostering the art and craft of American playwriting. In addition, he has received numerous awards for productions he has directed during his SCR career, including a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for the direction of George Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer. He directed the world premieres of Amy Freed's Safe in Hell, The Beard of Avon and Freedomland, Thomas Babe's Great Day in the Morning, Keith Reddin's Rum and Coke and But Not for Me and Neal Bell's Cold Sweat; the American premieres of Terry Johnson's Unsuitable for Adults and Joe Penhall's Dumb Show; the West Coast premieres of C.P. Taylor's Good and Harry Kondoleon's Christmas on Mars; and the Southland premiere of Top Girls (at SCR and the Westwood Playhouse). Other productions include the West Coast premieres of Three Viewings by Jeffrey Hatcher, The Secret Rapture by David Hare and New England by Richard Nelson; and Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind and You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw, which he restaged for the Singapore Festival of Arts. He has served as a theatre panelist and onsite evaluator for the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a panelist for the California Arts Council. After attending Orange Coast College, he received his BA and MA from San Francisco State University, and his PhD in theatre and film from USC.

Martin Benson (Artistic Director), co-founder of SCR, has directed nearly one fourth of the plays produced here. In May 2008, he and David Emmes received the Margo Jones Award for their lifetime commitment to theatre excellence and to fostering the art and craft of American playwriting. He has distinguished himself in the staging of contemporary work, including William Nicholson's The Retreat from Moscow, the world premiere of Horton Foote's Getting Frankie Married - and Afterwards and the critically acclaimed California premiere of Nicholson's Shadowlands. He has won accolades for his direction of five major works by George Bernard Shaw, including the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) Award-winners Major Barbara, Misalliance and Heartbreak House. Among his numerous world premieres is Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit, which he also directed at Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Alley Theatre in Houston. He has directed American classics including Ah, Wilderness!, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Delicate Balance and A View from the Bridge. Mr. Benson has received the LADCC Distinguished Achievement in Directing awards an unparalleled seven times for the three Shaw productions, John Millington Synge's Playboy of the Western World, Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Sally Nemeth's Holy Days and Wit. He also directed the film version of Holy Days using the original SCR cast. Along with Emmes, he accepted SCR's 1988 Tony Award for Outstanding Resident Professional Theatre and won the 1995 Theatre LA Ovation Award for Lifetime Achievement. Mr. Benson received his BA in Theatre from San Francisco State University.

For more information on SCR, please visit http://www.scr.org/

Photo credit: Mark Boster/LAT



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