TheatreWorks Announces Retirement of Robert Kelley After 50th Season
Ending one of the longest tenures in American theatre, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley announced today that Founding Artistic Director Robert Kelley will retire at the conclusion of the company's 50th season, 2019/2020. Robert Kelley is believed currently to hold the record for the longest run as Artistic Director at a professional American regional theatre. Kelley founded TheatreWorks in 1970 and has remained at its helm for the past 47 years, directing more than 170 of the company's 426 productions. He has overseen its growth from an experimental youth troupe to national status as a fully-professional regional theatre, the third largest in the Bay Area, and part of America's 72-member League of Resident Theatres (LORT). Under Kelley's leadership, TheatreWorks has produced 66 world premieres and 164 regional premieres to date, established a nationally recognized New Works Festival, and created lauded education programs that engage 25,000 students each year.
As he launches a dynamic, premiere-laden 48th season in July 2017, Artistic Director Kelley remains vigorously committed to the company, which he says has offered "an artistic home to thousands of exceptional theatre artists over the years. There is a joy here, a warmth to the creative process that many have found inspiring. For me, that joy has been worth a lifetime." Kelley's final three years will culminate in 2020 with TheatreWorks' 50th Anniversary Season. Says Kelley, "I'm healthy, I still love making theatre, and I intend to remain active in support of the company. But I believe the half-century mark is a timely and appropriate moment for TheatreWorks to embrace new leadership to continue our growth into the future. Following retirement, I hope to remain active with the company, and look forward to being a part in its future growth under a new artistic leader."
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Board of Trustees Chair Barbara Shapiro adds, "The Board fully appreciates all Kelley has done not only for theatre in the Bay Area, but also across the country. TheatreWorks has always reflected the diversity, entrepreneurship, and humanity of our community, as well as Kelley's personal warmth and artistry. With our national reputation for artistic quality, our strong financial position, and the outstanding organizational leadership of our Board and staff, we are in an excellent position to seek out and retain new artistic leadership. Our announcement today will allow ample time for a successful transition." The Board will begin a national search for a successor this year, with plans to have next generation leadership in place as Kelley's final season begins.
Under the direction of ten-year Managing Director Phil Santora the company is on firm financial footing with a committed subscription and donor base, and a substantial endowment. TheatreWorks continues to enjoy the support of the City of Mountain View, where it produces five productions each season, and the City of Palo Alto, where it produces three productions and a nationally acclaimed New Works Festival.
- Diversity: From its first production, TheatreWorks has been committed to diversity, innovation, and the confluence of drama and music onstage. Kelley has frequently described the company's work as "a celebration of the human spirit." TheatreWorks was one of the Bay Area's first proponents of diverse casting, with a mission to showcase artists and works that reflect the diversity of its community. At a time when performers of color were rarely seen on local stages, the company was determined that its productions would be representational of the multi-ethnic Bay Area, a casting practice which eventually became common place here, and throughout regional theatres.
- New Works: The very popular TheatreWorks New Works Festival and the company's non-public Writers' Retreat program have attracted authors and composers of national stature (Wendy Wasserstein, Beth Henley, Paul Gordon, Marsha Norman, Henry Krieger, Stephen Schwartz, Duncan Sheik, Joe DiPietro, and Andrew Lippa, among many others), providing an artistic home in which America's theatre artists can create new works in a supportive and helpful environment.
- National: The company has contributed significantly to Modern American Theatre, developing scores of works that have gone on to be produced around the country. It was at TheatreWorks that Memphis, the 2010 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, was first workshopped and received its world premiere. Memphis went on to enjoy a three-year run on Broadway before embarking on a 19-month national tour, followed by an extended run on London's West End where it captured two Olivier Awards. Many other works developed at TheatreWorks have received productions at major regional theatres and Off-Broadway (most recently Earnest Shackleton Loves Me, which opened May 7, 2017 at Second Stage's Tony Kiser Theatre).
- Future: Continuing its commitment to new works, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley will launch its next season in July with the debut of The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga, developed at the company's New Works Festival last summer. It will be followed in October by the world premiere of The Prince of Egypt, a new musical by Academy Award, Grammy, and Tony-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell), inspired by the acclaimed Dreamworks Animation film which won Schwartz his third Oscar (for the song "When You Believe.")
- Talent: Known for spotting talent early, Kelley has cast dozens of young actors who now enjoy national and international recognition. Among those seen on the TheatreWorks stage are: Jessica Chastain (two Academy Award nominations, Golden Globe - Zero Dark Thirty), James Monroe Iglehart (2015 Tony Best Actor - Aladdin), Daveed Diggs (2016 Tony Best Featured Actor - Hamilton), Colman Domingo (2011 Tony nomination, 2014 Olivier nomination - The Scottsboro Boys), eljko Ivanek (three Tony nominations, Emmy Award - Damages, featured in countless films/TV/Broadway productions, currently starring on Madam Secretary), and Francis Jue (Obie and Lortel Awards - Yellow Face, countless films/TV/Broadway productions, also currently featured on Madam Secretary).
- Awards: In 2003 Robert Kelley was honored by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC) with the Paine Knickerbocker Award recognizing his continuing contribution to Bay Area Theatre. The same group recognized Kelley this year with the Jerry Friedman Lifetime Achievement Award, for his work furthering the creativity and growth of theatre throughout his career. His productions have captured hundreds of awards for TheatreWorks, and he personally received SFBATCC Awards for Outstanding Direction for The Hound of the Baskervilles, Into the Woods, Pacific Overtures, Rags, Sweeney Todd, Another Midsummer Night, Sunday in the Park with George, Jane Eyre, and Caroline, or Change. Among the shows he has recently helmed are the box office record-setting production of Jane Austen's EMMA, a re-imagined Sweeney Todd, the rarely-seen Sondheim musical Marry Me a Little, the regional premiere of John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar, the hit holiday revival of Daddy Long Legs, and the recently concluded musical Rags.
- About: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is an Equity/LORT theatre, producing nine shows in the coming season, playing to more than 100,000 patrons a year. Among its other public services are an acclaimed education outreach program that reaches some 25,000 students annually with in-class workshops, student matinees, summer camps, the Young Playwrights Project, the acclaimed Oskar school tours, and the Children's Healing Project at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. For complete information TheatreWorks Silicon Valley visit www.TheatreWorks.org.
Photo credit: Niko Kitaoka