Thursday, June 24, 2010

Michael Wilson To Leave Hartford Stage

Artistic Director Michael Wilson is leaving Hartford Stage to pursue freelance directing opportunities in New York. A national search will be conducted to find his replacement.

Wilson, the company’s fourth artistic director in its 47 year history, will step down at the end of next season. He is scheduled to direct a revival of Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana on Broadway. Wilson will have led the Tony Award winning theatre for 13 years.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of Wilson’s tenure at Hartford Stage is last season’s three-part, nine-hour production of Horton Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle, which received its world premiere in Hartford in 2009 before moving on to a celebrated and extended sold out run at New York’s Signature Theatre Company Off-Broadway. Wilson commissioned Foote, his long time collaborator, in 2007 to adapt his nine play cycle into a singular theatrical event, and worked closely with the playwright and his daughter Hallie in developing the work that won the New York Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Play of the 2009-10 season; special Drama Desk and Connecticut Critics Circle citations as the Theatrical Event of the 2009-2010 Season; as well as a Best Director Award for Wilson from the Outer Critics Circle.

The development of new work has been a hallmark of Wilson’s tenure as artistic director. At the end of his first season, he launched the Brand:New Festival of New Work – an annual festival of readings, workshops and productions of new plays. He has also greatly expanded Hartford Stage’s commissioning programs. In addition to Foote, Wilson commissioned plays by Edward Albee, Luis Alfaro, Daniel Beaty, Jorge Ignacio Cortinas, Laura Eason, Elizabeth Egloff, David Grimm, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Theresa Rebeck, Christopher Shinn and Craig Wright among others. In total, 25 world premieres have been produced by the theatre during Wilson’s tenure.

A signature achievement of Wilson’s artistic leadership was the 10-year Tennessee Williams Marathon. From 1998 to 2008, Wilson directed The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, and 8 By Tenn, a four-hour, two-part evening of plays which included three world premieres by Williams. Wilson will direct Milk Train for Roundabout Theatre Company in January 2011, reuniting with Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis, who starred in the 2008 Hartford Stage production. Also next season, Wilson will direct the premiere of Michael Kramer’s Divine Rivalry at Hartford Stage.

Wilson also expanded Hartford Stage’s reach to family audiences when he launched in 1998 the annual production of A Christmas Carol -- A Ghost Story of Christmas.

Jill Adams, vice president of the Board of Directors, will chair the search committee for Hartford Stage’s fifth Artistic Director.

Here's the full test of Wilson's letter to Hartford Stage supporters:

Tennessee Williams wrote in Camino Real: "Make Voyages. Attempt them. There's nothing else." I am writing to let you know after twelve seasons as artistic director of Hartford Stage, I will pass the reins to a new leader at the end of our voyage together this upcoming season on June 30, 2011.

This is a decision I have arrived at after much soul searching. It is not without conflict, however, and some sadness, as I have loved calling Hartford Stage home, and making our theatre a home for audiences, staff and other artists whose collaboration has given me immense joy. Though I hope Hartford Stage will always be my home, I feel that now is the time for me to venture into uncharted waters, and for our theatre to have a new artistic director as it approaches its sixth decade of creating distinctive works for the American theatre.

We have all been on a great quest together: each season, each project, each performance, each rehearsal has been an opportunity to continue that quest, towards sometimes improbable, unlikely, and yes seemingly impossible to achieve destinations. But we have always been on a journey to enrich ourselves and our community. It has been the greatest privilege for me to serve as the leader of our quest. I am proud that our company's capacity to quest has been increased during my tenure, and that Hartford Stage is bound on a course that is not only promising, but also bold.

I am so grateful to the Board of Directors who hired me to be our company's fourth artistic director, and who have supported me so generously and tenaciously throughout my tenure. Twelve years ago, they expressed their desire for a program that would enable our community to collectively dream. It has been the highest honor for me to put that desire into motion, and for us together to become the stuff that dreams are made on.

I am thankful to the incredible staff of Hartford Stage. From the first day I arrived, they put their passion, heart and soul into each project. They are led by our devoted and unflappable Managing Director Michael Stotts, who has decided to renew his contract through the 2013-2014 season, our company's 50th anniversary.

My deepest gratitude goes to you for your unending support. You have been my extended family. I am honored we have shared this adventure, and I trust you will continue this journey with Hartford Stage long into the future.

So the stage is set. And now, like Brother Vaughn at the end of Horton Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle, I prepare to leave my home. Speaking about Brother, Mary Vaughn says "He loves this place. He loves his home." Though Horton ends his cycle on the cautionary note that we can't "be too sure about anything in this world", this orphan is sure of one thing: I love my home. I love Hartford Stage.

I look forward to seeing you many times at the theatre over the next year ... and please don't miss any of our shows at Kingswood-Oxford in West Hartford this summer!
Michael Wilson
Artistic Director

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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