The Playgoer: What's up at Center Stage?

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's up at Center Stage?

I posted a while ago the announcement of Artistic Director Irene Lewis' departure from Baltimore's Center Stage, after nearly two decades in the job.

Turns out it was not voluntary.  And the Baltimore Sun now piles on and pretty much implies good riddance.  What were Lewis' faults?  Reportedly a combination of the usual: growing disengagement from the local arts community, not enough schmoozing, not hiring enough homegrown talent, and ineffective directing.

Anyone know another side to this?  Or does no one deserve to be Artistic Director for Life?


99 said...

Huh. Interesting article. It'll be interesting to hear more from Irene Lewis' perspective (eventually).

I can see both sides of the issue: it sounds like there was some sense of estrangement from the local arts community, but it also sounds like she just didn't play nice with them. It reminds me of the articles about Supreme Court justices who do or don't go to the cocktail parties.

Ideally, an AD should be able to do both, but what's more important: building a strong community of artists or building connections with the local arts community?

Anonymous said...

The real story is how ADs don't run theatres anymore, boards do. And that's a real real problem.

Edward Einhorn said...

I went to school in Baltimore and have been back a few times since. I can only say that the shows there have been impressive in their ambition and execution--not always successful, but what theater is? That's a shame about Irene. I hope the theater doesn't switch to safer, less interesting choices.

Edward Einhorn

Anonymous said...

As a member of the Baltimore theatre community, I can vouch that her alienation from the local community was painful--and I know her reputation in New York is sterling.

Stories about her disdain for Baltimore artists are legion, including: local lighting designer with major off-Broadway credits being unable to get work at Center Stage, local actors not being cast in anything larger than a walk-on, local actors auditioning in Baltimore and not getting cast and auditioning two months later in NYC and getting callbacks. I've never heard anyone say that she even attended another local production. Center Stage is the colossus that bestrides Baltimore theatre and its refusal to use local artists has stifled the area's ability to have a cohesive theatre community and has given local theatre artists only a couple of professional options--very little reason to stick around or get better.

Probably more pertinent to her departure, however, her recent work had a gloss of the adventurous and experimental but was often dull. She seems to have taken a distant-at-best role in fundraising--an artistic director's nemesis but a luxury to ignore. Its an open secret that Center Stage's audience is dying off and Lewis's very admirable attempts to engage the African American community did not seem to result in subscriptions. Center Stage is running scared and they have a brand new managing director. You can see why the board made this decision.

Anonymous said...

Also adding to the disconnect: she never bought a home in Baltimore and she kept her residence in NYC. Its amazing she was there for that long. If you can't invest in the community you work in, why are you there and how selfish can you be?