Center Stage names Irene Lewis permanent artistic director

December 18, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Irene Lewis, who has served as acting artistic director of Center Stage since July, was named to the position permanently yesterday. The announcement came after an 11-month search that attracted approximately 50 applicants.

Ms. Lewis, 49, officially assumes the reins last held by Stan Wojewodski Jr., who left at the end of last season to head the Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama.

Although initially hesitant to be considered for the job, Ms. Lewis said yesterday that she changed her mind after filling the post on an interim basis.

"You must really relish the skirmishes, fights, challenges with the board, etc., to want to do one of these jobs," she recalled being told by longtime trustee T. Edward Hambleton during her interview with the search committee. "I think he's correct. You have to like the fact that it's difficult, and that's not for everybody, and it wasn't for me for a great part of my life."

However, Ms. Lewis' reception by the board Monday night was far from a skirmish. The unanimous choice of the 10-member search committee on the first ballot, she was greeted by the full board with a standing ovation and champagne toast. She has accepted a three-year contract, which went into effect yesterday.

Search committee chairman W. David MacCallan said that his committee was interested in Ms. Lewis from the beginning, but "we felt it was very important to go out into the theater world and see what else was out there, what other talents, and to measure Irene against those. . . . She stacked up as very superior in the balance between what you might call the artistic side -- her imagination and directorial skills -- and on the other side, for want of a better term, the leadership skills and . . . the facts of life of the budget."

Center Stage managing director Peter W. Culman, described Ms. Lewis as "unquestionably the best possible person in the American theater for this position. . . . I think Irene has the clearest sense of what this theater can become."

In her remarks to the board Monday and to the staff yesterday morning, Ms. Lewis outlined three goals for the theater:

*Increasing staff and artistic compensation;

*Attracting the best theater artists in the field; and

*Diversifying the audience.

A free-lance director with degrees from Hofstra University and the Yale School of Drama, Ms. Lewis has a long history with Center Stage. She served as an associate artist from 1983 to 1988 and has directed 11 Center Stage productions, beginning with "Watch on the Rhine" in 1980. This season she staged "The Queen and the Rebels" and will also direct the upcoming productions of "Pericles" and "The Misanthrope."

The New York city native also has a background in institutional leadership. In the early 1980s she was artistic director of the Philadelphia Drama Guild, and prior to that she spent eight years at the Hartford (Conn.) Stage Company, culminating in the position of associate director.

Married to Mitchell Kurtz, a New York architect, Ms. Lewis divides her time between New York and Baltimore, a situation she said works out conveniently since her work for Center Stage requires her to make frequent trips to New York for auditions and meetings with designers.

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