La Jolla gains Baltimorean

Hired: Anne Hamburger has been named artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse


April 12, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Baltimore native Anne Hamburger has produced plays on a vacant New York pier, outdoors on Wall Street, in a railroad yard and even in the dinosaur hall of the Museum of Natural History in Washington.

But beginning next year, she'll be working exclusively in San Diego where she has just been named artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, the Tony Award-winning regional theater that originated such shows as "The Who's Tommy" and the recent Broadway revival of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Hamburger succeeds Michael Greif, best known for directing "Rent."

Although Hamburger's 13-year-old New York company, En Garde Arts, has gained a national reputation for its site-specific plays and musicals, she said last week, "I was eager for a change. My artistic interests had shifted from being exclusively interested in site-specific work to wanting to produce theater indoors."

Unlike many artistic directors, Hamburger's background is in producing, not directing. "I think I have great instincts for putting collaborative teams together," she said. "I think I have a good artistic sense of what makes a good play. I think I have an innovative imagination."

Another asset she feels she will bring to La Jolla stems from En Garde's practice of mounting plays in unlikely settings. "It was a great way to expand the theatergoing public, to reach out to people who don't normally go to the theater," she said, explaining that she hopes to expand the La Jolla audience, too. The daughter of Jane and Charles Hamburger (owner of the former Charles Men's Shops), Anne was always interested in the arts, according to her mother. As a child, Anne studied art at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and piano at the Peabody Institute. "I didn't know whether it would be music or art or what," her mother said. "Nothing ever surprised me with Anne, because I never knew what was going to be next. She would try anything."

"My mother, I think, from the time I was very young, always said that I could do anything that I wanted to do in life. She was very supportive of me living out my dreams. Both my parents really encouraged me to explore the kind of creative juices in my soul," Anne said.

A 1976 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she began her career as a sculptor and performance artist and performed at both the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Theatre Project in the late 1970s. Working with avant- garde director Anne Bogart, Hamburger found her mission in life. "I just started to realize the place I felt most at home was as a producer," she said.

When she decided to form her own theater company, she applied to the Yale School of Drama for further training.

En Garde Arts began as part of Hamburger's master's thesis at Yale. In the course of its 13 years, the company produced the first professional production of a musical composed by "Rent's" Jonathan Larson ("J.P. Morgan Saves the Nation"); T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," starring acclaimed British actress Fiona Shaw; as well as plays by such cutting-edge writers as Mac Wellman and Charles L. Mee.

Hamburger, 45, carried En Garde's site-specific philosophy into her personal life. In 1992, she married Ralph Jenney, a computer programmer, in the balcony of the old Victory Theater, where she had produced Wellman's play "Crowbar" two years before.

"She staged her own wedding," recalls Hamburger's older sister, Carol Bernstein, who was matron of honor. "She is probably the only person you know that got married in a theater, but not married on a stage. She got married in the first balcony. She had the people who came to the wedding sit on the stage and look up to the first balcony."

A year and a half ago, Hamburger and Jenney became the parents of twins, Hannah and Owen. Although raising twin toddlers might seem like full-time work in itself, Hamburger said, "I have the energy of 10 people." Furthermore, she's looking forward to raising her children not only in sunny San Diego, but in that big playroom known as the theater.

Come to the cabaret

Baltimore's Chamber Jazz Society is presenting the first cabaret singer in the group's eight-year history. Mary Cleere Haran will perform her all-Gershwin show, "The Memory of All That," at the Baltimore Museum of Art at 5 p.m. on April 25.

A performer whose stage credits include the original New York production of "The 1940's Radio Hour" and the long-running San Francisco hit "Beach Blanket Babylon," Haran is best known for her cabaret acts, which she has performed in such esteemed New York venues as the Rainbow & Stars cabaret and the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room.

"The Memory of All That" made its debut at the Oak Room in September, to coincide with George Gershwin's 100th birthday. A CD of the concert has just been released by Managra Music.

Tickets to the concert are $20. Call 410-396-6001.

Pub Date: 4/12/99

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