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'Pearls of opinionated wisdom' for South Coast Repertory

March 14, 2011|From LAtimes.com

Have you noticed the way a few of the region's venerable nonprofit theaters have been turning into a marketing playground of star vehicles, empty-headed musicals and commercial retreads? The managers of these outfits, more impresarios than visionaries, seem to judge their own success by media buzz and box-office bumps. Connection to a community has become virtually an afterthought.

One exception to this dismal trend is South Coast Repertory, which has stayed in the business of supporting American playwrights by regularly producing new American plays. The recession and the laggard recovery have constricted the scope of this ambition, but the theater's fundamental ideals haven't changed: Smart writing, whether in the form of world premieres, contemporary plays or revivals, still holds pride of place.

Recently, it was announced that Marc Masterson will be SCR's new artistic director. He'll be more or less taking the reins from producing artistic director David Emmes and artistic director Martin Benson, who will remain as "founding advisors." For the last 11 years, Masterson has led the Actors Theatre of Louisville, another busy birthplace of world premieres.

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ATL's Humana Festival of New American Plays, the annual smorgasbord that brings together theatrical movers and shakers from across the country, may have dipped in stature since Masterson's predecessor, Jon Jory, led the charge. But there's no questioning where Masterson stands on the nonprofit/commercial divide; "Jaws: The Musical" won't be making its Costa Mesa debut any time soon.

It's an axiom of drama criticism that those in charge of artistic decision-making are duty bound to ignore the critic's advice. But in the spirit of welcome, I thought I'd offer Masterson, along with my congratulations, a few pearls of opinionated wisdom gleaned from covering SCR for the last five years:

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