Actors Theatre leaders on replacing Artistic Director Les Waters

Les Waters | Courtesy of Actors Theatre

In early October, Actors Theatre announced that Artistic Director Les Waters would be leaving the organization after programming the 2018-19 season. The British theater director is well-regarded in the national theater scene and has directed off-Broadway plays and at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California.

He also has been very visible in the Louisville arts scene in general since he joined Actors in 2012 and is regarded as someone who has breathed new life into the company. He has directed experimental and groundbreaking works, like the tribute to Thomas Merton, “The Glory of the World,” and “Girlfriend,” a two-person rock opera of Matthew Sweet’s most famous album.

Waters also doubled the commissioning of plays for the Humana Festival with more world premieres in each festival.

Elizabeth Rounsavall

In a phone interview, Actors Theatre Board Chair Elizabeth Rounsavall told Insider that Waters intended to stay through July 2018.

Rounsavall and other representatives of Actors Theatre said it was too soon to talk specifics about what the search for a new artistic director would look like.

“(We’re) still going through the process of figuring out what that will entail,” said Rounsavall, noting the search would be a national one but there were strong candidates close to home.

She said the search was an opportunity for Actors Theatre’s stakeholders to look inward. “We’re starting really from an opportunity to think about who you are and what you need and who you want to be … What are we good at, what do we need?”

The search will involve a small committee of the board, among others, she said, and they already have a handful of people who had thrown their hats in the ring.

When asked for a basic “help wanted ad” for the position, Rounsavall said: “Directorial experience, a demonstrated ability to engage with donors, to express a vision, work with artists … in a variety of capacities. It’s unlikely someone would come out of another field. It’s not necessary that you’ve run another theater, but that would be helpful.”

She said the artistic director is “the face of the theater,” and the position is a bit of a “chess game” juggling everything from directing plays, season programming, building relationships with playwrights for the Humana Festival, professional training and educational programming.

Actors Theatre’s Managing Director Kevin E. Moore, who noted that other theater companies around the country were looking for directors, talked about the search and the future of Actors in an email exchange. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:

Kevin E. Moore | Photo by Justin Philalack

Insider Louisville: What does Actors Theatre want to be in the future?

Kevin E. Moore: Actors Theatre wants to expand its role in the community to invite and be a welcoming place for all people who live and visit here. The act of attending live theater is inherently empathetic. A person can’t possibly sit and watch someone else’s story, or their own, and not become a more empathetic human being.

In small and large ways, that empathy is carried forward into our daily lives and impacts how we treat each other. Whether it’s learning about someone’s life that isn’t our own or attending “A Christmas Carol” with our friends and family, audiences leave Actors Theatre talking about ideas, what they’ve just seen and how it fits into the world that we live in.

That’s what we want to be. A “town hall” where sharing of thoughts and ideas and feelings is encouraged. And we want to invite every human being who wants to join us for that journey.

IL: How sought-after is this position?

KM: This particular leadership position becoming available at Actors is a big deal in the American theater field. It’s a wonderful opportunity for someone.

IL: What was the hiring process at Actors Theatre like for you?

KM: It happen(ed) fast, but that was because our board search committee members made themselves so available for the process. Scheduling is often the hardest part.

I interviewed with the board and many other Actors Theatre stakeholders. But by far the most impressive (and scariest) part was the interview by the entire staff of Actors Theatre. I sat on stage with Les and answered questions from every department for an hour and a half. Like I said, harrowing! But it really impressed upon me the inclusivity of Actors Theatre and how the board values the input from staff.

IL: What role will you play in the hiring of the new artistic director?

KM: While not officially on the search committee, I’ll serve as a resource for them, sharing what I know about the American theater field and making sure we are keeping our vision in mind. I’ll also be the voice of the staff when those times arise that we need a smaller group to discuss various candidates.

IL: We heard many other theater companies across the country have similar positions open. Do you think that will that effect the applicants? 

KM: Baltimore Center Stage is currently in the middle of an artistic director search. Berkeley Rep will begin a search process soon, as their AD is retiring. The Geffen Playhouse (in Los Angeles) just named a new artistic director. South Coast Rep is also just beginning an artistic director search. And the McCarter Theatre (in Princeton, N.J.) is currently looking for a managing director.

It’s being noted by everyone in the American theater field that this is a seminal moment with so many artistic directors vacating their positions. It’s very, very exciting to see what’s next for the field and for Actors Theatre.