Most theater companies have an artistic director – the guiding force behind what goes on stage. But Pittsburgh’s City Theatre did without one for about a year following the resignation of Tracy Brigden, who’d held the post for 16 years.
Instead, the troupe, one of Pittsburgh’s largest and most venerable theater companies, made it through the 2017-18 season led by a team of three top administrators.
In late May, the group made a surprise hiring announcement: Marc Masterson, a vaunted name on the local theater scene, would rejoin the theatre years after holding the same post for about 20 years throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
Masterson led the company nearly half of its history and oversaw a big move from cramped quarters in Oakland to a repurposed church on the South Side, where it still resides today.
City Theatre’s board chose Masterson after a national search.
“Marc has an exemplary track record of artistic excellence, fundraising, community engagement and commitment to new plays,” board president Beth Newbold said in a statement. “We are fortunate that he has chosen to bring his experience and expertise to City Theatre, to lead our organization into a new era.”
Reaction outside the company was also positive.
“The appointment of Marc Masterson at City Theatre is tremendous news for the arts and for the city as a whole,” said Janet Sarbaugh, vice president for creativity programs for the Heinz Endowments, in a statement released by City Theatre. “It’s partly a homecoming to celebrate: during Marc’s first stint at City, he was an artistic force — not only a champion of the theatre, but an important leader in our cultural community.”
While in Pittsburgh, Masterson also co-founded the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance (now known as the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, or GPAC).
He returns to City after several years as artistic director at South Coast Repertory in California. Prior to that, he spent a decade as artistic director at the prestigious Actors Repertory Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky – the job he took after leaving City Theater in 2000. Actors Repertory is one of the country’ top incubators for new plays.
So why’d he decide to come back?
“I love Pittsburgh, and I really care a lot about this organization and many of the people in it, and I missed the audiences I found here,” he said last week during a visit to Pittsburgh for City’s Theatre's Momentum festival for new plays. “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is getting to know the theater community here again, and new relationships and new people, and also reconnecting with some people who I know and love and care about.”
Unique among Pittsburgh-based companies, City Theatre has long specialized in new plays – much like the Actors Theatre and South Coast Repertory. South Coast, for instance, staged the world-premiere productions of such high-profile works as Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, and Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone.
Masterson said that focus will continue at City Theatre, which programs both its main stage and the black-box-style Hamburg Studio Theatre. The company just wrapped its 43rd season with a production of Nomad Motel, by Carla Chang.
“I expect that the theater will continue to look similar to the way its profile has always looked,” he said.
But Masterson added that in theater, “There's a lot of different voices now that were perhaps ignored or marginalized before, and I think those voices are coming to the front now in very exciting ways.” He said he’s also look at connecting to the community by “getting out of the building” for some programming.
Theater-goers likely won’t notice Masterson’s mark until the 2019-20 season: The 2018-19 season has already been programmed by artistic producer Reginald L. Douglas and director of new-play development Clare Drobot. (Since Brigden’s departure in June 2017, Douglas and Drobot had run City Theatre along with managing director James McNeel. Their 2016-17 budget ran about $3.7 million.)
Masterson starts July 1.
“My hope is that through coming back to City Theater and reconnecting with the community, we can we can build a really excellent mid-sized regional theater that has a strong national reputation and real impact in the community."
City Theatre is an underwriter of 90.5 WESA, which also receives funding from the Heinz Endowments.