ART names its new artistic director

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Globe Staff / May 17, 2008

Diane Paulus, an acclaimed theater and opera director and creator of the off-Broadway hit "The Donkey Show," has been named the new artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre.

Paulus, 41, is an award-winning New York-based artist known for her ambitious fusions of theater with musical genres including jazz, rock, and R&B, as well as for her international work on the opera stage. Starting this fall, she will become the first woman artistic director of the ART, following founding director Robert Brustein (1980-2002) and Robert Woodruff (2002-07). Gideon Lester is currently the ART's acting artistic director.

The appointment ends an exhaustive and at times turbulent search that has stretched well over a year, during which one top candidate turned the job offer down.

Describing the position as "truly a dream come true" in an interview yesterday, Paulus said she was first contacted by the Harvard University search committee when the search reopened earlier this year.

"I jumped at the opportunity," said the 1988 Harvard graduate. "I really credit my time at Harvard, haunting the hallways at the ART as a young college student, with the decision I made in my life to pursue professional theater."

An Obie Award winner who also teaches at Columbia University and the Yale School of Drama, Paulus is preparing to direct a production of "Kiss Me Kate" at the Glimmerglass Opera festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., July 5 to Aug. 23, and a revival of "Hair" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for the Public Theater July 22 to Aug. 17.

She has won critical praise for her direction in a range of productions, from an opera based on David Lynch's film "Lost Highway," which the London Independent recently called a "living, breathing, hyperventilating evocation of Lynch's inner world," to the 2002 "Swimming With Watermelons," which The New York Times described as a "sweet tempered" and "oddly sexy" show she wrote and directed with her husband, producer/writer Randy Weiner, about the interracial romance between her American father and Japanese mother.

Paulus is perhaps best known for her widely popular "The Donkey Show," a Gen-X disco adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which ran for six years off-Broadway and toured internationally to London, Edinburgh, Madrid, and France.

Aware of some nervousness among ART subscribers and donors over the prolonged search, ART executive director Robert Orchard said that Paulus's presence will go a long way toward easing any worries and drawing in a new generation of theatergoers.

"The search has taken a while, but I think in the end our patience was a virtue," Orchard said yesterday. "We came up with somebody who is a perfect match with the ART and the community. We wound up with someone who is absolutely fantastic, who has great scope and energy. . . . The rhythm and pulse of [her] work itself will bring something very attractive to a younger generation."

Paulus, who has two young children, said she is looking forward to working in Boston with her "old buddy" and colleague Peter DuBois, the new artistic director of the Huntington Theatre Company. She and DuBois worked together four years ago at New York's Public Theatre, where DuBois was associate producer and then resident director.

"It's amazing to me that Peter is also coming to Boston," she said. "Between Peter and me, we are going to make Boston the most important theater city in America."

Upon hearing the news, DuBois echoed her sentiments yesterday, saying that with their combined theater rolodexes and visions for the stage, he expects great things for audiences and artists in the Boston area.

"I was very much hoping she would be selected for this post," DuBois said. "I have just always loved the freshness of her approach to the material and the exciting ways she has taken on and tackled classical texts."

Paulus directed the Obie Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist "Running Man," a 1998 musical theater piece by jazz composer Diedre Murray and poet Cornelius Eady about a troubled young black man, and the 2001 "Eli's Comin'," another Obie winner, featuring the music and lyrics of Laura Nyro.

Her recent work includes an adaptation of "Another Country" by James Baldwin, the rock opera "Turandot: Rumble for the Ring," a gospel/R&B adaptation of "A Winter's Tale" called "Best of Both Worlds," and "The Karaoke Show," an adaptation of "Comedy of Errors" set in a karaoke bar.

As an opera director, her productions include three Monteverdi productions at Chicago Opera Theater. She is a frequent collaborator with British conductor Jane Glover; in 2002, their acclaimed production of "Orfeo" was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

This fall, Paulus will begin planning the ART's 2009-10 season. She said that it is too early to be specific about her plans, but her focus has always been to produce theater that will appeal to both current audiences and new ones.

"Some artists don't want to think about the audience because they think it interferes with their vision and purity of their work," Paulus said. "The relationship between the theatrical event and the audience is the center of what theater really is. I am ruthless in trying to get to the heart of what the theatrical event is."

Paulus said she looks forward to collaborating with the Harvard community, a vision that is shared by the university's president, Drew Faust.

"I am very pleased to welcome Diane Paulus back to Harvard at this exciting point in time when we are actively studying ways in which to integrate arts more closely into the life and the curriculum of the University," said Faust in a statement. "She is an accomplished director with an interest in and a talent for engaging young people."

Diane Paulus
Starting this fall, Diane Paulus (above) will become the first woman artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre.

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