Following artistic director Peggy Shannon's resignation, Jan. 21, Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre has appointed Leslie Swackhamer as acting artistic director. Shannon will move on to be an artistic affiliate with Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and San Jose Repertory (her family lives in L.A.), while pursuing options in film and TV. For her part, Swakhamer intends, "to keep ACT moving forward during this transition."
ACT spokesperson Noreen O'Brien told Playbill On-Line that the national search for a new artistic director was expected to take six months, though Swackhamer is very much "in the running."
Shannon will stay on until March 31, the last day of her current contract.
Two years ago, Swackhamer came on board as associate artistic director. Her credits included an MFA in directing from the University of Washington's School of Drama (1990) and, after a fellowship by invitiation of then-artistic director Josephine Abady, four years as artistic associate at the Cleveland Play House.
At ACT, Swackhamer has directed Later Life and the musical Avenue X on the mainstage, as well as two productions of A Christmas Carol. She was recently elected vice-president of Theatre Puget Sound, a growing alliance of local theatres and artists. Swakhamer is "dedicated with a passion" to new play development, and her world premieres include Paul Monette's A Country Beyond Tears, while her American premieres include Mrs. Klein and Lost In Yonkers for American Stage.
"Leslie was not only the most convenient choice to direct ACT for the interim," said ACT Board president David Skinner, "she was the best choice. And she will be considered for the permanent position of artistic direction."
Says the outgoing Shannon, "I will look back o my tenure as artistic director of A Contemporary Theatre with pride and a sense of accomplishment, and a tremendous appreciation for the support of the theatre-going public in Seattle... I now look forward to new professional challenges as well as more family time."
During her ACT tenure, Shannon produced 16 plays and helped raise $15 million for the theatre's new home at Kreielsheimer Place in downtown Seattle. In 1996 the theatre had 10,650 subscribers (a 14 percent increase over 1995), with single ticket sales at 18,300. The theatre was founded in 1965 by Gregory A. Falls, who served as artistic director through 1988.
Because of the artistic director change, ACT's 1997 will be slightly different from what was previously announced. Season opener The Mill On The Floss, which was to have been directed by Shannon, has been dropped as the first production, replaced by a rarely-produced Tennessee Williams drama, The Notebooks Of Trigorin, based on characters in Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. Written just before Williams' 1983 death, Notebooks has been tied up by the author's estate until recently. Michael Breault directs the show, which opens April 29.
The Williams work will run in conjunction with a limited engagement of The Nina Variations, featuring short dialogues between the Seagull's Nina and Treplev. Author Steven Dietz (Lonely Planet) and Swackhamer will co-direct the piece, which opens May 23.
Swakhamer says she's committed to producing Keith Glover's Thunder Knocking On My Door, a Shannon choice, but the show may not go up in the #6 slot -- Oct. 16-Nov. 23 -- as previously announced.
Other season definites include a revival of John Murray and Allen Boretz's Room Service, adapted for the skills of The Flying Karamazov Brothers, who recently appeared Off-Broadway in Sharps, Flats & Accidentals. The comedy opens June 3.
A brand new Lee Blessing drama takes the third slot. Going To St. Ives concerns two extraordinary women, one the mother of an African despot, the other a British surgeon. Swackhamer directs the play, which opens July 8.
Pearl Cleage's Blues For An Alabama Sky opens Aug. 12, to be directed by Jacqueline Moscou, artistic associate of Seattle's Intiman Theatre.
The Off-Broadway and London hit, Old Wicked Songs. Jon Marans' drama, about a snotty piano prodigy brought back to the beauty of music by an eccentric Austrian voice teacher, opens Sept. 16.
For subscription ($80-$167) and other ACT information, call (206) 292 7676.
--By David Lefkowitz