Karen Azenberg Named Artistic Director of Salt Lake's Pioneer Theatre Company
By Kenneth Jones
Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City announced on Nov. 30 that Karen Azenberg, the busy New York City-based free-lance director and choreographer, will make the move to Utah in 2012 to become PTC's new artistic director.
Azenberg, whose tenure begins July 1, will succeed Charles Morey, who will step down as PTC's artistic director after 28 years. Azenberg, who directed a newly opened production of A Christmas Memory, a new musical, for Alabama Shakespeare Festival, is executive board president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), the national union for professional directors and choreographers. She will be the fourth artistic director in the 50-year history of PTC, which stages a mix of classics, modern plays and musicals, as well as world premieres.
Azenberg will choose the programming of the 2012-13 season. She has directed and/or choreographed PTC productions of Next to Normal, Rent and Miss Saigon. She created the musical staging for PTC's popular, extended staging of the musical Les Miserables. She has directed over 60 musicals and plays at theatres across the country.
Azenberg, the daughter of veteran Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg, is a board member of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, a launching pad for new musicals. She is also a Tony Awards voter.
Prior to her career as a free-lance director-choreographer, Azenberg served as a stage manager or management assistant on a number of Broadway shows, including the original Broadway productions of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park With George. She received a BFA from New York University in dance and choreography. She is married to Augie Mericola, a veteran stage hand of many Broadway and national touring shows. He is currently working in the production props department on the Broadway production of Wicked. They have two children, a son Alexander, 14, and daughter Emelia, 11.
Outgoing artistic director Morey said in statement, "After running this theatre for 28 years, I naturally had a strong interest in who was going to succeed me, and am pleased that the Search Committee selected Karen. I have complete confidence in her abilities as a director and choreographer, in her artistic integrity and her understanding of PTC as an institution."
Azenberg said in a statement, "Every time I come to PTC to direct or choreograph a show, I have been so impressed with the way the theatre is run — the way it treats its artists, the resources it puts on the stage, and the extraordinary quality of the staff. As a guest artist, in over 20 years of free-lance directing, I've never been treated better or been more proud of the work I put on stage than when I've worked here. And over five extended stays, I've come to enjoy Salt Lake City and Utah. I'm a born-and-raised New York girl, but my family and I are truly excited about becoming westerners and Utahns.
"It's a little daunting to follow Chuck and all that he's achieved in a remarkable 28-year career. I'll always be grateful that I've had the benefit of observing his leadership of the theatre before accepting that responsibility from him."
Reached by email, Azenberg told Playbill.com, "I want to help PTC gain more of a national profile — it's an extraordinary institution that consistently produces the highest quality theatre and doesn't quite get the wider recognition that I know it deserves. I also hope to continue PTC's New Play Initiative, which demonstrates a commitment to new works, maybe even expanding to new musicals. I want to bring Salt Lake audiences the great theatre they have come to expect, but I'm also interested in working with the staff to surprise theatregoers, opening their eyes wider than before."
PTC, a LORT Equity company, is a cultural program of the University of Utah. Its managing director is Chris Lino.
PTC has an annual budget of $4.5 million. PTC recently converted the second, third, and fourth floors of a 1907 building that it purchased to devote the space to artist housing for the theatre's guest actors, directors and designers. The total cost of the purchase and renovation was $3.2 million. Peter and Catherine Meldrum, long-time theatre patrons, made a lead gift of $1.2 million. The residence is called Meldrum House.
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