The Orange County Performing Arts Center went all the way to Alaska to find a new executive director.
Tom Tomlinson, who has directed the publicly funded Alaska Center for the Performing Arts since it opened in 1988, comes from a city where it is notoriously difficult and expensive to attract major touring shows.
"Southern California is on the road to somewhere," said Tomlinson in reference to his decision to move south.
He will start on Oct. 1, the day after Thomas R. Kendrick retires as president of the Orange County center.
A lover of dance, Tomlinson will bring to Costa Mesa 18 years of performing arts management. During and after a 2 1/2-month transition period, he will work with Kendrick and outgoing General Manager Judith O'Dea Morr, both of whom remain under contract to the center as consultants.
"He will bring fresh energy and a solid commitment to keeping the center moving forward," Kendrick said, adding that he and Morr, his wife, became acquainted with Tomlinson through a national consortium of performing arts centers.
At the Alaska center, the 43-year-old Tomlinson managed a $70-million performing arts facility that houses three theaters, the largest being a 2,100-seat multipurpose hall. The center, with more than 275 public performances in the three halls each year, attracts up to 300,000 people annually.
Because of Anchorage's location, bringing elaborate musicals to town can be both cumbersome and expensive, Tomlinson said. He had to use a 747 passenger jet to bring a production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Cats" to town several years ago. Some of the set's pieces had to be shipped by barge.
"That is why you don't see 15 Broadway shows per year up here," he said.
Unlike the privately funded Orange County center, the Alaska center is supported primarily by the city and can be beholden to civic politics.
Tomlinson's operation has not always enjoyed the support of the Anchorage mayor, and therefore he has had to appeal to the city government for $1.2 million in funding to keep the center open.
Tomlinson's five-year tenure at the Alaska center was not free of controversy from other quarters. Disabled people living in Anchorage criticized the center for being built without sufficient wheelchair access and were unhappy with back-row seating provided for them in what was touted as a state-of-the-art hall.
One person filed a lawsuit that has yet to come to trial and several have filed complaints with the city and state, but they have resulted in no changes at the center, board Chairman Gregory M. Carr said.
Before Alaska, Tomlinson was chief executive officer of the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Ill. He also served four years as the managing director the performing arts center in Tacoma, Wash., and seven years at the Capitol Theatre in Yakima, Wash.
Tomlinson broke into theater as a director, designer and stage manager. In 1974, he joined the Expo '74 World's Fair in Spokane, Wash., as production coordinator and manager for on-site activities and special events.
Born in Spokane and educated at the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University, where he earned a theater degree, Tomlinson is active in national and international performing arts center management organizations.
He grew up in a family immersed in the arts. His mother was the director and an actress at the Spokane Civic Theatre in Washington for three decades.
He is divorced and has no children.
"I grew up working the lighting board and acting ever since I was a kid," he said. "My recreation is going to the theater and my job is going to the theater."
New Leaders in Arts Community
DEAN COREY * New Position: Executive director, Orange County Philharmonic Society * Job description: Books internationally recognized classical musicians into the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Irvine Barclay Theater * Current position: Director of development, San Diego Symphony * Personal: 46 years old; married; two children, 19 and 13 * Education: Bachelor's degree, North Texas State University; two master's degrees in music studies, Yale University * Previous positions: Executive director, Jacksonville (Fla.) Symphony; president and chief executive officer, Rochester (N.Y.) Philharmonic
TOM TOMLINSON * New position: Executive director and chief operating officer, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa * Job description: Supervises overall operation of the building; books ballet and Broadway series * Current position: President and chief operating officer, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Anchorage * Personal: 43 years old; divorced; no children * Education: Bachelor's degree in theater, Eastern Washington State University * Previous positions: Executive director of theaters in Joliet, Ill.; Tacoma and Yakima, Wash. Sources: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Orange County Philharmonic Society