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New leader tapped for O.C. arts center

Terrence Dwyer, a La Jolla Playhouse veteran, will guide the facility at a time of expansion.

January 25, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Terrence Dwyer, who served as managing director of La Jolla Playhouse for 12 years before departing in 2004 for Houston's Alley Theatre, will return to Southern California as president and chief operating officer of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

The center announced Tuesday that Dwyer would assume his new post April 20 after a little more than a year as managing director of the Alley.

As president of OCPAC, Dwyer will be in charge of a diversified, $35- to $40-million-a-year operation that dwarfs the regional and off-Broadway theaters he has previously led.

Among his responsibilities will be overseeing the September launch of a $200-million symphony hall across a plaza from the existing center and helping to land $70 million in further donations needed to complete funding for the expansion -- as well as the $7 million or more a year that the nonprofit center must raise to balance its budget.

The center's chairman, Michael S. Gordon, said that Dwyer's record in La Jolla, where he first reined in spending to eliminate a $1.9-million deficit in the mid-1990s, then planned and coordinated a successful $44-million expansion and endowment campaign, impressed a six-member search committee and earned its unanimous vote for a three-year contract, at a salary Gordon and Dwyer declined to disclose.

Dwyer, 50, said Tuesday that there was disappointment with his decision at the Alley, where he signed on to plan and lead a capital campaign with the intent of seeing it through. But he said he couldn't turn down the chance to lead OCPAC, with its diversified arts agenda and the dawning of a new era that will offer challenges both in raising money and shaping expanded programming.

"They're striking into the future in a very ambitious and confident mode," he said from his office in Houston. "It was very easy to consider throwing my hat in the ring."

Although he has worked mainly in the theater world, Dwyer said his arts interests are diverse. He managed the Laura Dean dance company in New York after earning a master's in theater management from the Yale School of Drama and followed that with a stint as managing director of off-Broadway's Circle Repertory Company.

Dwyer's wife, Amy Carson-Dwyer, is the West Coast representative for Colbert Artists Management, an agency for classical musicians. The couple have a 7-year-old daughter.

The center's search for a president began in late 2004 when Jerry E. Mandel, whose salary topped $300,000 two years ago, according to the center's most recent available tax filing, announced he would step down after eight years.

Gordon said that one other candidate to replace Mandel was offered the job but declined it to remain at another institution; others were considered, but the search committee couldn't reach unanimity.

An executive search firm recommended Dwyer late in the process, Gordon said, adding that he believed it was a blessing the position had remained unfilled.

"He's just a very solid individual. He's passionate about the arts and has a lot of sound thoughts about where the arts fit in society, but he realizes you've got to have a sound financial base to do that," Gordon said.

"Some people are all style and no substance. He's more substance -- very methodical and no flash, and that's a good thing," said Alan Ziter, a San Diego arts advocate and administrator. "He basically righted the ship financially while implementing a grand vision where the community could come and have a La Jolla Playhouse experience, not just come in, park your car, see a show and get out of there."

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