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Deaf West's O'Brien to leave for NEA post

July 13, 2006|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

BILL O'BRIEN, managing director and producer for Deaf West Theatre, will become the new director of theater and musical theater for the National Endowment for the Arts, the agency announced Wednesday.

O'Brien, whose tenure at Deaf West included the 2003 Tony-nominated Broadway run of "Big River -- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," will join the NEA in September to help design and lead national leadership initiatives related to theater.

"One of the things I'm most excited about is that principally we'll be working to identify and support great theater and share it with the public at large," O'Brien said, adding that in the coming weeks he will soon become more familiar with the nuts and bolts of his new position.

"Bill O'Brien's professional experience as an actor, producer, and musician as well as his strong administrative qualifications make him the ideal person to assume the directorship of the NEA's theater and musical theater department," NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said in a statement. "We're delighted to have an artist of his caliber put his talents to work to help further the mission of the Arts Endowment in the discipline of theater."

O'Brien said Deaf West will not immediately replace him. The North Hollywood-based company is engaged in "a long governmental relations effort" to restore federal funding to deaf theater groups that Congress trimmed from the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act in 2004.

Deaf West founder Ed Waterstreet and his current staff will manage projects that O'Brien had helped shepherd. These include the development of a new play, "Sleeping Beauty Wakes," by Rachel Sheinkin ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee") and GrooveLily members Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda. The musical, a co-production with Center Theatre Group, is scheduled for a run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City in 2007.

"I was thrilled and honored to be part of Deaf West over the past seven years," O'Brien said. "Working with Ed and these deaf artists has been and will continue to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life."

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