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Critic's Notebook: Some advice for South Coast Repertory's new artistic director

Louisville's Marc Masterson will be taking over at the playwright-friendly venue, and he can't go wrong following these suggestions.

March 13, 2011|By Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic

Extend the range of experience onstage. The theater needs to hold the mirror up to all of nature, not just a privileged, ocean-view sliver. I may not have thought so highly of last year's production of August Wilson's "Fences" — in fact, it struck me as one of those pro forma revivals I just inveighed against — but Orange County audiences seemed delighted to spend some time in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Superior storytelling finds the universal in the local, so why not broaden our horizons while revealing more of ourselves in different socioeconomic guises?

Embrace and expand SCR's artistic community with the same care and attention lavished on donors and subscribers. Actors such as Linda Gehringer, Dakin Matthews, Arye Gross and Marin Hinkle are as much a part of the lifeblood of the theater as the playwrights, directors and designers who regularly return with them. This familiarity with a group of artists deepens theatergoers' investment, and it's one reason that opening nights at SCR are a family affair on both sides of the footlights.

Never underestimate your audience. During their more than 45-year stewardship, Emmes and Benson have cultivated a profound appreciation for sophisticated playgoing in their patrons, whose commitment keeps them from considering themselves anonymous consumers. SCR subscribers understand the risks as well as the rewards of their involvement, so don't be afraid to gamble with work that pulsates with urgency. Don't shy away from politics, religion or other tinderboxes. In my experience, theater people will forgive a noble flop, but perfunctory dullness is an unpardonable sin.

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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