Douglas Rowe announced Tuesday that he will retire as artistic director of the Laguna Playhouse at the end of the current season.
The 52-year-old actor-manager, who has been a prime force in Orange County theater for a quarter century and a fixture at the amateur playhouse since 1976, said he wants to concentrate on a professional acting career and on several playwriting projects.
Rowe's resignation--to take effect June 30, 1991--was presented to the playhouse board of trustees at its first meeting of the season Monday night.
His decision came as "a great surprise to the board and a sad piece of news as far as I'm concerned," said Richard A. Stein, who was hired in February as executive director of the playhouse.
In an interview with The Times earlier this month, Rowe maintained that recent developments in his professional acting career--notably several roles in television movies--had not lessened his commitment to the playhouse. But on Tuesday he said his decision had been brewing for some time.
"I've been wanting to focus on acting for several years," Rowe said. "And there are a couple of plays I feel I want to write. I also want to push a musical that I've already written with Mark Turnbull. It's called 'Dora Hand.'
"What I'm doing is pursuing a career that began years ago and somewhere along the line was changed," he continued. "I've sublimated so much of my acting needs to building the theater and to raising a family. Now I want to take a shot at that career again."
Rowe denied that the unwillingness of the board's play-selection committee to include "Dora Hand" in the current season, as Rowe proposed earlier this year, entered into his decision to resign. The musical, a Western based on life in Dodge City, had a one-day workshop and a two-week summer run at the playhouse several years ago.
Rowe, who is starring in the playhouse production of "Caesar and Cleopatra," is scheduled to direct Tina Howe's "Painting Churches" later this season. That will happen, he said, but he is reconsidering his participation in Lee Blessing's "A Walk in the Woods."
Rowe said he had been planning to co-star in "Walk" with Mike Farrell. But Farrell hasn't been able to give him a commitment. Rowe further said he is considering dropping the play altogether because of changes in the world situation. "Walk" concerns U.S.-Soviet arms talks.
In the meantime, playhouse board president Pat Kollenda said Rowe told the trustees that he wants to be appointed to the board and that he would consider continuing as an emeritus artistic director with greatly reduced responsibilities.
"I hate to lose him," Kollenda said. "Doug has been just wonderful. I look upon him as the Laguna Playhouse. He has created its growth and its vision."
Stein, who initiated the proposal to engage Rowe in a paid emeritus capacity, said the board will decide how to proceed by the end of October, during an annual overnight retreat.
"The board will have to decide whether to hire a new artistic director or muster the talents at the playhouse," Stein said.
Rowe, who served as managing director of the playhouse from 1964 to 1966 and as artistic director since 1976, said the "greatest failure" of his managerial career has been his inability to "galvanize the board" into purchasing a second site outside the playhouse's Moulton Theatre for professional productions.
"But one of the reasons I feel confident about leaving now," he said, "is that that is high on Rick's priorities. I know he won't set it on the back burner."
For his part, Stein said he and Rowe have discussed even more ambitious plans. "We might even build from scratch," he claimed.