Ending a 34-year run that made him one of the longest-tenured artistic directors on the Southern California theater scene, Thomas F. Bradac has announced he'll retire as leader of Shakespeare Orange County after its coming two-play summer season at the 550-seat Festival Amphitheater in Garden Grove.
The company's future is uncertain, with no immediate plan for replacing the 65-year-old Bradac. Its board chair, Roland Bye, said Wednesday that he'll end his own involvement because "I'm not interested in keeping Shakespeare Orange County going without Tom."
Bradac and Bye said that others on the board and in the acting company will reach their own decisions about whether to try to continue the county's only professional classical stage company.
"I felt I really accomplished what I set out to do, and I've accomplished what I'm capable of," Bradac said in an interview. "If the company's to grow, there are things that need to be done for it that, after charging San Juan Hill all these times, it's time for someone else to take the reins."
Bradac said he plans to keep directing plays, however, including a possible production at the Prague Shakespeare Festival in the Czech Republic in 2016, the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death. Last year, Bradac directed his stage adaptation of Shakespeare's long poem, "Venus and Adonis," at the Prague Fringe Festival -- his only directing turn outside Orange County since launching its Shakespeare company.
Bradac, a former president of the Shakespeare Theatre Assn. of America, said he'll continue as an associate professor in the theater department of Chapman University in Orange, where he's taught since 1990.
He'll direct two final productions for Shakespeare Orange County: "Twelfth Night," opening July 19, and "Macbeth," opening Aug. 15. His daughter, Alyssa Bradac, who's finishing her master's degree in stage directing at the University of Calgary, will co-direct "Twelfth Night" while also playing the comic role of Feste. He said the season's budget is about $150,000, typical for recent years.
Unlike Shakespeare's King Richard III, when Bradac was unhorsed after his first 12 years as an artistic director in Garden Grove, he found another steed and preserved his kingdom.
He'd founded Grove Shakespeare Festival in 1979, and turned it into Orange County's second largest professional theater company, behind South Coast Repertory. The theater's trustees ousted Bradac midway through the 1991 summer season but, joined by several key actors who were loyal to him, he decided within two months to launch Shakespeare Orange County.
The new company -- really a continuation of the old one -- debuted in summer 1992 at its initial venue, the indoor Waltmar Theater on the Chapman campus. Meanwhile, GroveShakespeare, as it was renamed, collapsed after a single season without Bradac. He and his company returned to the Festival Amphitheater and Shakespeare under the stars in 2003.
Shakespeare Orange County has used the amphitheater rent-free, said Kim Huy, community services director for the city of Garden Grove, but with Bradac's departure, she said she'll suggest that the City Council request operating proposals from all comers. She said that the amphitheater's companion indoor stage, the 178-seat Gem Theater, will reopen this spring after a two-year shutdown due to damage from a fire in May, 2011. Its operator is One More Productions, which has a 10-year agreement with the city that began in 2008, when it agreed to pay about $100,000 for needed repairs to the theater in lieu of rent. Huy said the city's insurance policy covered the fire damage.