Wallis Annenberg Center names Paul Crewes as artistic director

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills has reached unusually far afield to find its new artistic director. All the way the Cornwall, England, to be exact.

Filling a gap in its leadership structure, the Wallis is expected to announce Thursday that its board has named Paul Crewes, the head of Great Britain’s acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre, as artistic director starting Oct. 1. He will work part time until assuming full-time artistic leadership in April 2016.

At the Kneehigh, where he has worked since 2005, Crewes has overseen numerous touring productions, including an innovative and well-received staging of “Brief Encounter” that came to the Wallis last year.

“We enjoyed playing on that stage,” said Crewes, 54, in a recent interview by phone from England. He said he has visited the Wallis a few times since the new building broke ground. “I sort of fell in love with it without realizing it.”


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His appointment comes a little more than a year after the abrupt departure of Lou Moore, the Wallis’ executive director who spent more than a decade raising money to construct the new center and then led its 2013 opening and initial season.

Since then, the organization has been headed by a trio of individuals -- Tania Camargo, the company’s managing director; Patricia Wolff, interim artistic director; and James D’Asaro, the interim producing director.

Both Crewes and Camargo will assume the top executive positions at the Wallis, while Wolff’s new title will be director of programming. D’Asaro is also staying with the company as director of production.


The Wallis said it launched its search for an artistic director in March, yielding 60 candidates from around the world, including a number of local individuals. The company narrowed down the field with the help of a search committee.

Initially, Crewes was asked to be an artistic advisor at the the Wallis, but ended up applying for the artistic director job.

“I knew the kind of passion he had for what we were doing,” said Jerry Magnin, the chairman of the Wallis.

Magnin described the period around Moore’s departure as “challenging,” but said that the theater is now poised to expand its strategic mission to include more performances and the possibility of producing or co-producing original shows.


Since its opening in 2013, the Wallis has functioned mostly as a presenting organization, importing existing productions as well as artists in classical music and dance from around the world.

“In our first year, we had a primarily local audience based on programming and lack of recognition in the community,” he explained. “Then people started to know about us, and we’ve expanded our reach not only in knowledge of what the Wallis is but also our audience.”

The company reports that attendance rose more than 30% between its first and second seasons, to 44,342. Its third season kicks off this month.

The Wallis logged a total of 233 performances during its 2014-15 season, up from 190 in the first season. It expects to have 240 performance for the current season.


In addition, the Wallis is beefing up its roster with a series of public conversations featuring notable entertainment and cultural figures, as well as free community events.

The Kneehigh is one of England’s preeminent touring companies, and has created original traveling shows that have come to the Wallis, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, the Guthrie in Minneapolis and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Its other notable productions include “Tristan and Yseult,” seen at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa earlier this year, and “The Red Shoes,” inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale, that has also traveled internationally..

Prior to Kneehigh, Crewes worked at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, in Leeds, England, and the Theatre Royal Plymouth, also in England.


He said his goal is to bring “high quality and exciting work” to the Wallis. “First, you have to respect your audience. As trust builds, you try more things out.”

He said that the Wallis building itself “should be an event, a place where people hang out. Once you build that relationship with an audience, then I would hope you can be innovative.”

The current 2015-16 season is already in place and Crewes is expected to work with other leaders to develop future programming and seasons.

Crewes said that he and his family -- he is married with five children and lives in Leeds, England -- will move permanently to the L.A. area next year.

The company is named after Wallis Annenberg, whose $25-million donation got the center off the ground, though the L.A. philanthropist isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations.

The Wallis’ 2015-16 season includes a celebration of choreographer Twyla Tharp; a production of “Love Letters,” with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw; and the musical “Guys and Dolls” from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Twitter: @DavidNgLAT