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Marc Masterson to depart as artistic director at South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory's Marc Masterson will leave his post as artistic director when his contract expires.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Marc Masterson, artistic director of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, will leave his post when his contract expires at the end of the current season, the theater announced Thursday evening.

The change was by “mutual agreement” between Masterson and South Coast Rep’s board of trustees, the theater said. In a phone interview Friday, Masterson said he was moving on “for a few reasons, career and personal.” He declined to give specifics about where he was headed. “But I feel I can hold my head up high,” he said, and he has no concerns about the theater’s future.

“I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished in the last seven years,” Masterson said. “We’ve grown the audience substantially, increased the production of new plays and diversity among playwrights — ethnically, gender-wise and stylistically — and that’s resonated with people, here and elsewhere.”

Masterson came to SCR in 2011 from the acclaimed Actors Theatre of Louisville, where he served as artistic director for nearly 11 years. SCR co-founders David Emmes and Martin Benson had led the Costa Mesa theater as co-artistic directors for 47 years prior to Masterson’s arrival. Masterson, 61, promised to bring a new perspective to the theater, nurture new talent and stage pioneering works.

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Although some critics said Masterson relied too heavily on film adaptations for the stage and other commercial fare, his six-year run at SCR did include artistic successes. Times theater critic Charles McNulty praised the 2015 play “Vietgone,” noting that it “careens wildly, threatening whiplash to heighten our amusement.” He also praised the 2016 play “Office Hour” for exploring how we interact with “the other” at a time when the country is politically and socially divided.

At the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Masterson produced 100 plays, 96 of them world premieres that traveled nationally. He directed 21 productions there. Prior to working at the Actors Theatre, Masterson was producing director at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre for 20 years. The Pittsburgh New Works Festival honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

SCR, founded in 1964 in a Newport Beach marine hardware store, is a respected regional theater known for developing and producing new works. In 1988 it was honored with a Tony Award for distinguished achievement. The theater’s 2017-18 season features five world premieres; three of those plays are commissions from the theater’s new-play development programs.

Currently SCR is presenting the musical “Once,” based on the movie written by Dublin street musician John Carney. In December it will present author and monologist Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Sugar Plum Fairy,” and in January, Masterson will direct the play “Shakespeare in Love,” based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and adapted by Lee Hall.

In the announcement, distributed after the close of business, the company said that under Masterson’s leadership it had launched two important community initiatives: “Dialogue/Diálogos, a bilingual project in Santa Ana, and CrossRoads, a play commissioning project meant to generate work that reflects the diversity of Orange County.

The SCR news follows the departure of Randall Arney as artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse in L.A. and Arney’s subsequent lawsuit against that theater.

Masterson will continue as SCR artistic director through this season and lead programming for the 2018-19 season, the theater said. The search for his replacement will begin in 2018, the theater said.

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

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Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin

REVIEWS OF SOUTH COAST REP:

‘Once’ raises its hopeful voice

‘The Siegel’: Ben Feldman, Mamie Gummer and love in the Uber age

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‘The Monster Builder’: And you thought your contractor was bad

‘Orange’: The OC through autistic eyes

‘Destiny of Desire’: Telenovela as live theater

‘District Merchants’: ‘Merchant of Venice’ set in post-Civil War America

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UPDATES:

12:55 a.m. Sept. 15: This article was updated with comments from Marc Masterson.

This article was originally published at 6:40 p.m. Sept. 14


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