Valerie Lash, the founding and acting artistic director of Rep Stage who chaired the nine-person search committee, said she oversaw a nationwide search and received close to 100 applicants.
“I did not go into this thinking that I was looking for two co-artistic directors,” Lash said. “I went into it looking for the best person.”
Neither Beal nor Ritsch was expecting the call that the job would be going to two people instead of one and that their partner would be someone they had yet to meet. “It’s like a blind date,” Beal said. “There’s a little anxiety about it, and yet excitement at the same time.”
Turning the full-time job into two part-time positions made things “a little more expensive,” Lash said. But she’s excited about the opportunities the job sharing can open up for Rep Stage and for Beal and Ritsch, who will be able to continue working elsewhere.
Rep Stage is entering its 21st season. Michael Stebbins, who guided the theater for 7 1
2 years, stepped down in April. He and Lash are the only two artistic directors Rep Stage has ever had, and both worked full time.
When Stebbins spoke with Backstage in April about his decision to leave Rep Stage, he said: “Because I’m first and foremost an actor and a director, I thought it time to continue on my — not to sound selfish — but my artistic journey again. . . . It was time to step into more of the artistic waters than the artistic and administrative. [Doing] the administrative [work], at times, you get tired.”
Lash called the artistic director gig “a big burnout job.” She held the position for 12 years. “It was killing me. It’s a drainer.”
It’s a gamble to pair up Beal and Ritsch who, at press time, had yet to meet (a lunch is scheduled Wednesday). “As Suzanne said to me [by phone] this morning, it’s going to be an adventure together,” Ritsch said. “There’ll be things we figure out together as we go.”
Beal and Ritsch will be inheriting a season planned by Stebbins, who is sticking around to direct “A Young Lady of Property,” the season opener, and is likely to be involved in other productions as well.
Both declined to speak specifically about their plans for Rep Stage’s future. “I don’t come to Rep Stage with a vision to superimpose on it,” Beal said. But they spoke generally about their hopes to capitalize on Rep Stage’s unique placement as part of the Howard Community College environment to cultivate a younger generation of audience members.
“Theater is, by nature, a collaborative art,” Beal said. “No one does anything by themselves.”
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