The Magic Theatre's artistic director, Chris Smith, has announced that he is leaving the company at the end of the 07/08 season to pursue new projects. Will the venerable theater find its identity once he's gone? By Chloe Veltman.
Chris Smith doesn't have a new job waiting for him but he's leaving anyway after five years as artistic director of The Magic Theatre, one of the country's most venerable centers for contemporary plays. He's on the lookout for new opportunities. Meanwhile, The Magic is starting a nationwide search for his successor.
I am gutted that Chris is leaving. He is one of the most generous and optimistic souls I know working in the theater today. As his productions at The Magic have proved, Chris a punchy director. He's also a natural leader who knows how to nurture artists and engage audiences.
I can totally understand why he's heading out though. Despite Chris' enthusiasm and talent, the 40-year-old Magic has struggled to find its identity over the past few years. It has never quite been able to recoup its glory days back in the 60s and 70s when the likes of Sam Shepard, Robert Woodruff, Michael McClure and Joseph Chaikin exploded onto the national scene with work produced at The Magic.
David Mamet's Faust and Bill Pullman's Expedition 6 might demonstrate how capable Chris is at drawing in the big guns, but the quality of these works has not lived up to the stature of the creators. And shows like the Joan Rivers Project, though economically successful, hardly help promote The Magic's image as a home for cutting-edge new plays.
Then again, Chris has done so much to promote the work of contemporary dramatists. Since he arrived just five years ago, the Magic has produced 20 world premieres, four American premieres, and three Bay Area premieres. 14 of these plays have received subsequent national and international productions (which is always a challenge for new work as most producers are tied to the glory of hosting world premieres and don't want to touch second productions.) I'm particularly grateful to Chris for helping to take the careers of such playwrights as Julie Marie Myatt, Mat Smart, Courtney Baron, and Betty Shamieh to the next level. And it makes me proud to know that The Magic is a place where more established writers like Rebecca Gilman and Edna O'Brien want to premiere their new work.
Chris Smith will be missed. The question is: will his successor, whomever that may be, help the Magic to find its elusive identity once again?