Hartford Stage hands the reins to Ireland

New managing director comes from Houston Grand Opera Assn.

SOUTHBURY, Conn. — The lengthy search for a new Hartford Stage Co. managing director has ended with the hiring of James D. Ireland Jr., who recently completed a 20-year tenure as general manager of the Houston Grand Opera Assn. Ireland will assume his new post June 1.

Far from coincidentally, Hartford Stage found its artistic director, Michael Wilson, in 1998 in Houston. He was an Alley Theater associate artist and was aware of, as he puts it, Ireland’s “commitment to excellence.”

The HS managing director position has been open since September, when Elaine Calder returned to her native Canada to become executive director of the Francis Winspear Center for Music in Edmonton, Alberta. In the interim, the 38-year-old nonprofit resident theater has been managed by producing consultant David Hawkanson, Hartford’s managing director from 1985-93.

‘Critical juncture’ for HS

Commenting on Ireland’s appointment, Wilson said the HS is at “a critical juncture in its history. We are producing more shows than ever and have increased the number of New York, touring and co-production opportunities. We need an arts manager whose experience spans all of these realms.”

Ireland was general manager of the Houston Grand Opera Assn. from 1980-2001. Before that, from 1973-80, he served in various capacities at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., including budget director and founder-director of the NEA’s Opera & Musical Theater Program.

For the Houston Grand Opera, he was in charge of co-productions, commissions, scheduling, union negotiations, media broadcast and recording contracting, human resources and administration; he also was the program supervisor for the Houston Opera Studio.

Worked for Wortham

In addition he was the manager for the Wortham Center Operating Co., responsible for staff coordination and monitored the planning and construction of the Wortham Theater Center, the Opera’s home.

For the NEA he assisted in establishing its Challenge Grant Program; implemented its commissioning, choral and jazz programs; and prepared and presented budget testimony to both houses of Congress.

Ireland has served as a panelist and consultant for the NEA, the Texas Arts Commission, the National Institute for Music Theater and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and he has lectured on arts management all over the country. He was on the boards of directors for the National Alliance for Music Theater and IATSE Local No. 51 Pension Fund.

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