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Thompson takes reins in Denver

New artistic director to take post in July

DENVER– Acknowledging the lure of tremendous facilities, resources and talent, Kent Thompson, artistic producing director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for the past 15 years, has agreed to become artistic director of the Denver Center Theater Company.

Effective July 1, Thompson, will become only the third artistic director in the company’s 26-year history. He succeeds Donovan Marley, who held the post for 21 seasons.

Thompson has outlined his intention to continue along the lines of DCTC’s past successes — particularly its highly touted resident acting company, recipient of the 1998 regional theater Tony — as well as expanding the company’s emphasis on new-play development, in particular from female, black and Latino voices.

“One of my first priorities will be a major expansion of the new-play program,” Thompson tells Variety. “In the past, it’s been quite large, and I know with the help of the board, the community and national sponsors we’ll find the support to showcase some great new voices in American theater.”

Thompson also quickly sought to quell trepidations running through the close-knit ensemble, some of whom have been with the company for 20 years or more.

“I need to build on the strength and talents of the team that’s here now,” he explains. “That doesn’t mean I won’t be bringing in artists, playwrights, directors and administrators I have a long association with. The only way I’m going to do this is by talking with people individually, and over the next six months — once we’re moving toward a season and a budget — trying to figure out the best combination of new and old company members to build the best possible team.”

When the baton is passed next summer, the company will have staged 243 productions under Marley’s leadership, including 75 world premieres. Many of these original productions were hatched under a new-play development program that fell victim to recent budget cuts.

In addition to his artistic achievements — including producing 16 world premieres developed through the Southern Writers’ Project, which he created in 1991 — Thompson is a proven fundraiser who’s emphatic about finding new models under which professional theater can create “the classics of tomorrow.” His DCTC plans include an “industry weekend” to showcase plays in development.

His recent experience at ASF, spearheading an aggressive campaign to find donors to replace the loss of 10% of his $8 million operating budget, equips Thompson to organize similar efforts to restore the even more substantive $3 million in cuts (33%) suffered by DCTC in the past three years (from a high of $8.8 million).

“I do think we’re going to have to think a different way in terms of our funding,” says Thomspon. “It’s pretty clear the foundation can keep the center going as a whole, but we’re going to have to build new partnerships.”

Although Thompson oversaw refurbishment of one of his company’s Alabama theaters, he anticipates no near-future changes to DCTC’s four stages in the Helen Bonfils Theater Complex.

The theater complex is part of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ 11-venue complex, which is second only to Lincoln Center in the U.S. in terms of seating.

Separately, DCPA appointed D. Randall Weeks to succeed the retiring Lester L. Ward as its president/chief operating officer.

Weeks has been executive director of Denver Center Attractions since 1991. That org is one of the top five presenters of Broadway touring shows in the country. Productions that launched their national tours in Denver include “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Lion King.”

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