Dealmaker to become full-time theater director

After 38 years of dealmaking, CAA agent Michael Peretzian is leaving the tenpercentery biz at year’s end to become a full-time theater director.

Peretzian, who began his career in the WMA mailroom before rising to agent, spent the last eight years at CAA and reps directors and writers including Anthony Minghella, Christopher Hampton, John Madden, Zach Helm, Jeremy Brock, Peter Hedges and Alexander Dinelaris.

He starts his directing career quickly thanks to those clients. Minghella asked him to direct “Cigarettes and Chocolate,” a radio play he wrote, and Hampton has invited Peretzian to direct a revival of his play “Tales From Hollywood.”

First up, mostly likely, will be “Red Dog Howls,” a play by Dinelaris that concerns the Armenian genocide of 1915 and a young man who thinks he’s Greek until he discovers a letter his late father wrote to his grandmother, who hid their Armenian origins.

Kathleen Chalfant (“Angels in America,” “Wit”) has agreed to play the woman with a secret. Peretzian hopes to find an L.A. theater to bring the play to the stage next year.

“Michael’s eye for talent and passion for great art poise him for a wonderful career ahead as a stage director,” said CAA partner and managing director David O’Connor.

Before he became an agent, Peretzian’s background was in legit. He studied for seven years at UCLA and taught graduate courses at the Pasadena Playhouse. When it went bankrupt, he decided to make money and found his way to the WMA mailroom. An assignment to walk a Steve McQueen royalty check over to the actor’s accountant sealed his plans.

“I peeked, and saw that it was for over a million dollars, just for the second year’s worth of profits on ‘Bullitt,'” Peretzian said. “That check opened my eyes to possibilities.”

Before long, Peretzian made money, but found himself empty: “I woke up one day and felt dead inside,” he said. “I realized the last time I was really excited and passionate was when I was doing theater.”

Moonlighting as a director, Peretzian kept it secret until it became impossible. The cover was first blown when he was asked to direct a local version of Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Shadow Box.” First, he had to ask the playwright, Michael Cristofer — his client.

“He responds by saying, ‘My agent wants to direct my play?,’ ” Peretzian recalled.

After Peretzian was named best director by the L.A. Drama Critics for the Hugh Leonard play “A Life,” WMA found out but kept him on. The pedigree made the agent a magnet for playwright clients like Beth Henley, Mark Medoff, Jon Robin Baitz and Minghella.

A move to CAA left little time to direct, and Peretzian finally made a hard choice.

“I turned 66 in May, and after 38 years, it wasn’t as exciting anymore,” Peretzian said. “It felt like time to move on, and when I told my clients, they said, you must do this.”

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