Slow transition for Intiman

Sher unveils unusual, multiyear succession plan

SEATTLE — After keeping one foot on each coast in recent years — as artistic director of Intiman Theater in Seattle and directing shows on Broadway — Bartlett Sher is preparing to plant both feet more firmly in New York.

Intiman today will announce the first details of an unusual, multiyear succession plan that allows Sher to share leadership of Intiman through the end of 2010 with a replacement already selected but not due to be named yet. Sher’s contract was set to expire in December but has been extended through the transitional period.

The idea is to bring on a young (under 40) talent who can ensure artistic continuity without putting the institution through an arduous search process.

“That kind of search is expensive and also stressful to an organization,” Sher said. “We just went through a big search (to hire managing director Brian Colburn) and to do two in a row is a lot.”

Sher assumed leadership of Intiman in 2000, and since then has significantly boosted the theater’s national profile with productions such as “Nickel and Dimed” and “The Light in the Piazza.” In 2006, Intiman won the Tony for regional theater.

Sher has scored four individual Tony nominations — all for shows produced by Lincoln Center Theater, where he is resident director. He won the directing Tony last year for “South Pacific” and is nominated again this season for “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

Given Sher’s success in New York — and the fact that his family moved there late last year — some Seattle observers have been surprised he has stayed anchored in Seattle so long. Sher is working on two new musicals (one based on the life of Seattle martial arts legend Bruce Lee), staging the touring production of “South Pacific” and eyeing international opera work.

Intiman (which has had just four artistic directors in its 36 years) plans to announce the name of his successor in June, and Sher hopes to stay involved in some capacity with the Seattle theater, as a director and fund-raiser.