It is with great pleasure, anticipation, and reassurance that I unfurl a welcome mat for Tom Prewitt as my successor Artistic Director of WSC Avant Bard:
Tom: as you know, I have been intimately involved with this company since it began 23 years ago under its first name, Washington Shakespeare Company. For the last 16 1/2 years, I have been AD. It was important to me that, when I left the job, the company would pass into capable hands, the hands of a person who would understand and appreciate our mission, our history, and our distinct identity and place within the ever-evolving DC theatre scene. I almost can't believe our good fortune in finding you. I am confident that the company will now be led with care, intelligence, skill, and talent. I am certain, in fact, that there are aspects of this job that you will do better than I ever did or ever could do.
I won't pretend that this job is easy. Your total staff (including part timers) will number less than the number of Executive Producers in the credits for Curb Your Enthusiasm. That notwithstanding, your audience, your critics, and your artists will expect a level of service, professionalism, accountability, and achievement comparable to companies that have exponentially larger staffs and budgets. You will inevitably feel as if, at the end of any day, there is more you could have or should have done to strengthen the institution. You will feel a protectiveness toward the company, the work, and the artists, and you will feel it acutely when work you know has deep value is criticized or dismissed. You will have more than your share of dealing with fraught, difficult situations, and with vulnerable artists who will require sensitive attention.
This will all be more than offset by the deep, deep satisfactions of the job. Your effort will give artists the chance to challenge themselves with opportunities that they would otherwise not have. It will give audiences the chance to experience familiar texts in new ways, to see plays that they otherwise might not get to see, and, on occasion, to experience a new work that fits within our mission. You will hold an open call, cut off the number of auditionees at 200, and be blown away at the non-Equity talent working in Washington these days. You will wish you had parts for 85% of them. You will take a chance and cast an untested actor in an important role and, years later, when that actor is working all over town, be deeply gratified when people say to you "I saw that actor first at WSC!" You will be moved when, years afterward, someone will come up to you and speak with deep appreciation about one of your productions. When times are good and when times are bad, you will be buoyed up by the immense amount of affection for and good will toward this company, and by the hard work and dedication of the WSC family: the Board, the acting company, and the staff. Your hard work will have made a difference to our sponsors, supporters, and audiences. You will watch a WSC production with an audience and experience its almost palpable sense of satisfaction, and you will be awed at how talented artists can create wildly impressive results on such bare-bones budgets.
I began working in DC theatre right out of college, in 1979, with the legendary Bart Whiteman at Source Theatre Company. At our best, WSC has followed Bart's spirit: take chances on new talent; take chances with the work; say "yes" whenever you can; keep the identity as distinct as possible; remember that an exciting failure can have more value than a tame success, and that the most disappointing theatre usually hasn't taken a concept too far, but rather not far enough.
Thank you for being there. I will be there if ever you need me. Please accept my most heartfelt welcome. I transition to a new, less central role with WSC Avant Bard, and I do so with more than my share of amazing memories, and with great appreciation for all of the support we have gotten over these many years.