Hartford Stage's Four Artistic Directors

Four of the artistic directors of the Hartford Stage gathered together for the first time for a forum to discuss the four-decade history of the theater. They are, left to right, Jacques Cartier, Paul Weidner, Mark Lamos and current director Michael Wilson. Missing is current artistic director Darko Tresnjak, the current director. (Cloe Poisson, cpoisson@courant.com / May 1, 2004)

Highs: Tennessee Williams Marathon. And 'A Christmas Carol' because it expanded our reach deeply into families and doing it in a way that had great theatrical style. Also our new play development efforts, commissioning the Horton Foote Cycle and works by Quiara [Alegria Hudes, whose Hartford Stage-commissioned 'Water By the Spoonful' won a Pulitzer Prize] and Daniel [Beaty] and so many others.

Lows: There came a moment towards the end of my third season when some thought I had too big an ambition, more than the resources could support. There was a real discussion about whether I should stay. Ultimately I decided there was no way I was quitting and that a small insurgency would undo the work of this hard working, dedicated staff. So I came back like a lion. I wasn't ready to leave yet. I met them toe to toe very passionately and I got a contract renewal —- which I almost didn't get.

Retro thoughts: I was so driven to achieve a second stage that I got fixated with one approach that worked against the enterprise. We should have regrouped, re-strategized and created a consensus. Ultimately I believe that a space is necessary to do new and experimental work. Now Darko is building in that legacy and I think there's a real commitment behind new work.

DARKO TRESNJAK: 2011 to present; lives in downtown Hartford.

On arriving: "I thought the theater occupies a special place in the city and I fell in love with it, the staff and the board, not the least of which was Belle Ribicoff who has been the biggest supporter of the theater for the last 50 years.

Highs: 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder,' certainly. [The show, now in previews, opens on Broadway Nov. 17]. There was no recent institutional memory for doing a musical yet everyone stepped up to it beautifully. It taught me to test the limits of what we could do with the company.

Last year I was very proud of the work done by [directors] Jenn Thompson, Jennifer Tarver and Annie-B Parson, three women who are a joy to work with and I was so happy with their work.

Lows: I don't complain very much. The problems that come up get solved and I believe in the creativity of the staff and the artist but sometimes the hours and the tolls it takes makes for very long nights.

Future thoughts: One of the goals is to grow our subscriber base. Last year we added six percent. I think subscribers make the best audience. And more new play development. but what playwrights need are productions and not an endless series of readings. And that should be everything from new plays, to musicals to something entirely different. As for repertory of classics, we have to wait to see how people respond to the rep this year but I'm proud that the theater did it and that Shakespeare and classic plays are back on board on a steady basis. And I want to see further growth and quality for the education department because god knows that there is a need for it.

ARTISTIC DIRECTORS TALK on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. at the Millard Auditorium at the University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Ave. The event is free but seating is limited; reservations required by calling Hartford Stage box office at 860-527-5151.

FUNDRAISER AND PERFORMANCE will be held celebrating the 50 years of the theater Monday, Nov. 4, at Hartford Stage's 50 Church St. theater. The show will feature actors — including Dana Ivey, Richard Thomas and Bill Raymond — in signature scenes and musical numbers from each era of the theater. Also in the line-up will be Kate Forbes, David Patrick Kelly, Barbara Walsh, Matthew Rauch, Mary Layne, Kate MacCluggage, Novella Nelson, Lisa O'Hare and a scene from the annual youth group event, Breakdancing Shakespeare.Tickets for premium seats and dinner are $175. Show-only preferred seats are $100, and show-only regular seats are $35. (Preferred and regular tickets do not include dinner.) Seating is limited. For reservations, contact Kristen Mauro at 860-520-7241. Information: 860-527-5151 and www.hartfordstage.org.

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