Carey Perloff in rehearsal. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Carey Perloff to Depart American Conservatory Theatre

The longtime artistic director will step down after 25 years at the San Francisco theatre.

SAN FRANCISCO: Carey Perloff, the longtime artistic director of American Conservatory Theater, has announced that she will depart the organization after 25 years as its leader. Perloff will leave at the end of the 2017-18 season.

“Serving as artistic director of ACT for the past 25 years has been the greatest joy of my life,” said Perloff in a statement. “It never occurred to me when I arrived in San Francisco in 1992 that I would love this job, this city, this audience, and this staff so much that I would stay here for a quarter of a century. I feel incredibly gratified that over the past five years we have realized the long-held dream of creating a second stage for ACT in which new work and new artists can flourish, and where our brilliant students can be more visible.”

A search committee is currently being formed to find a new artistic director. Peter Pastreich, who stepped in as ACT’s interim executive director last year (after the departure of Ellen Richard), will stay on at the theatre to assist the search committee.

Perloff was hired at ACT in 1992. During her tenure, she has overseen a number of milestones at the theatre, including the rebuilding of the earthquake-damaged Geary Theater, expanding ACT’s programming by purchasing and renovating the Strand Theater, the revitalization of its MFA program, and the commissioning of the Women’s Leadership in Residential Theaters research study (which showed that women are still underrepresented in LORT leadership). In addition, she has also made new work a focus for the theatre, commissioning countless world premieres and creating the New Strands Festival.

Perloff says that she is stepping down to focus on her own career as a director. “I am truly excited to finally have the chance to explore my own work—as a director, playwright, and book author—without carrying all of the administrative burdens of an institution,” she said in a statement. “It’s a great moment in the American theatre to do the work one most believes in.”

In the past 25 years, Perloff has directed more than 50 productions at ACT, including Antigone (1993), Arcadia (1995 and 2013), Elektra (2012), The Homecoming (2011), Hecuba (1995 and 1998), Indian Ink (1999 and 2015), The Invention of Love (2000), and The Orphan of Zhao (2014). Many of her productions have gone on to be produced around the country.

The works she has commissioned include Ursula Rani Sarma’s play adaptation of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Stuck Elevator by Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis, and High Society, a musical featuring the songs of Cole Porter which moved to Broadway.

Perloff is also a playwright. Her play Kinship premiered at the Théâtre de Paris in October 2014 in a production starring Isabelle Adjani and Niels Schneider, and it was produced last year at the Williamstown Theater Festival last summer, starring Cynthia Nixon and directed by Jo Bonney. Her memoir about her time at ACT, Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater, was released in 2005 and was excerpted by American Theatre in two parts. Prior to ACT, Perloff was the artistic director of Classic Stage Company in New York City.

“Carey Perloff’s 25-year legacy at ACT is nothing short of phenomenal,” said the chair of ACT’s board, Nancy Livingston, in a statement. “Not only is she an extraordinary artistic director, but also a gifted playwright, author, producer, director, teacher, mentor, and consummate fundraiser. Her combined passion for ACT and the community it serves are revered throughout the Bay Area, as well as nationally and internationally. As a personal friend and devoted colleague, I am thrilled to celebrate her many accomplishments throughout the next season.”

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