TEMPE, ARIZ.: Childsplay artistic director David Saar will retire from the theatre he founded at the end of the 2015–16 season. Longtime ensemble member Dwayne Hartford will take over the leadership of the children’s theatre beginning in the 2016–17 season. Following his retirement, Saar will assume the title of artistic director emeritus.
Childsplay originally began in 1977 as a graduate student thesis project, with Saar and his actors working out of a 1964 Chevy Impala, driving from school to school and performing in classrooms.
From those humble beginnings, Childsplay has transformed into a professional theatre company for young audiences, serving more than 200,000 young people and their families annually through a mix of mainstage shows, local school performances and nationally touring productions. To date, Childsplay has developed and produced more than 70 new plays for young audiences.
“It is with absolute joy that I look back on the last four decades of strikingly original theatre,” said Saar in a statement. “When I started Childsplay, I could never have imagined what it would become. One of the things I am most proud of is the home for artists that we have built. I am so pleased that one of those artists, Dwayne Hartford, will be leading Childsplay into the future. His vision, artistry and passion for the mission make him the ideal leader for the ensemble.”
In recognition of his work in children’s theatre, over the years Saar has received the Governor’s Arts Award, the first Notable Achievement Award from the Herberger College of Fine Arts at ASU, the Phoenix Futures Forum Dream Weavers Vision award, the Thomas DeGaetani Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) and the Medallion Award from the Children’s Theatre Foundation. He was also recognized for outstanding contributions to theatre by the National Society of Arts and Letters–Greater Arizona Chapter.
Saar’s successor, Dwayne Hartford, is currently an associate artist and playwright-in-residence at Childsplay. He first joined the company as an actor in 1990, acting in, then directing and writing numerous Childsplay shows. His playwriting credits include Eric and Elliot (a 2005 Distinguished Play award winner by the American Alliance for Theatre & Education), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Imaginators, A Tale of Two Cities, Rock The Presidents and The Color of Stars. Hartford recently received the 2015 Medallion of Merit from the National Society for Arts and Letters–Greater Arizona Chapter.
Sarr will train Hartford in his new job throughout the 2015–16 season.
“Twenty-five years ago, I had no intention of spending my career at Childsplay,” said Hartford in a statement. “But over the years, as the company changed and grew, I found I was changing and growing with it. Theatre for Young Audiences and, more specifically, Childsplay’s mission has become my life’s work.
“While nobody can replace David Saar, I am ready to be his successor, carrying on and expanding his original mission, while securing a place for professionally-created theatre in our rapidly changing world.”