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Snehal Desai. (Photo by Kim Newmoney)

Snehal Desai Is Named Next CTG Artistic Director

Filling a major vacancy at the helm of the three-theatre L.A. company, Desai comes to the job after 7 years leading East West Players.

LOS ANGELES: Snehal Desai will become the next artistic director of Center Theatre Group (CTG), joining managing director/CEO Meghan Pressman to lead one of the nation’s largest theatre organizations. Desai’s appointment follows a national search led by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) and an internal search committee comprising Pressman, members of CTG’s board, under the leadership of search chair Gail Berman, board president Amy Forbes. Desai, who will be only the third artistic director of the L.A. company, will begin at the post in August, after seven years as producing artistic director of the historic East West Players. His first public appearance as the incoming artistic director will be at Center Theatre Group’s “Light Up Los Angeles” Gala at the Mark Taper Forum on Sat., April 15.

“Center Theatre Group is a cultural force in the American theatre, and I am honored to be its next artistic director,” said Desai in a statement. “CTG’s vibrant legacy has been built by being the home for the preeminent theatrical artists of our time and the next great American play. I am humbled by the opportunity to enrich that legacy by uplifting and centering the diverse and thriving communities that comprise the beating heart of Los Angeles. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes with the rarest of gifts for an Angeleno—an even shorter morning commute. I look forward to working with Center Theatre Group’s board, artists, staff, and patrons in ensuring that CTG is a vital, timely, and relevant cultural home for all of Los Angeles.”

In 2021, after artistic director Michael Ritchie announced his departure, CTG engaged ACG to partner on a search, beginning with an exploration and alignment of the company’s mission and values, including dialogue with internal and external stakeholders, and comments and perspectives from more than 800 individuals who participated in written surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations. The results were distilled into a detailed job description, including the core competencies and qualities needed for CTG’s next artistic director to succeed.

After that profile was shared in August 2022, more than 100 applications were received, around 30 applicants were interviewed, and more than a dozen qualified candidates moved onto the CTG search committee. The board voted unanimously in March to appoint Desai.

As producing artistic director of East West Players, the largest and longest-running Asian American theatre in the country, Desai produced and directed three of the highest-grossing and most-attended shows in the company’s 57-year history, including the post-Broadway premiere of Allegiance starring George Takei. During his tenure at East West Players, Desai led co-productions with Center Theatre Group, Pasadena Playhouse, Rogue Artists Ensemble, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Robey Theatre Company, the Fountain Theatre, API Rise, the Japanese American Cultural Community Center, and TAIKOPROJECT. A Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow and the recipient of a Tanne Foundation Award, Desai was in the inaugural class of Theatre Communications Group’s (TCG) “Spark” Leadership Program and the first recipient of the Drama League’s Classical Directing Fellowship. Desai has served on the boards of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists (CAATA), Theatre Communications Group, and Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts (LFCSA). He currently serves on the board of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT). Desai has been on the faculty of USC’s graduate program in Arts Leadership, is a graduate of Emory University, and received his MFA in Directing from the Yale School of Drama.

“Words cannot truly express just how elated I am to have Snehal join me in leadership at Center Theatre Group,” shared Pressman in a statement. “I first met Snehal in graduate school, and I have watched him in admiration navigate a career that established his reputation as being both an extraordinarily talented and passionate artist, as well as an innovative and fearless leader. As we embark on a new chapter, I look forward to no longer having to simply admire his work from afar, but to get to work alongside Snehal to carry on the great legacy of Center Theatre Group, while creating a theatre that is built not just for this moment, but also for the future.”

Snehal Desai and Meghan Pressman at the Ahmanson. (Photo by Kim Newmoney)

“I am pleased to welcome Snehal as our new artistic leader,” added Center Theatre Group Board President Amy Forbes. “He’s an ideal and invigorating leader for this inflection point in Center Theatre Group’s history, as we navigate the hard realities of the post-pandemic theatrical landscape. We need to get folks back experiencing shows. We need to retain and grow audiences and remind people of the excitement that is live theatre. And we need to engage with the entire Los Angeles County. Snehal impressed us all with his thoughtful and entertaining vision for the future. He is bold and resourceful and has done an amazing job at East West Players. We know he’ll bring that same exuberance and energy to our stages.”

Desai is no stranger to CTG audiences. During his tenure at East West Players, Desai helped shepherd Soft Power at the Ahmanson Theatre and the recent Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, both co-productions with CTG.

“I couldn’t be more excited that Snehal Desai has been tapped to lead Center Theatre Group into its thrilling next chapter,” said playwright David Henry Hwang. “Having worked with Snehal as literary manager during East West Players’ excellent production of Chinglish, and most recently as a co-producer of Soft Power, I am deeply impressed by his intelligence, artistic voice, expansive vision, and kindness. Snehal will be a transformative artistic director for Center Theatre Group, one who knows that true artistic excellence will not be achieved until all have equal opportunity to rise.”

Center Theatre Group, one of the nation’s preeminent arts and cultural organizations, is Los Angeles’ leading nonprofit theatre company, which programs seasons at the 736-seat Mark Taper Forum and 1,600-to-2,100-seat Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In addition to presenting and producing the broadest range of theatrical entertainment in the country, Center Theatre Group is one of the country’s leading producers of new works through commissions and world premiere productions and a leader in interactive community engagement and education programs that reach across generations, demographics, and circumstances to serve Los Angeles. Founded in 1967, CTG was led by founding artistic director Gordon Davidson until 2005, when Michael Ritchie was named artistic director until his retirement in 2021. As of this year, the theatre’s budget is around $58 million.

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