Q&A with Artists Rep's New Artistic Director

Dámaso Rodriguez talks about his plans for the theater and his first production, Ten Chimneys.

Edited by Aaron Scott March 22, 2013

Dámaso Rodriguez has a big stage to fill. The award-winning Los Angeles director will take the reins of the city’s longest-running theater company, Artists Repertory, from its beloved artistic director of 25 years, Allen Nause. Rodriguez comes with big plans, but first he’ll show his directorial chops with Ten Chimneys, a play about the Broadway power couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Tell us a little about Ten Chimneys and why it excites you. The Lunts were married and only worked in plays together, so they rehearsed constantly. Ten Chimneys reveals the obsessiveness that some of the great artists have. The play feels like a hybrid between Noël Coward and Chekhov, because the characters are rehearsing The Seagull; it’s a backstage comedy; and then it’s wrapped up in this metatheatrical kind of ball. If you’re a serious theatergoer or artist, this is the play for you. And it’s funny.

Share an experience that was formative to you as a director. I got into the idea that 20-somethings could make plays and change the world, which is what happened with Group Theatre and Second City. We started producing our own improv show [in Chicago], the Furious, and we had a guy who said, “I’m writing a play.” We booked a theater, and I codirected. The Chicago Tribune pegged it as recalling the early years of Steppenwolf Theatre. We sold out the entire six weeks. It was very encouraging, and my transition to identifying myself as a director stems from that. 

Ten Chimneys
Artists Repertory Theatre
Apr 23–May 26
1515 SW Morrison St

What excited you about working at Artists Rep? As Artists Rep grew, it didn’t choose to become a 500-seat theater; it chose to become two substantial but relatively intimate theaters. That allows them to take risks. I know artistic directors around the country who are running physically larger spaces who have lists of plays that they love but don’t feel they can do because it’d be financially catastrophic to risk alienating part of the audience base. This is a company where I can do the work I want to do.  

Where do you want to take Artists Rep? I want to make this company known as an ensemble company for all the artists—not just the actors, but designers, writers, directors. This is “Artists Rep,” and I can’t help but apply an apostrophe after Artists’. 

We have two amazing theater spaces, yet we rarely have productions running simultaneously. We want the downstairs and upstairs lobbies to be buzzing with people who are wondering what the other audience is talking about. So more programming is a major goal—not just producing more plays, but doing partnerships and residencies. It’s our third season hosting Portland Shakespeare Project, and I’m excited to say we are hosting Profile Theatre’s 2014 season, which includes administrative space, rehearsal space, and up to four full productions.

Closing thoughts? This theater is one of the great regional theater stories. It deserves a bigger national presence. One of the ways to do that is getting people who don’t live here working here and telling people how amazing it is.

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