Stephanie Ybarra hasn't just picked up the reins at the state theater of Maryland. Like a modern-day arts admin horse-whisperer, she's retraining staff, audiences and greater Baltimore about what it means to be a producer of civically resonant stories and a true conversation starter.
Last month, when 197 Republican lawmakers--including President Trump--were in town for the 2019 House Republican Member Conference, Ybarra sent a formal email inviting them to Baltimore Center Stage's season-opening show, "Miss You Like Hell," a musical about an undocumented Mexican mother and her U.S.-born daughter. The theater even sent a truck with the invitation on its side to drive around Harbor East, where the conference was being held. When not a single lawmaker responded, the theater gave away the seats, all of which had a reserved sign with each lawmaker's name, to the community.
In her first curated season, Ybarra has booked a slate of contemporary shows that speak to her socio-political interests rather than pandering to a safe formula of classics with name recognition and maybe a contemporary play here or there. She is part of a new wave of younger, engaged theater leaders, and happens to be the first female Latinx artistic director of a major regional theater.
She's created new staff positions like "director of artistic partnerships and innovation" and "director of learning and social accountability," along with a company-wide anti-racism initiative. She has jumped head first into being a part of the Baltimore community in her first full year in the city after being at the Public Theater in New York for years.
"I'm all in on Baltimore… The last year has been full of personal and professional highlights for me, not the least of which have been exploring Baltimore's unique personality," she says via text (because she's ultra-accessible, too). "I'm most excited by the opportunities to collaborate across disciplines. There are already so many possibilities ahead, and I'm just getting started."