Center Stage Baltimore’s upcoming season will be artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah’s last with the organization.
The nonprofit theater announced yesterday that its beloved leader will be departing shortly after the final play – a still-untitled one written and directed by Kwei-Armah himself – wraps up on June 17, 2018. His contract ends June 30.
“I have had the most wonderful six years leading Baltimore Center Stage with Stephen Richard, and now with Michael Ross,” said Kwei-Armah in a statement. “Together we have achieved considerable success, including many great shows, an amazing new building, and a deep reconnection with the community resulting in a substantial increase of new audiences.”
If you’re wondering about a hidden motivation lurking beneath that statement, the British playwright says there isn’t one. “No hidden reasons,” he told The Washington Post yesterday.
The city’s largest professional theater company has excelled under his leadership. His tenure has coincided with boosts in financial support and subscription revenues, along with a recent $28 million transformation that brought the theater a new space, logo and overall brand.
Perhaps more importantly, he’s produced amazing work, including three of its top-selling shows ever. His 2015 bio-musical “Marley,” about the Jamaican reggae legend, set box office records and was brought straight to the people during the 2015 uprising, when the cast performed pieces of it at Penn and North Avenues.
His 2013 “Beneatha’s Place,” a response to Bruce Norris’ 2010 “Clybourne Park,” which was based on the classic “A Raisin in the Sun,” made waves in his first full season as artistic director, earning a behind-the-scenes-style profile in a PBS documentary series.
Kwei-Armah has enjoyed plentiful accolades during his time in Baltimore. Last year, he received the Urban Visionary Award for his service to the communities, and the year before, the National Black Theater awarded him a Visionary TEER Spirit Award. Not to mention, he was also made an Officer of the British Empire by the Queen of England in 2012 for his services to drama in his home country.
[Read our 2011 Big Fish interview with him here.]
Board president Terry Morgenthaler in a statement touted Kwei-Armah’s “creativity and energy.”
“He challenged everyone, from his actors and his production team, to his staff and board, to bring a higher level of artistry to our work. ‘Access for All’ became his signature mission and it is reflected in everything we do now,” she said.
The outgoing artistic director said he has “felt profoundly supported by the board and the Baltimore community.”
“I love Baltimore,” he added.
The theater’s upcoming season, which starts Sept. 7, will include productions of “The Christians,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Lookingglass Alice,” “Skeleton Crew” and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” in addition to Kweih-Armah’s untitled production.
Center Stage Baltimore’s board will begin the search for his replacement this year.
An earlier version of this story said Kweih-Armah was knighted in 2012, when he was in fact made an Officer of the British Empire.
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