Ted Pappas to exit as Pittsburgh Public Theater leader in 2018
March 9, 2017 12:00 AM
“I’m a big believer in great opening numbers, but I also like exits and curtain calls,” said Ted Pappas, producing artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater. “I thought ‘Hamlet’ would be the most confirming of what I learned moving to Pittsburgh.”
Ted Pappas , center in white jacket, at the That's Entertainment with a Vegas Twist, benefiting Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2015.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ted Pappas will step down as producing artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater when his contract is up on Aug. 31 of next year, leaving on his own terms after 18 years as the company’s leader.
He is the longest-running head of the 42-year-old theater, including 15 years as producing artistic director, and was a guest director for seven previous seasons. Although he is stepping away from running the show, he hopes to be asked back as a guest director again.
A task force will be appointed to search for Mr. Pappas’ successor, and “we will continue the tradition that Ted has instilled in us: extraordinary theater in a fiscally responsible manner,” board president Michael H. Ginsberg said in a statement.
During his final season at the Public, 2017-18, Mr. Pappas will direct “Equus,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Hamlet.”
“I’m a big believer in great opening numbers, but I also like exits and curtain calls,” Mr. Pappas said on Tuesday. “I thought ‘Hamlet’ would be the most confirming of what I learned moving to Pittsburgh.”
He moved here from New York in 2000 not just to run a company, “but to develop my skills as a director of classical work,” he said. “That’s one of the things I am most grateful for and most proud of.”
Mr. Pappas, 63, a familiar figure greeting patrons at the O’Reilly Theater door on opening nights, is looking forward to spending more time with his family in Greece, where he grew up before heading to Northwestern University and finding a career as a director and choreographer. He succeeded Edward Gilbert as the Public’s artistic director in mid-2000, after the move from the North Side to the O’Reilly and the Pittsburgh Cultural District.
“If you think of yourself as a caretaker, someone who inherits something very precious, you protect it and expand it and give it security and an additional luster, then you hand it off to someone or others,” Mr. Pappas, acknowledging Mr. Gilbert as handing him “a gift” when he took the Public’s artistic reigns.
When managing director Stephen Klein retired in 2003, Mr. Pappas took on two jobs and expanded his title to producing artistic director, along with directing up to four shows in a six-show season.
His salary in 2015 was more than $303,000, while the company’s budget is $6.8 million for the current season.
The Public’s programming for 2016-17 reflects the varied works presented during Mr. Pappas’ tenure — a Shakespeare play, two musicals, an American classic, a recent Broadway comedy and the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Between Riverside and Crazy,” plus former Steeler Rocky Bleier’s one-man show. The educational arm of the Public also administers the annual Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Competition for regional middle school and high school students.
As an outsider looking in, Wall Street Journal arts columnist Terry Teachout came to Pittsburgh in 2015 to see the Public’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” headed by frequent guest director Pamela Berlin.
From his perch in New York, Mr. Teachout said he had never been inspired to wander to the Public, “but now I know better,” he wrote. “Judging by this ‘Anne Frank,’ the Public looks like one of the most accomplished resident theaters on the East Coast.”
Ted Pappas, artistic director at Pittsburgh Public Theater, holds a candle as he speaks outside the O’Reilly Theater during the Public’s “Ghostlight Project” event in January in Downtown’s theater district. People across the country gathered to create a “light” for the inclusive space of theaters across the county. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)
Also in 2015, a production of “How I Learned What I Learned” completed presentations of all of August Wilson’s works — the American Century Cycle, plus the late Pittsburgh native’s one-man show about his path from the Hill District to award-winning playwright.
Mr. Pappas’ journey to Pittsburgh arts leader included a stint as Al Pacino’s personal assistant and as the choreographer for early episodes of “Saturday Night Live.” He arrived here as president of the national directors and choreographers labor union, where he realized “that there were great minds that were relegated to a certain type of play or periodic hiring, and they were women.” He spoke with pride about the Public’s hiring rate for women guest directors — nearly 50 percent, while a recent national study of 177 theater companies showed an average high of 40 percent in 2014-15, up from an average of 22 percent in 2011-12.
To maintain quality and funding beyond Pittsburgh’s “very generous” foundations, Mr. Pappas introduced individual sponsorships for elements of productions, such as the costumes for every member of Congress in the musical “1776.” This season, longtime patron Richard W. Moriarty is sponsoring the appearance of “The Good Wife” actor Zach Grenier in “Death of a Salesman.”
Now that he is preparing to step down, he expects his “love affair” with the company to continue even after he hands off the reins.
“I fell head over heels for the Pittsburgh audience when I was a guest director,” he said. “I found them to be discerning and kind and sophisticated. It’s the audience I always hoped I’d find on Broadway or off-Broadway, and ironically, I found it in Pittsburgh. They expect the best when they come here, so you have to give it to them. That’s been my guiding light every day since I’ve been artistic director.”
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