A New Act for Playhouse’s Artistic Director

The Playhouse’s new artistic director, Ann Wareham. Photo by Ted Reckas.

When Ann Wareham joined the Laguna Playhouse staff last year, she was ready for a new adventure after 27 years at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group.

She worked as assistant and line producer to Andrew Barnicle, the Playhouse’s longtime artistic director, who planned his own exit. After he left last August, the theater searched nationwide for a replacement, but ultimately determined their new hire was the best fit for the job.

“This is the best place for me to be right now and I feel as if I have spent 35 years preparing myself,” said Wareham, whose theater career spans stints as talent agent, film script supervisor and assistant to her mentor, award-winning producer Gordon Davidson. “Having been a producer is really the best training, since, really, you are doing everyone’s job.“

Wareham is eager to fill the 400-seat venue with a tight $4 million annual budget and a projected audience of 55,567 in a season of mostly small-scale shows.

“She comes at a time when the theater is trying to expand its footprint,” said board member Joe Hanauer, who expects her background in theater production and success  working collaboratively with other budget-challenged arts organizations means the Playhouse will be known as a home of quality entertainment.

City council member Elizabeth Pearson, founding member of the newly established Playhouse Players Club, noted that Wareham believes in children’s theater as a way of promoting future generations of theater goers.

“What I like most about Ann is that she uses both sides of her brain: she is creative, yet practical,” Pearson said. “She understands the business side and, with the limited budget she has to work with–especially in these economic times–she will ensure that Orange County receives the most bang for its buck when it comes to performances at our Playhouse,” she wrote by e-mail.

Collaboration means sharing space with other arts presenters, such as Laguna Dance and the Community Concert Band, for example, while attracting audiences and also staying within budget. “We will rent out space in pockets of time, working around scheduled productions,” said Wareham.

An emphasis in the last year on staging solo shows along the lines of “I Left My Heart,” a tribute to Tony Bennet, and the current “This Wonderful Life”, has helped balance the books.

Expect more in the immediate future. Coming up next year are premiers of “Lonesome Traveler,” based on American folk music and “Tickled Pink,” with Rita Rudner who will also star in a solo show “Rita Rudner Returns.” The “Sister’s Catechism…” series will continue with an Easter show “Will My Bunny Go to Heaven?”

In light of a shrinking donor base, she intends to keep programming conservative. “It’s necessary to examine our business plan and stick with the tried and true. There will be nothing cutting-edge this season; you got to stay in business and be responsible,” she said. “I am working at creating opportunities to attract new and younger audiences and would like to have a variety of material–comedy, musicals, drama and also independent productions, but experimental productions are not part of the current business model,” she added.

Even so, she plans outreach to Laguna and beyond, though has yet to formulate its direction, confident that even the tried and true will draw audiences since no production is ever the same. “Unlike movies, live performances transform themselves constantly. Anything that’s on stage is written in sand; it’s never the same,” she said. “I am also bringing a variety of relationships from Los Angeles which I hope may lead to new audiences as well,” she said.

As for the South Coast Repertory Theatre, the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center and college-based Orange County performing arts venues, it’s the more the merrier. “I don’t see them in terms of competition, I see opportunities for creative exchanges,” she said. “For now, we all need to ride out the economy.”









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