Darko Tresnjak To Leave Hartford Stage; Many Projects Ahead

 Darko Tresnjak

Darko Tresnjak

EXCLUSIVE!

By FRANK RIZZO

Darko Tresnjak will be stepping down as artistic director after eight years at the end of the 2018-'19 season.

The Tony Award-winning director, whose tenure is marked with award-winning Shakespearean productions, play premieres and two new musicals which then moved onto Broadway and then to tour, says the reason for his exit is to pursue other projects, especially in the area of opera in the U.S. and abroad.

Tresnjak will make his directing debut at the Metropolitan Opera in September with the season opener, Saint-Saens' "Samson et Delila" -- which has a chorus of 92 -- and will star Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna. A string of other opera commitments are still to be announced for various companies in the U.S. and in Europe that will take place over the next two years. There is also a new musical project yet to be announced that he will direct in New York, and another for which he is writing the book and lyrics.

Samson et Delilia

"It has been  an extraordinary privilege and honor to be artistic director at Hartford Stage," says Tresnjak, 52. "But two years ago my mom passed away and she always wanted me to strive and never settle and I realized there were things, especially in the opera world, that are outside what Hartford Stage can give me. I wanted to be here as long as I could to give it everything I had and I'm proud of the fact that the years here have been governed by joy, imagination and panache."

Shuttling between Hartford and New York to stage or oversee shows --   several of which benefit the Hartford Stage directly financially in royalties -- took its toll. "Since 'Gentleman’s Guide' and 'Anastasia,' and for many other reasons, I practically lived on the 6:29 a.m. train commuting between Hartford and New York... Stamina had become an issue." 

Following the completion this summer of its three-phase capital renovation of the Tony Award-winning theater,  the Hartford Stage leadership under managing director Michael Stotts and board president Sue Collins will now embark on a new phase of strategic planning. "I couldn’t go into those meetings and not tell people the truth about my plans," says Tresnjak.

Shows for his final 2018-19 season is expected to be announced "very soon and will be spectacular.." For the new season Tresnjak will direct world premieres of a play by Samuel Baum (HBO's "The Wizard of Lies") in January and a new musical by Robert L. Freedman ("A Gentleman's Guide") and Scott Frankel ("War Paint," "Grey Gardens") which will end the season -- and his tenure. with a third original musical in eight years. All the plays that he will not stage in the new season will be directed by women, he says.

Tresnjak will end the current 2017-18 season with Athol Fugard's "A Lesson From Aloes, which begins performances  May 17.

Tresnjak says he had been considering the move for a long time. "I thought that this was going to be [my last season here] but then the [2016 presidential] election happened and it seemed like a bad time for change so I decided to do one more season."

Tresnjak grew up in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, When his sister married an American diplomat in the mid-'70s, Tresnjak, then 10 years old, and his mother emigrated to the United States two weeks before the Bicentennial.

"It's not an easy decision," he says. "I love this community and I love this theater. It's been an extraordinary time but I also don’t want my schedule and ambition to compromise the company. "

A national search will be conducted to find a successor to Tresnjak who was the fifth artistic director in the theater's 54-year history, following founder Jacques Cartier, Paul Wiedner, Mark Lamos and Michael Wilson. Tresnjak says he will be available until July 2019 and, depending on when his successor is named , could craft an additional season, or in part.

 Left to right: David Hawkanson, former managing director; Mark Lamos, former artistic director; Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group; Jacques Cartier, founding artistic director; Darko Tresnjak and Michael Stotts, current managing director of Hartford Stage.

Left to right: David Hawkanson, former managing director; Mark Lamos, former artistic director; Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group; Jacques Cartier, founding artistic director; Darko Tresnjak and Michael Stotts, current managing director of Hartford Stage.

 A scene from "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"

A scene from "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"

A national search will be conducted to find a successor to Tresnjak who was the fifth artistic director in the theater's 54-year history, following founder Jacques Cartier, Paul Wiedner, Mark Lamos and Michael Wilson.

Hartford Stage joins a growing list of major regional theaters on the look-out for new leadership following retirements, changes in direction or as a result of the #metoo movement. Theaters that are or will be soon looking for new artistic leadership include New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, Houston's Alley Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Theatre and Baltimore 's CenterStage. American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco  recently concluded its search.
" I want the company to start the search sooner rather than later," says Tresnjak, "so they can get the most qualified candidate.”

Tresnjak says he is not ruling out being an artistic director again some time in the future. "Never say never.." Indeed one of his predecessors -- Mark Lamos -- returned to the position of artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse after a period of freelance directing following his exit at Hartford Stage.

Tresjak has been a much in-demand director since "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" premiered at the theater in 2012. The show moved to Broadway the following year where it earned the Tony Award for outstanding musical of the 2013-14 season. Tresnjak, book writer Freedman and costumer designer Linda Cho also received awards for their work.

 A scene from "Anastasia"

A scene from "Anastasia"

Another musical premiere in Hartford, "Anastasia" which opened in 2016, moved to Broadway last year, and is still running. Tresnajk will oversee a national tour of the show that opens in Schenectady, N.Y. in October, as well as separate European productions in Madrid in September and Stuttgart, Germany at the end of the year. 

There is also the expectation that "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder' and 'Anastasia' will have their premieres next year in London.

 Photo by Michael Miceli

Photo by Michael Miceli

Tresnjak has also directed  for the Los Angeles Opera with “Macbeth” and “The Ghosts of Versailles,” the latter which featured Patti LuPone.

 "Hamlet" Photo by T. Charles Erickson

"Hamlet" Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Another hallmark of Tresnjak run at Hartford Stage were seven productions of Shakespeare works: "The Tempest," "Twelfth Night," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Comedy of Errors,"  the latter four in which he also designed the sets.

Other directing credits at the theater include world premieres of "Breath and Imagination," "Rear Window" with Kevin Bacon,  and revivals of "Kiss Mer Kate," "Private Lives," "Bell, Book and Candle," "La Dispute" and "Heartbreak House." He received four Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, three for his direction of "Hamlet," "Gentleman's Guide" and "Anastasia" and one for his set design of "A Comedy of Errors." 

During Tresnjak's tenure, capital improvements of the building continued,  the theater's subscription base rose from 6,000 to more than 8,000 and the theater's education programs expanded. Box office record were broken with "Rear Window," "Anastasia"and "Romeo and Juliet." 

Prior to Hartford Stage, Tresnjak was the artistic director of Old Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego from 2004 to 2009. His directing credits around the country prior to Hartford Stage include multiple productions at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Theatre, New York's Theatre for a New Audience and shows for Goodspeed Musicals.

Tresnjak grew up in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, When his sister married an American diplomat in the mid-'70s, Tresnjak and his mother emigrated to the United States two weeks before the Bicentennial.

 Tresnjak and husband Josh Pearsoin at their Manchester home. Photo by Frank Rizzo

Tresnjak and husband Josh Pearsoin at their Manchester home. Photo by Frank Rizzo

He and his husband, costume designer Josh Pearson, will keep their Bauhaus home in Manchester,  designed in 1969 by award-winning architect Charles Gwathmey, but will also live in Manhattan, too.