Next Stage

Photo by Jack GouldMost of the bombshells that drop in local theater end in obliteration. Alternative Repertory Theater spends all kinds of time and money preparing to move into a beautiful theater in downtown Santa Ana only to call it quits after a handful of shows. The New Voices playwrights group spends all kinds of time and money preparing to move into a space—also in Santa Ana—only to have the person who runs the space boot them out a week before the curtain was due to go up on their first play.

But here's a bombshell that won't end in destruction: Stages' founder Brian Kojac's announcement last weekend that he's stepping down as leader of the company he started eight years ago.

Kojac broke the news at a company meeting Sunday night at its Fullerton theater. (I'm a member of that company and usually don't write anything about it for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons, but not this time.) He didn't go into specifics, but it's obvious that after eight years and almost 200 shows, Kojac figures it's someone else's turn.

Unlike other theaters that have disbanded after their founders retire—like ART and the Theatre District, which has re-formed in Los Angeles—Stages will continue. A board of directors has formed and is in the process of turning the theater into a nonprofit. It has also named Patrick Gwaltney as managing director. Kojac will continue to act, direct and produce plays with Stages.

It's an exceedingly smooth transition. And while you can give Kojac props for building a theater that produced more theater and more original plays than any other local company, the three standing ovations he received Sunday night weren't about that. What he was being honored for—and what he should be proudest of achieving—is that he inspired and pushed his comrades to produce a theater that will live beyond its founder; the theater has a life of its own. That clich about the show going on is rarely so appropriate.

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