After 47 years of leading Costa Mesa's acclaimed South Coast Repertory theater company, co-founders David Emmes and Martin Benson will soon finally relinquish their shared role of artistic director to Marc Masterson, an outsider from out of state.
"I don't think anyone should expect drastic change or sudden shifts of direction, but I do think that there is a new perspective … A different set of connections and a different way of working perhaps," Masterson told the Daily Pilot in a phone interview on Friday, during a brief visit to Southern California.
"New perspectives can bring good things for everyone and that's what I'm hoping for," he added.
The company's board of directors and a search committee spent more than a year searching nationwide for the right candidate to fill the legendary stage duo's shoes. The recruiters sifted through 90 applications that came from all corners of the country.
Eventually, the list of candidates was whittled down, and the search ended in the blue grass of Kentucky. There they found Masterson, who has served for 11 years as the artistic leader at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Wylie Aitken, the former president of the board, who led the search team, said he couldn't be happier with the results.
"He is someone that is very artistic and creative but also very approachable," Aitken said. "The community itself will really respond to Marc because he's not a person that sits in his office, he goes out and talks to people. He's that perfect blend that, I think, will make him successful."
There was a particular quality that Aitken saw in Masterson's leadership in Louisville that attracted him: Masterson's attention to nurturing new talent and staging ground-breaking productions.
Out of the 100 plays that Masterson produced at Louisville, 96 of them were world premieres that went on to show around the country, according to the Actors Theatre website.
Besides his time in Louisville, Masterson spent 20 years as the producing director at the City Theatre in Pittsburgh. In 1998, he won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, according to the Actors Theatre website.
"The Actors Theatre in Louisville has had a strong record in new plays," Aitken said. "They are probably only outshone by ourselves."
It is these similarities that Masterson himself noticed when applying for the job at South Coast Repertory.
Benson and Emmes started SCR in 1964 in a two-story marine hardware store on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. The theater company now boasts a 1988 Tony award for Distinguished Achievement and a cutting-edge theatrical venue adjacent to South Coast Plaza.
Masterson will begin working part-time alongside managing director Paula Tomei in April, and officially replace Benson and Emmes on Sept. 1.
"In September, as he takes over the reins as sole artistic director, we'll be here to support him in every way," David Emmes said of Masterson in an e-mail to the Pilot. "It's going to be an exciting time for us — and for everyone at SCR — as this transition takes place."