Kwame Kwei-Armah, the adventurous artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage since 2011, will step down when his contract expires next summer, seven years after he started the job.
“It was not an easy decision to make,” Kwei-Armah said. “I absolutely love Baltimore Center Stage and I absolutely love Baltimore. Baltimore has made me a better artist.
“But I woke up one morning and thought about how we have this beautiful new building and new programs. In Britain, where I’m from, that’s the time you leave, when you’ve done what you set out to do and you’re not leaving the theater in a worse place than you found it.”
In addition to spearheading an ambitious capital campaign that resulted in extensive redesign and upgrades to Baltimore Center Stage’s home on North Calvert Street, Kwei-Armah was a force behind three of the company’s top-selling shows — Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” Kemp Powers’ “One Night in Miami,” and “Marley,” a musical about Bob Marley’s last years written and directed by Kwei-Armah.
Other highlights include his direction of “Jazz,” the world premiere production of Nambi E. Kelley’s adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel, which wraps up this weekend.
The Center Stage board of directors will begin a search for a new artistic director in the coming months.
“Do I wish I had more time with Kwame? Absolutely,” said Center Stage managing director Michael Ross. “But he’s done so many good things that we’re so blessed to have here. He has really transformed us physically and spiritually, in how we do our work and how he engage our community.”
Board President Terry Morgenthaler said in a statement that Kwei-Armah has “challenged everyone, from his actors and his production team to his staff and board, to bring a higher level of artistry to our work. ‘Access for All’ became his signature mission and it is reflected in everything we do now. We look forward to his final Baltimore Center Stage season and future collaborations with this magnificent artist.”
Kwei-Armah said that, although he has had job offers from “theaters in England the the States, I don’t have another job to go to. I’m not leaving Center Stage for anyone.” He will stay at Center Stage through June 30, 2018.
The British-born Kwei-Armah, who was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to drama in 2012, is an accomplished actor and director, as well as playwright. His works include “Elmina’s Kitchen,” “Let There Be Love,” and “Beneatha’s Place.” He is writing a work that will premiere during the 2017-2018 season at Center Stage; details on that work have not been announced.
“When I joined, I told the board that I wanted to stay for six years,” Kwei-Armah said, “and by the time I leave I will have done seven. I do not intend to be a lame duck artistic director. When I leave, everybody will know I have given my all.”