Michael Stebbins steps down as Rep Stage artistic director

Michael Stebbins, who has guided Rep Stage since 2005, has resigned as producing artistic director, effective May 5.

"I have decided to go back to being a freelance actor and director," Stebbins, 47, said Friday, "which is something I have wanted to do for some time."

Although Stebbins has directed and acted in Rep Stage productions -- he will be featured in the season-closing revival of "Boeing Boeing" that opens April 17 -- much of his attention has been focused on the administrative and fund-raising duties expected of an artistic director.

"I prided myself on being able to do both," he said, "but I think it's time to go back to the nomadic, freelance life and let some new energy into the company, let someone else, as the cliche goes, take it to the next level."

Rep Stage, founded in 1993 by its first artist director Valerie Lash, is in residence at Howard Community College.

It is a professional Equity company, like Baltimore's Center Stage and Everyman Theatre, and its productions have earned several Helen Hayes Awards (the region's equivalent to the Tonys). Stebbins was among the 2009 recipients of the Helen Hayes Tribute Award, given to several area artistic directors for their contributions to the theater community.

In recent seasons, the company's notable productions have included Edward Albee's wickedly provocative "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?"; Jon Marans' "The Temperamentals," about the early gay-rights movement; and rare revivals of bittersweet plays by J. M. Barrie.

Stebbins will not be cutting all ties to Rep Stage. The 2013-2014 season, which he has finished planning, will find him directing the first production, acting in the second (details on that season will be announced shortly).

Stebbins has roots in this area going back to the 1980s, when he was a performer at an Inner Harbor entertainment complex.

He studied theater at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (and earned a graduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and performed with several regional companies, including Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre. He had acting and directing gigs at Rep Satge prior to his appointment as artistic director.

Born in upstate New York and raised in Wisconsin, Stebbins plans to relocate to the Midwest (Milwaukee and Chicago are under consideration) within the next 12 months. In addition to stage work, he said he has some writing he would like to do.

Looking back on his almost-eight-year tenure at Rep Stage, Stebbins said he was "proud of the fact that we helped a lot of young, up-and-coming playwrights" and "offered a lot of great opportunities for very established artists, as well as very young artists."

He said that the weekly pay scale for actors steadily increased, from under $300 when Stebbins took the company's helm to about $600 now.

Stebbins also noted how the company had managed "to keep theater very affordable, with a top ticket price of $40, and still maintain a level of quality of productions." Rep Stage has no debt, he added, and is in a healthy financial position for the next artistic director. 

As for disappointments, Stebbins pointed to a persistent lack of awareness of Rep Stage among the public, even in the immediate area. While hospitalized briefly last month in Columbia for complications from diabetes, he was reminded of this identity problem.

"When [hospital staffers] found out I was the artistic director of a theater," Stebbins said, "they came in and asked me, 'How is Toby's [Dinner Theatre]?' When I told them I run Rep Stage, they said, 'What's that?' And when I said we were in residence at HCC, they said, 'So you're students?' How to brand our entity has continued to be a challenge."

A search for Stebbins' successor is underway.


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