Charr Crail

Stephanie Gularte, left with Jessica Bates in 2011's "Or," co-founded Cap Stage with Jonathan Williams and Peter Mohrmann.

Critics' notebook: New direction for Capital Stage co-founder Stephanie Gularte

Published: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 7:45 am

Stephanie Gularte's imminent resignation as artistic director at Capital Stage, the professional theater company she co-founded, closes a remarkable and inspiring chapter in the region's arts life. This isn't by any means the end of the road for either Gularte or Cap Stage, but a corner has been turned. Gularte leaves a legacy of gutsy forward-thinking arts management and a model organization built to last.

With co-founders Jonathan Williams and Peter Mohrmann, Gularte proved that a smart, dedicated and hard-working team could create a successful business from their art.

Most meaningful to her is that the company stayed true to its original artistic intentions and creative goals.

"I'm proudest of our integrity and steadfastness to our commitment to bring challenging, edgier theater to the region," Gularte said.

They also built Capital Stage a home with a new theater on J Street. They had help, naturally, from an effective board engaged in the mission and from outstanding like-minded artists who contributed as well.

Mainly, though, it was the co-founders' leadership and Gularte's leadership of the co-founders that made the company go.

More than anything, Gularte brought to Capital Stage a unifying vision and a resolute will to make the ideas work. As with all truly creative people, Gularte knows there are plenty more ideas on the way. It's one of the reasons she can leave Capital Stage and search out something else for herself.

Gularte also learned from mistakes or missteps, though she didn't make many. She was the person charged with choosing the company's season, what it would produce – arguably the most important decisions an arts organization makes. She executed this part of her job skillfully, carefully branding Capital Stage as a fearless company consistently producing first-class work. The highlights are numerous: "Proof," "Humble Boy," "Three Days of Rain," "The Typographer's Dream," "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train," "reasons to be pretty," "Mauritius" and "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play" among my personal favorites.

Along with the rest of the region's arts presenters, Capital Stage was challenged and scrambled in the financial meltdown of 2008. Scheduled programing was tossed out and numerous staff people lost jobs.

In February 2009 the company canceled George Bernard Shaw's period comedy "Mrs. Warren's Profession" and Yussef El Guindi's contemporary dark political drama "Back of the Throat." They substituted David Mamet's three-man drama "American Buffalo" and the Reduced Shakespeare Company's breezy small-cast farce "The Complete History of America (abridged)."

I remember a conversation Gularte initiated later, saying how much she regretted that decision and how she would never do it again. She said if Cap Stage were not to make it then it would go down doing work it set out to do, not something to pacify an audience.

Gularte understands what's appropriate for her audience, and how it's sometimes necessary to take chances in leading them there.

One of the chances Gularte takes this season is scheduling "The Mountaintop" and tapping Anthony D'Juan to direct it. Will it be successful? Who knows? That's the agony and ecstasy of producing live theater.

The play, a fantasia on Martin Luther King's last night alive, was a huge hit in London and, while it did fine with audiences in New York (with movie stars in the roles), the critics mostly panned it.

Gularte knows this. She also knows there's a strong possibility if Cap Stage markets smartly that it can tap into a supportive African American audience that has never been to her theater. She's also taking a chance with D'Juan, a theater-maker in this area with nearly 15 years writing, directing and performing to his credit. He's paid his dues and should have had an opportunity like this sooner. Will it work out?

The alchemy of theater is unpredictable, but Gularte's obviously betting it will. It's a well-thought-out bet, the kind of chance leaders necessarily take.

Gularte's husband and Capital Stage co-founder, Williams, who stays on with the company, looks forward to his wife's next move.

"I'm excited for her to be able to take on whatever that next opportunity is going to be and to be able to search out that next opportunity," Williams said.

"I think she's going to go on to really, really great things, even though we're not exactly sure what that is right now."

Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

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