Arts & Theater

Capital Stage’s Jonathan Williams multitasking as he prepares to leave

Andrew Seng

Jonathan Williams doesn’t seem like a man with one foot out the door at Capital Stage.

He’s directing the final play of the company’s 10th-anniversary season, “Uncanny Valley,” which previews June 17 and opens June 20. He also has been consulting on the theater’s back patio renovations and creatively networking and overseeing daily operations while passing on essential Cap Stage information to his successor, Michael Stevenson.

Stevenson takes over as the producing artistic director Sept. 1. Williams, who resigned the position this spring, has been spending large chunks of time in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he and his wife, Stephanie Gularte, relocated earlier this year when she was named artistic director of the regional theater American Stage.

At lunch recently near Capital Stage on J Street, Williams said when he’s back here things don’t feel much different. Stevenson is on staff, though, and shadowing Williams, absorbing details of the day-to-day operation.

“There’s a lot of training that’s going on with Michael, and times it takes a little bit longer because when I go to do something, I stop and explain to Michael why I’m doing it and how it works,” Williams said.

As a co-founder of Capital Stage with Gularte and Peter Mohrmann, Williams, who succeeded his wife as Capital Stage artistic director in 2013, wants to see the company continue to grow and prosper. He and Gularte also plan to continue working directly with the company. She’s adapting the Ibsen masterwork “A Doll’s House” for production next season, a work scheduled before she took her new job. Williams will likely direct a production in the season of plays that he primarily chose.

He’s been fostering Capital Stage’s involvement with the National New Play Network, sponsor of the “Uncanny Valley” rolling world premiere, in which three or more theaters premiere the same new play within 12 months. “Uncanny Valley” premieres also have been at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va.; Interact Theater Company in Philadelphia; and San Diego Repertory.

“The idea of doing new work and increasing the strength of our relationships with organizations like NNPN is getting more important,” Williams said.

The play explores the relationship between neuroscientist Claire (Jessica Powell) and her creation, Julian (Michael Patrick Wiles), a non-biological human. Powell makes her first appearance at Capital Stage. Wiles has been in several notable productions, including “The Real Thing,” “Hedda Gabler” and “Fat Pig.”

The play “deals with the idea of artificial intelligence, robotics and synthetic, man-made replacements for us,” Williams said. “I’ve researched this, and it’s much less science fiction and closer to science fact how close to this we really are.”

As Williams readies the cast for opening night, he’s still tends to season duties and company business. Williams has an 80-page contract on his desk for Capital Stage’s proposed move to the old Fremont School building on N Street, which will become the long-hoped-for E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts. There are meetings with his board and the day-to-day logistics of guiding a mid-size arts organization whose budget will exceed a million dollars this year.

“Even though we have enjoyed tremendous response from audiences, and we’re growing more every year, it’s still an arts organization,” Williams said. “Everybody works really, really hard all the time trying to put it all together with the resources we have.”

While transition is complicated, Williams said it’s easier than it might be with someone less familiar with Capital Stage than Stevenson, who has worked with the company from its earliest stages.

“He’s been in the artistic conversations and he understands how the company works, understands the brand of the company, the ethos of the company,” Williams said.

As an artistic associate Stevenson has taken some of the load off Williams, such as the artistic planning of the new season and assembling creative teams for the September season opening show, which he’ll direct, “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.”

“It’s been great that Jon’s been mentoring me, kind of guiding me along,” Stevenson said. “It’s great because I’m working with a lot of the same people I’ve worked with for a long time, and then it’s a new door in on what happens.”

Williams observed that the hardest part of the job can be knowing when to walk away and take a break – “finding balance for your life” having been his greatest challenge.

Uncanny Valley

  • What: Capital Stage presents a National New Play Network rolling world premiere, directed by Jonathan Williams with Michael Wiles and Jessica Powell
  • Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
  • When: Previews June 17-19, opens June 20, continues through July 19 at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
  • Cost: $18-$40
  • Information: (916) 995-5464; capstage.org
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