Arts & Theater

Michael Stevenson takes the helm at Capital Stage

Michael Stevenson is the new producing artistic director for Capital Stage.
Michael Stevenson is the new producing artistic director for Capital Stage. lsterling@sacbee.com

Capital Stage won’t ever be the same. The professional theater company enters its 11th season with another new artistic director, but its leadership has moved outside the founding family.

It’s not as though incoming artistic director Michael Stevenson, who took over this week, is unknown. Stevenson has been acting and directing at Cap Stage nearly since the company’s inception. His familiarity with both the company and the region was an important element of his being hired. Stevenson moves into the job formerly held by co-founder Jonathan Williams, who in 2014 succeeded his wife, co-founder Stephanie Gularte. She led the company for most of its history and now leads the American Stage Theatre Company in Tampa Bay. Williams has joined her there.

Capital Stage has nearly 1,700 subscribers and will likely surpass 2,000 before the end of the year. The nonprofit’s budget will top $1 million for the first time. The upcoming seven-play season was primarily put in place by Williams this spring.

When Stevenson’s season-opening production of “Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play” debuts Saturday night, the only co-founder in attendance will be artistic associate Peter Mohrmann. From the audience’s point of view, the company will look much the same, save Williams’ legendary lengthy curtain speeches, which Stevenson couldn’t hope to approach.

The season-opening dark comedy by Anne Washburn premiered in 2012 in Washington, D.C., and then ran off Broadway and last year in San Francisco at ACT. The play tells the story of some survivors of an apocalyptic event who re-create the “Cape Feare” episode of “The Simpsons” television show. Seven years later the group does it again; the last act takes place 75 years after that.

People are hungry for theater they’re engaged by and challenged by.

Michael Stevenson, Cap Stage’s new artistic director

It’s the type of work Stevenson believes defines Capital Stage.

“At the bottom of what Capital Stage does is risk,” Stevenson said in his bare, script-filled office across J Street from the theater.

“Doing scripts that might offend are really challenging. That goes with all kinds of material – this ‘Doll’s House’ we have coming up or the ‘Hedda’ we did. There’s a kind of adventurous spirit,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson “gets who we are,” said production manager Cathy Coupal, who in seven years has worked with all three producing artistic directors.

“We’re making this transition from a small founder-led organization to an organization that is really part of the community and here to stay,” Coupal said. “It’s less about scrambling to do things and more having a good, long-term plan in place.”

General manager Keith Riedell, who has been with Cap Stage 10 years, said the company has a comfort level with Stevenson that makes the transition easier.

“He gives us stability, and it gives the community confidence that we have a leader here at Cap Stage who really knows the community, really knows the industry. It gives us all confidence,” Riedell said.

While both Coupal and Riedell acknowledge there’s a natural shift in office dynamics with the change in leadership, Stevenson said some things won’t change.

“I want to preserve the mission that Jon, Steph and Peter set up,” Stevenson said. “To do this kind of theater is really important, and it’s been a big success. People are hungry for theater they’re engaged by and challenged by.”

Stevenson came to directing through acting and his longtime association with B Street Theatre, where he and his wife, actress Jamie Jones, were longtime company members. B Street producing director Buck Busfield encouraged Stevenson to start directing and gave him early opportunities.

“The best directors for some reason have a gleeful disenchantment with the world, and Mike has that,” Busfield said. “He deconstructs everything. There’s not a reality on Earth that means anything to him. There’s nothing sacred. Whether it’s church, family, country. It’s all fodder to be taken apart.”

Stevenson now becomes the face of one of the most respected arts organization in the region, which also is known nationally. When he chooses plays for the 2016-17 season, he’ll become its heart and soul as well.

“It’s not hard for me to talk about the theater or go and pitch people because I just believe in it so much,” Stevenson said.

“I’ve had so many great moments here, it’s easy to be effusive about it.”

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play

What: A dark comedy by Anne Washburn, directed by Michael Stevenson with Kirk Blackinton, Elizabeth Holzman, Dena Martinez, Katie Rubin, Jouni Kirjola, John P. Lamb, Tiffanie Mack and Amanda Salazar

Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento

When: Previews at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Sept. 3-4. Opening at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5. Performances continue at 7 p.m Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 4.

Cost: $25-35; preview $20; discounts for student rush; active military and seniors

Information: 916-995-5464, capstage.org

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