With new dual leadership model, Issaquah’s Village Theatre begins its next chapter

Following the retirement of Executive Producer Robb Hunt, and the departure of former Artistic Director Jerry Dixon, Village Theatre is ushering in a new era with a move to a dual leadership model helmed by new artistic director Adam Immerwahr, a position that previously reported to the executive producer and that will now report to Village’s board, and the organization’s first-ever managing director, Laura Lee. Both Lee and Immerwahr started working with the company, known for producing a mix of classic and new musicals as well as for its youth education program, in July.

Immerwahr called stepping in to lead the company following Hunt’s 43 years both an “extraordinary gift” and a responsibility as he and Lee shepherd the organization’s next stage of growth.

“How do we work to make Village a more equitable, humane, loving place for everyone to work — its staff, its artists — as well as for its audience to attend,” Immerwahr said. “How do we take the incredible youth education program, the new works program and the work on the main stage and lift it up to the next level?”

Board president Jill Klinge, in a statement, sees Immerwahr and Lee poised for success due to their “unique energy, experience and vision,” Immerwahr’s “ability to envision the classic musical theater canon in new and innovative ways” and Lee’s theater administration, marketing and financial management skills.

Most recently, Immerwahr served as artistic director of Theater J in Washington, D.C., for over six years, and prior to that, he was associate artistic director at the Tony-winning McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Lee’s more than 30 years of experience in finance, marketing and fundraising includes serving as managing director of Seattle’s ArtsWest and the founder of her own sports production company, Production Sports.

Earlier this month, Immerwahr and Lee discussed what the new leadership model means for the future of Village Theatre and what audiences and artists can expect from the organization’s next phase. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What are the differences between having that one person at the top versus having two people sharing leadership?

Immerwahr: It’s a pretty extraordinary person who can be as good in the rehearsal room as they are reviewing the finances and creating a marketing plan. Laura brings a wealth of experiences — I can’t even come close to imagining all that she brings in the areas that she’s going to be overseeing. Fundraising, marketing, operations, finance, the patron experience, all of these. The dual leadership model allows her to focus and be a specialist while I go and spend my time in the rehearsal room meeting with artists. Together, we take on joint leadership in the community and strategically of the organization. 

Laura, I’d love to know, what is the most important thing for Adam to know about the Seattle theater scene?

Lee: We are a close community. Even working at ArtsWest, there was not a competition between theaters. It was: How can we lift each other up? I got to see the spectrum of theater in Seattle. It’s a huge spectrum and we really do want to raise each other up. 

Adam, were there any things you learned during your time in D.C., which also has its own very particular theater scene, that you’re looking forward to bringing to Seattle and to Village?

Immerwahr: I was at one of the larger culturally specific theaters in the country. I ran Theater J, which is the nation’s leading Jewish theater. From that vantage point, it really helped me understand the incredible power of theater to be both universal and particular, and the joy that comes with sharing stories of any particular group, of any particular people, in a universal way.

Looking ahead artistically, are we expecting to see programming similar to past seasons?

Immerwahr: Programming is a sort of Venn diagram of what excites you as a producer and as an artist, what engages your audience in what they want to see and what [stories] the artists of your community need to share. We’re not going to abandon doing big, splashy musicals. But, we will start to, I’m sure, slightly adjust the flavor. I hope that the audience starts to go on a journey that moves us over slightly towards things that are at the center of all of our interests. A lot of that for me is going to be learning the artistic community and getting to know who’s got stories they’re dying to tell, who has projects they’re dying to work on, and helping them find a moment for that here at Village.

I would add that, what I’ve learned in my journey with Village so far has been that the youth education program here is not only the heart and soul of Village, but in many ways, the heart and soul of this community. As you walk through this building, you meet artist after artist, staff member after staff member, board member after board member, who got their start either in our youth education program or their kids were in our youth education program.

Lee: The education [program] is a big reason that I applied for this job. As a mom of kids who grew up in arts education … the skills that they learned in terms of just being able to show up in the world as a kind person, all of that. It’s been such a blessing that I can’t imagine not having children go through it and be able to be part of a theater process, and Village is an amazing place to do that work.

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