The Montana Repertory Theatre named its new artistic director on Friday.
The University of Montana's professional theater in residence hired Michael Legg, who leads the Professional Training Company at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky, a nonprofit with a solid reputation in American theater.
Legg is "an excellent leader with the qualifications, experience and national reputation" for the job, said John DeBoer in a UM news release. DeBoer, an associate professor in the School of Theatre & Dance, chaired the search committee. He also cited Legg's "bold ideas and contemporary mindset."
He thought Legg had the right energy and qualities they were looking for in a long-term faculty member. During his interview in Missoula, there was a "natural sense that he would fit in and complement the group, and maybe challenge us a little," DeBoer said.
Legg, who was traveling Friday afternoon, was unavailable for comment.
In the news release, he said, “I could not be more excited to lead the Rep in this new chapter of its long and incredible history. I’m especially looking forward to becoming part of the University and Missoula communities that were so warm and welcoming even before I accepted the job.”
Legg will start July 1, taking the reins from Greg Johnson, who's retiring after nearly 30 years in the post.
For the past 11 years, Legg has overseen the training company in Louisville, where he programmed, curated and produced a season of seven new works, directing some of them himself. His duties also included fundraising and community outreach, plus teaching post-graduates in a wide variety of skills, from acting to technical and administrative work. The training company's annual budget is $250,000.
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Since 2015, he was artistic director at the WildWind Performance Lab at Texas Tech University. There, he oversaw a season of four plays and worked with students and guest artists on new works.
Here at UM, Legg will teach a sophomore acting class as well as a professional skills curriculum, designed for undergraduate and graduate students. From Legg's experience in Louisville, where he worked with actors from across the country, he can bring insights into what "we need to be doing to prepare students for a 21st century acting career," DeBoer said.
When he visited the UM campus late last month, Legg said he was ready for the next step in his career: leading a company as an artistic director. At a public forum, he said there are many opportunities to bring theater into the local community and cultivate a wider audience, and posited some ideas for the national tour, which has long focused on "great American stories."
Among other pitches, he said the Rep could consider commissioning an edgy, emerging playwright to adapt a great American novel, one that hasn't been turned into a play before and exists in the public domain. The strategy could support new voices while benefiting from the name recognition of the book and the Rep's reputation for American classics. Legg also long expressed interest in presenting new theater with an eye toward diversity.
DeBoer said the school is "always open to new ways of engaging with the Missoula community" and that Legg was "open to seeing what was possible and how we might move forward."
"He wasn't ready to wipe away the foundation that's already been laid by the Montana Rep, but he wanted to see what else is possible," he said.
The Rep is taking a one-year hiatus from its national tour in 2019. The company's longtime booking agent also is retiring, which would leave a new team trying to build a tour on short notice.
Johnson has served as artistic director for the Rep since 1990. In his tenure, the Rep expanded its national tour and staged what's become its banner play, "To Kill A Mockingbird." They've toured it multiple times and took a small production to China. He also produced many contemporary works in downtown Missoula and co-founded the Colony, an annual gathering that brings national playwrights to Missoula to work on their craft with Montana actors and writers.