The rumor buzzing in the ranks at ACT is that associate artistic director Benny Sato Ambush went straight to the dailies with his resignation a couple of weeks ago because that's where he read he wasn't slated to direct a show — in the newspapers' announcements of ACT's season. That's not quite accurate, says Ambush: He had been negotiating with artistic director Carey Perloff over which plays he might direct next season, and when Ambush learned she was announcing the season without having settled on a play for him, he delivered his letter of resignation — the day before the season announcement hit the press.
According to Ambush, Perloff's reasons for not giving him a play ranged from the fact that associates at other companies often skip a season to insisting that the small projects he did have — planning the party for Geary Theater's opening day and directing a weekend of Mac Wellman's commissioned work, which was likely to be put off until fall of 1996 anyway — equaled a mainstage show. Ambush didn't buy it, so he resigned.
Ambush characterizes his work as “about the world we live in now. [I] have always acknowledged the social and political and human power that theater has in the community — and I prefer to use that power,” says Ambush. “Carey is very much about maintaining the past. In her heart of hearts, Carey is a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile who believes that contemporary playwrights just don't cut it; nothing has been done that's as good as the work by dead white European men.
“It's no coincidence that it's me who didn't get a show — it has everything to do with who I am, the work I'm about and the difference I represent,” says Ambush. “Seven Guitars was my idea, as a last resort. I said, 'If you're going to do this lily-white season, at least do the expected “different” choice, August Wilson.' “
It's true that with Ambush's departure, ACT is now whiter than ever. “You might get away with this in Iowa City, but for ACT to do this here is unconscionable,” Ambush says. “There is no future at ACT that I want to be a part of. Screw 'em.”
Though Carey Perloff is in many ways a talented artistic director, diplomacy ain't her strong point. (For instance, she has been quite vocal in how little regard she has for either Tony Kushner's play or Mark Wing-Davey's production of Angels in America, which, financially, is saving her theater's butt.) Perloff also just hired Melissa Smith as the new director of the conservatory, and the hint of “restructuring” in the air is making staffers nervous. Employees are said to be writing memos to justify their every move, but it's no secret that Perloff has butted heads with the old guard at the conservatory for a long time, and “restructuring” there is inevitable.
By Laura Jamison