State Theater Company: Kanoff Terminated

Just two weeks into what was to be his sixth season with the State Theater Company, Scott Kanoff was booted from his job as producing artistic director

Just two weeks into what was to be his sixth – and arguably most ambitious and fully realized – season with the State Theater Company, Scott Kanoff was booted from his job as producing artistic director. On Tuesday, Oct. 18, the Austin Theatre Alliance, the partnership between the State and Paramount theatres, announced that it had terminated its relationship with Kanoff the day before. The timing of the move was curious, since the '05-'06 season had just gotten under way and its first production was still in the midst of its run, but no reasons for the termination or its timing were disclosed.

The artistic directorship of the State was never the smoothest of rides for Kanoff. When he arrived in 2000, fresh from his post as literary manager and resident director for the Cleveland Playhouse, the merger of the Paramount and State was still being hammered out by the individual theatres' boards, which put the new artistic director in the midst of some old turf wars and left him to try to set a direction for the company with more questions than answers. A year in, just when he might have gotten a steady footing, along came the economic downturn and the September 11 attacks, which sent everything reeling. Afterward, Kanoff was forced to cancel announced productions and cut back the number of plays in the season, which made it even more difficult for new audiences to get a sense of what the State offered as a theatre.

It might have made a difference if there had been a breakout hit – a Tuna, a Beehive, a Lipstick Traces, a Dark Goddess – that drew people to the theatre and put its names on peoples' lips, that gave the State an identity, but no show quite worked up that much magic. The closest came in 2004 with Jaston Williams' stage memoir I'm Not Lying, which enjoyed repeat runs and prompted a sequel, Cowboy Noises, scheduled to close the current season. Most often, however, it seemed that no matter what dramatic material Kanoff offered – and even over five abbreviated seasons, he presented an impressive range of material, from Shakespeare and Shaw to Broadway hits and a slew of new plays, including several Austin-penned premieres, such as I'm Not Lying, John Walch's The Dinosaur Within, Steve Moore's Nightswim, and the current American Fiesta, by Steven Tomlinson – it just missed finding its audience.

This year, things were looking up, for the theatre and Kanoff. The State was back up to five productions in the season, including Tomlinson's new play (quite a coup de theatre to have secured); Williams' Cowboy Noises; a popular Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, with Williams starring; and a reprise of the hit Christmas Carol that debuted last December. Plus, the State had just secured a partnership with the UT Department of Theatre & Dance, where Kanoff has been teaching directing, to provide professional opportunities for its students in company productions. What Kanoff's termination means for these projects is unclear. At present, Ken Stein, executive director for the Austin Theatre Alliance, says everything is moving forward as planned. But if Kanoff's years at the State show anything, it's that changes are to be expected at the theatre. For now, we know that Michelle Polgar has been named acting artistic director and that she will once again direct A Christmas Carol for the theatre's holiday slot. Beyond that, we'll leave it to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

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