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Charles Newell retires from Court Theater after 30 years

Charles Newell, who has been the artistic director of the Court Theater in Chicago since 1994, announced on Friday that he will step down as artistic director next summer after 30 years of work.

“This is a good time for me to look for my next challenge,” Newell, 66, said. He is only the second artistic director, following the Hyde Park theater’s founding artistic director, Nicholas Rudall. The Court Theater resides at the University of Chicago and dates back to an outdoor summer theater in the 1950s. Newell’s debut is different high profile take off A portrait of a long-serving artistic leader in Chicago theatre.

Newell told the Tribune on Thursday that he first considered leaving around 2019 but considered staying longer to help the theater through the difficult years of the pandemic.

This definitely worked. Court Theater Won the 2022 Tony Award The award for excellence in regional theater raised the company’s profile and also raised the artistic director’s profile, which will be beneficial for the future, Newell said. “The court came back strong,” he said. “I think this theater is now the perfect place for a new leader.”

The transition will be gradual. Newell said he will schedule the 2024-25 season and manage one of the programs. He will also remain a consultant for a year after leaving office next summer, serving the theater as he deems it necessary.

He said he plans to reside in Chicago for the long term and branch out to other parts of the city. The search for Newell’s replacement at the Court Theater will be led by the university, which has become more involved in the theater’s operations over the years, although the Court maintains a separate board of directors.

The Court’s location on the Hyde Park campus afforded it the luxury of finding a ready audience with intensely intellectual content, and it has long specialized in literary adaptations and canonical works such as Moliere’s comedies and Homer’s adaptation of Homer. “An Iliad” and Arthur Miller “All My Sons.” However, Newell has worked hard over the past decade to find new collaborators and make the theater more responsive to the South Side neighborhood; “Porgy and Bess” and “Raisins” (Musical version of “A Raisin in the Sun”). Newell most recently co-directed “The Bible at Colonus” The acclaimed production travels to the Getty Villa outside Los Angeles with Mark JP Hood.

Newell’s reputation as a director has become formidable, especially when it comes to new takes on classics. But collaborations with authors David Auburn (“Evidence”) and Tom Stoppard (“transvestites”) has also been productive. And unlike many of his peers, Newell has consistently worked with a small group of actor-collaborators over the years, allowing them to become invested in the theater and feel a part of its mission.

When asked about the work he’s most proud of, Newell mentioned some of the above tracks, as well as the beautiful 2008 production of the musical. “Caroline or Change” Written by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori.

“My goal has always been to make theater that changes people’s hearts,” Newell said. “I feel very lucky to have had the Court as my artistic home for all these years. This was his life’s work.”

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

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