Updated 7:27 pm, Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle
Steven Anthony Jones will retire as artistic director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at the end of June, concluding a six-season tenure that brought the theater out of crisis and into relative stability, if with reduced output.
The company, which is dedicated to plays by and for African Americans and other people of color, announced the news Tuesday, June 13, adding it will host a reception in Jones’ honor on Monday, June 19. The farewell to Jones is slaed to follow a staged reading of Dael Orlandersmith’s “Yellowman,” which is part of Project1Voice’s One Play One Day project, by which African American organizations all over the country perform the same play on the same day.
A successor has not yet been named.
When Jones took over in 2010, it wasn’t at all certain that the 36-year-old theater would survive. Its two founders, Stanley E. Williams and Quentin Easter, had recently died, and it had lost its longtime home on Sutter Street, running up signficant debt along the way.
Seven years later, Jones leaves the company with a bare bones but sustainably sized staff and programming. It has an affordable shared home in the African American Art and Culture Complex and membership in AATAIN, an association of African American arts organizations that share administrative, digital and other resources. It has still further support from a network of corporations and individual donors, as well as the Hewlett Foundation and the California Arts Council, among others.
All those accomplishments, Jones says in a phone interview, signalled it was the right time to step down. “We’ve kind of turned a corner,” he says. “It’s a good time for a new person to take over.”
Jones adds up until a year ago he hadn’t thought much about retirement. At the theater, “we tend to have our head down, and we just keep walking into the wind.” But a turning point came at his 50th high school reunion last summer. “Everybody kept saying things like, ‘You’re still working?’”
Stepping down from LHT won’t mean the end of his career in theater, though.
“I’m not going to sit somewhere and read or take up painting,” he says, though he adds, “I don’t want to run any more meetings.”
Jones says he took the job not because it was his dream to be a producer but because “I felt like somebody had to do it. I didn’t want to see the theater close — particiularly an African American theater. We are an important part of this larger community, and the work that we do is important to the people here in the Bay Area.”
Retirement, rather, means a return to his first loves: directing and especially acting. Jones has acted at most major Bay Area theaters, especially at the American Conservatory Theater where he was a member of the core acting company for years. He’ll return there next year, in an as yet unspecified role, says outgoing A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff.
“Steven was a beloved member of A.C.T.’s acting company long before I came to A.C.T. and has been a seminal leader in the Bay Area theater scene for decades,” Perloff writes in an email. “I am thrilled he is going to perform with us in my last season at A.C.T.”
“That’s really where my heart is, being onstage every night,” Jones says. Not having the time for that in recent years was like “sitting and watching things pass in front of my eyes.” Seeing others’ plays, he’d spend the whole time thinking, “Man, I wish I’d done that show.”
After June 30, he says, “I’m not going to have to do that any more.”
Lily Janiak is The San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @LilyJaniak
Yellowman: 7 p.m. Monday, June 19. Reception for Jones to follow. $20-$25. African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., S.F. (415) 474-8800. www.lhtsf.org
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