Tony Taccone, the longtime artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, announced Tuesday that he will step down from his post at the end of the 2018-2019 season. The theater is one of the Bay Area's two largest repertory theaters, along with San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater (ACT).
Under Taccone’s leadership, the company added a new 600-seat auditorium, launched a theater school for adults and teens as well as a play development program, upgraded its old theater, and sent a string of shows to New York and London.
Taccone will be 67 when he steps down from his post. He'll have spent 22 years running the company, and 11 years as the assistant artistic director. Before that, he was co-artistic director for the Eureka Theater company, where he helped develop Angels in America by Tony Kushner.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” Taccone says. “It’s one of the best jobs in the United States, but I have to change a channel in my head. And it’s also time for somebody younger to come in and make some hay."
Taccone says he wants to get back to "just being an artist," directing and writing plays. This past fall, he co-adapted Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here, a timely play about a presidential candidate who wins office by promising to make America great again.
Under the leadership of Taccone and managing director Susie Medak, Berkeley Rep sent 23 shows to New York, including Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, which Taccone directed, and Green Day's American Idiot. Other shows developed in Berkeley moved on to London and Hong Kong. Under Taccone, Berkeley Rep also became the West Coast home for innovative productions by Chicago's Mary Zimmerman; Cornwall, England's Knee High Theatre; and new work by Oakland's Marcus Gardley, Julia Cho, and Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner.
“It’s very rare that a person’s individual ambitions can be matched by an organization’s,” Taccone says. He named Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor play development program as one of his proudest achievements. "Ground Floor is a safe home for artists who want to take risks," Taccone says.
"It’s been an amazing tenure," said Bay Area News Group theater critic Karen D'Souza. "Tony Taccone has really transformed Berkeley Rep from a local success to a national powerhouse, producing both classical plays and new work."
Theater Bay Area Executive Director Brad Erickson echoes that assessment, praising Taccone's speed at getting It Can't Happen Here ready so that audiences could reflect on on a story about the fascist takeover of the country in time for the presidential campaign.
"He had the courage to develop that show when it often takes years to put a production together," Erickson says. "Sometimes we have to speak to the moment as well as the ages."
Taccone credited the company’s success, during his tenure, to Berkeley Rep's board and staff, as well as the city of Berkeley. "There’s a spirit of openness here, a willingness to be open to imaginative constructs people might not have experienced before," Taccone says. "You don’t get that in a lot of places.”
Medak says the company is not yet ready to discuss its plans for hiring Taccone's successor.