Share story

After 12 seasons leading one of Seattle’s most established playhouses, Kurt Beattie will step down as artistic director of ACT Theatre at the end of 2015, the company’s 50th anniversary. Beattie will be succeeded by John Langs, the current associate artistic director of ACT.

The announcement wasn’t entirely unexpected. After guiding ACT through turbulent times and revitalizing it as a prominent downtown theater complex, Beattie, 67,had hinted recently about passing the baton to Langs, an award-winning and well-respected theater artist who joined the ACT staff in 2013.

“I feel wonderful about this,” said Beattie, a multitalented force in Seattle’s drama scene since the 1970s. “I have no lack of interest in doing theater, and I’ll continue to act, write and direct, and hold the title of director emeritus at ACT. I’ll be John’s colleague, but his energy and artistry will open a wonderful new chapter for the theater.”

“This is a dream come true for me,” commented Langs. “Kurt has been a great mentor to me since I directed him in ‘King Lear’ seven years ago. To get the opportunity to have an artistic conversation over the long term with this community feels like the culmination of something I’ve been aspiring to for a long time.”

Most Read Entertainment Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

In a prepared statement, ACT board chairman Colin Chapman praised Beattie’s tenure and said, “We are extremely thrilled at the passion, vision and excellence that John Langs brings to ACT.”

Beattie’s ties to ACT extend back to 1975, when co-founder Greg Falls cast him in a Bertolt Brecht play. He and Falls later co-penned an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” which ACT revives annually.

After stints leading Empty Space Theatre and working at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Beattie became associate artistic head of ACT in 2001. In 2003 he succeeded Gordon Edelstein as artistic director and faced a major financial crisis that nearly shuttered the theater.

Working closely with former ACT manager Susan Trapnell and current managing director Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, Beattie dedicated himself tirelessly to pulling ACT back from the brink, increasing ticket sales and funding, and realizing such lauded artistic projects as the 2012 Pinter Festival, a new-plays program that produced 11 mainstage world-premiere works, and the Central Heating Lab, a popular multidisciplinary showcase for local arts groups.

Beattie pledged, in a “manifesto,” ACT’s devotion to being a “theater of the moment, this moment, the present, contemporary struggles, issues, ideas.”

A recipient of awards from Theatre Puget Sound and ArtsFund, Beattie says ACT is on a stable course. “At first it was a tremendous struggle to keep going, but we’re past that now. We have challenges to meet, but we’re in a much better place.”

According to ACT general manager Becky Witmer, the theater (which has an annual budget of $6 million) is still paying off $1.44 million in loans and holds a bank line of credit for cash-flow needs. But it also has amassed a $2.3 million endowment fund, which generates interest.

“The advantage of being here for two years is that there’s no vault hiding any secrets,” stated Langs, 42. “We’re incredibly optimistic, and we have fiscal and board leadership that are lovingly holding our feet to the fire (to support) the continuation of the theater.”

Langs was formerly artistic director of the Golden Mean Theatre in Los Angeles and Maui on Stage in Hawaii. Outside of ACT, he’s staged shows for many theaters, including New Century Theatre Company, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Playwrights Horizons and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and has received numerous awards for his productions.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com