Daniels Leaves Lowell for Arizona
LOWELL -- When Sean Daniels greeted attendees at Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 41st season announcement event on Tuesday evening, few in the audience knew it was Daniels’ last time up front to share the new season.
But Wednesday, MRT board President William F. Wyman and Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas made it official -- Daniels departs MRT in May to become artistic director of Arizona Theatre Company, a company with an annual budget of $7.9 million and two stages presenting full seasons in Phoenix and Tucson. By comparison, MRT’s annual budget is $2.9 million.
The news is sad, but comes as little surprise, since Daniels was destined for bigger things when he was appointed as Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s fifth artistic director in December, 2014. A talented theater wunderkind, he had wit, charisma and tons of connections to take MRT to the next level.
“I’m announcing Sean’s departure with a mix of sadness and gratitude,” said Wyman in a press release. “Under his leadership, MRT has achieved national recognition and artistic success, propelling him to Arizona Theatre Company.”
Moving to Arizona will be a homecoming of sorts for Daniels, who grew up in Mesa, Ariz., and attended plays and took classes at the ATC as a child.
“I was 8 or 9 when I first saw a show there,” Daniels told the Arizona Daily Star. “It’s the theater that made me fall in love with theater.”
One of Daniel’s major goals as MRT’s artistic director was to bring the 40-year-old theater into national prominence for its premiere productions -- a goal that he’s met and then some.
Under his tenure, MRT has presented 14 world premieres, including the upcoming “The Haunted Life,” based on an unpublished Jack Kerouac novella which Daniels has adapted and co-directs.
Other premieres include the award-winning “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend,” by Charissa Bertels, Christian Duhamel and Edward Bell; “KNYUM” by Vichet Chum; and “Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle,” by Lowell-born Andy Bayiates and Aaron Munoz, which was nominated last week in both the Best Play and Best New Play categories by the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE).
His many directing credits over the past four seasons include December’s acclaimed production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley”, MRT’s bestselling production. Daniels was nominated for an IRNE award as Best Director of a “Play for Miss Bennet,” which received seven nominations, including Best Play.
Daniels launched his MRT successes in August, 2015 with the start of the national tour of “The Lion,” singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s award-winning musical memoir, directed by Daniels and playing in Lowell after critically-acclaimed runs in New York and London. Other acclaimed, Daniels-directed productions include “I and You,” which transferred off-Broadway, and Silent Sky, both by Lauren Gunderson.
At MRT, Daniels created the Cohorts Club, which got community members involved as they participated in rehearsals and behind-the-scenes meetings to see how productions happened.
That sense of reaching out to the community has been key to his success here.
“It’s been wonderful to see this community respond to the work we were doing,” said Daniels. “Though we will be closer to family in Arizona, we will always think of Lowell as the place where we got to be a part of a truly remarkable community.”
MRT trustee Evan Schapiro will head the search committee conducting a national search for a new artistic director.
And, all agree, Sean Daniels has done a superlative job and will be a tough act to follow.