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Rees to Succeed Ritchie at Williamstown's Theatre Festival

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Following a search process that took nearly a year to complete, Tony Award-winning actor and director Roger Rees has been named to succeed Michael Ritchie as artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. Ritchie is stepping down from the festival in order to become artistic director of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles.

The announcement, issued on Thurs., Nov. 4, was made by Ira Lapidus, president of the festival's board of trustees. In a written statement, Lapidus expressed confidence that under Rees' aegis the festival will be able to "expand upon its rich theatrical legacy as a home for the best artists in breathtaking productions," especially as the 50-year-old company prepares to move into its new home -- Williams College's '62 Center for Theatre and Dance.

Rees, 60, whose comments for the moment are being limited to those accompanying the announcement, described Williamstown as "unique among nonprofit theatres for its history of rediscovering classics and its ability to produce large-scale plays and musicals." He also promised to share his "ideas for the festival's future soon." Rees formally assumes his new duties -- including overseeing all of the festival's programming and operations, planning works for the organization's 550-seat and 250-seat stages, running its outreach programs, and managing its educational workshops -- on Jan. 1, 2005.

Yet Rees is no stranger to the Williamstown scene. He made his debut as a director there in 1997 and has staged such works as Jon Robin Baitz's "The Film Society," Richard Brinsley Sheridan's "The Rivals," Simon Gray's "The Late Middle Classes," and the Bard's "The Taming of the Shrew," playing opposite Bebe Neuwirth. In addition to acting in nearly 50 films, Rees has long been an associate artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company and first won stateside acclaim in 1981 for playing the title role in -- and capturing the Tony for -- "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby."

On the administrative side, he served as associate artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic in 1985-86 and presently teaches acting at Fordham University.

The appointment of Rees, who is a native of Aberwystwyth, Wales, marks one of the few examples of a foreign-born theatre artist spearheading an American company. It makes for an interesting counterbalance with the current scene at the Old Vic in London, where American actor-director Kevin Spacey has recently commenced his first season as artistic director.

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