American Stage, Tampa Bay's largest and oldest producing theater company, has found a temporary leader.
Meg Heimstead, the theater's director of education, will serve as interim artistic director. She steps in for Todd Olson, who led the St. Petersburg theater company for 11 years before announcing in May he'd accepted a job as executive director of the Columbia Festival of the Arts in Maryland.
"Meg is a fantastic selection for the interim position," American Stage Board of Trustees chair Matthew Conigliaro said. "She is infinitely connected with American Stage and with theater in the Tampa Bay area, and she will provide excellent guidance in the theater moving forward."
Heimstead starts June 30, three days after Olson leaves. She has worked professionally as an actor, director and teacher for more than a decade. Recently, she starred in All New People at Jobsite Theater in Tampa. She also played Karen in American Stage's production of August: Osage County.
She joined American Stage eight years ago as a teaching artist in the education outreach and summer camp programs, and for the last three years has been director of education.
"It's going to be an adventure for me, personally," said Heimstead, 37. "I care so much about American Stage and the people who work here and the patrons and the students we serve. I feel like it's a service and a way to give back."
She'll continue to lead education efforts in addition to working as interim artistic director. American Stage recently hired Veronica Matthews as an education associate, who Heimstead said will help shoulder the heavy load.
"I think it's normal and natural to be a little nervous and a little scared," she said. "I think it means you care and really thought about things and thought things through. I'm so lucky to work with an incredible team of people. … I told them point-blank I'm going to need their help, and we all have to work together."
Heimstead has taught playwriting and acting, focusing on at-risk youth and people with special needs. She has worked with the California Shakespeare Festival and the Summer Repertory Theatre in California and PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in North Carolina.
She could be involved in the formation of the next season at American Stage, to be announced in the fall, though she said Olson has left a list of suggestions.
"I believe in light footprints," she said. "I have nothing to prove. I have no desire to take on the permanent position, but rather keeping the ship afloat and a little bit of steering along the way."
American Stage has assembled a transition committee to begin the nationwide search for a permanent artistic director. Olson spent 13 seasons at American Stage, which is the longest-running nonprofit professional theater company in Tampa Bay with a budget topping $2 million and more than 2,200 subscribers.
"We want to make sure we put the right message out into the arts community, looking for applications, and take our time and do a thorough and complete search," Conigliaro said. "Ultimately, we hope to pick the person who will help guide American Stage into our next stage."