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American Stage's Todd Olson leaving

Todd Olson has taken his curtain call at American Stage.

The longtime artistic director of Tampa Bay's largest producing professional theater company has been named executive director of the Columbia Festival of the Arts in Maryland. Olson will curate the city's annual summer festival and aid in plans for a downtown park, which includes a $30 million arts park with four new theaters.

In a statement this week, Olson called the job an "opportunity I cannot pass up." The festival, situated between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, has hosted acts including Itzhak Perlman, Aretha Franklin, Philip Glass, Garrison Keillor and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

"I feel immense gratitude for my time at American Stage, especially relative to the artists, donors, staff and audiences," Olson said in the statement.

Olson did not return calls for comment Friday. American Stage is forming committees to conduct a national search and make a recommendation for an interim artistic director, said American Stage Board of Trustees chair Matthew Conigliaro. The board hopes to find someone who will continue the work Olson started, Conigliaro said.

"Todd ratcheted up the artistic excellence of the theater," he said. "We're really proud of our reputation and proud of the quality of the art, and that's Todd."

Olson spent 11 years at American Stage, the longest-running nonprofit professional theater company in Tampa Bay with a budget topping $2 million and more than 2,200 subscribers.

He arrived at a time of upheaval. The board had cycled through several artistic directors, unable to find the right fit. When Olson applied, he was associate artistic director and director of education at Tennessee Repertory Theatre in Nashville.

When he interviewed, Olson told the board the theater needed to grow from the quaint downtown building on Third Street S across from Publix.

"They should imagine the day when this space here is our smaller second stage," he told the Times in 2003. "On paper, as I look at a metropolitan area of 2.2-, 2.3-million people, and we're the oldest theater around, why do we have 1,700 subscribers? Why wouldn't we have many more than that?"

In 13 seasons, Olson directed more than 30 plays and produced more than 40 shows. He was the second longest serving artistic director since the theater was founded in 1977.

Over the years, his vision for a new venue was manifested.

A partnership with St. Petersburg College in 2007 brought plans to move into a $17.8 million addition to the college. The building had 182 seats, 40 more than the old theater, plus 300 lighting fixtures and modern design features, yet still felt intimate. Raymond James Financial donated $500,000, and American Stage moved into the newly minted Raymond James Theatre in 2009. That year, the company had 3,000 subscribers for the first time.

"The change in venue was extraordinary for the theater," Conigliaro said. "We are really enjoying the space and the relationship we have with SPC. … And a lot of that is the work of Todd for not only having the vision and seeing it through, but executing it in such a professional and detailed manner. When you walk into that space, you're just wowed."

Olson tackled a variety of subjects and styles over the years. He launched a popular cycle of August Wilson plays chronicling 20th century black life. He won a directing award from Theatre Tampa Bay for The Amish Project, a play about the murder of Amish girls, performed in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The current season has been a bit smaller than past ones, with familiar shows to attract guests who may have strayed from more cerebral, dark choices. The season included The Birds, Around the World in 80 Days and The Wiz for the outdoor show at Demens Landing Park. An all-African-American production of Steel Magnolias opened this week.

Olson had American Stage's next season settled early this year, a balance of light and dark fare. In his statement, he said he was grateful for the timing.

"After 11 years, and with the 2014-15 season in place," he said, "this is the perfect time for my family to move on."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

American Stage's Todd Olson leaving 05/23/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2014 10:21pm]

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