David Saar, Founder & Artistic Director of Childsplay, Announces Retirement

by Naomi Crews

(L-R): David Saar, Dwayne HartfordFounder & Artistic Director of Childsplay, David Saar, will step down after 39 years and has name associate artist Dwayne Hartford as new artistic director.

David Saar, Founder & Artistic Director of Childsplay, Announces Retirement  

Saar will step down after 39 years leading Arizona's premiere theatre for young audiences. Longtime Associate Artist Dwayne Hartford will become the company's new Artistic Director.

(Tempe, Ariz.) Childsplay's Founder and Artistic Director David Saar announced he will retire at the end of the 2015-2016 season, taking on a new role as Artistic Director Emeritus. Childsplay's Board of Trustees is excited to announce that longtime ensemble member Dwayne Hartford will assume the role of Artistic Director beginning in the 2016-2017 season. 

Childsplay is one of the premiere professional theatre companies for young audiences in the US. Childsplay's work includes productions that tour to more than 40 cities throughout the state of Arizona, extensive education programs funded by the US Department of Education, national touring productions reaching nearly all 50 states, and a long history of producing groundbreaking original theatre for young audiences. The company's Arizona home is the Tempe Center for the Arts and the Sybil B. Harrington Campus for Imagination and Wonder. Childsplay reaches more than 200,000 young people and families on an annual basis.

Childsplay was started in 1977 as a graduate student thesis project. Saar recognized during his MFA studies that children could reap great benefits from experiences with professional theatre. After graduating, he packed his friends, collaborators, costumes and sets into a 1964 Chevy Impala and began performing in local classrooms. Today, performing in schools remains a core Childsplay program giving close to 300 performances each year.

Over the past four decades, Saar's vision for strikingly original theatre has driven the company to create plays for children of the same caliber as plays for adults.

His commitment to artistry and respect for young audiences has provided nearly 5 million young people with a professional theatre experience.

This commitment has led the company to develop and produce more than 70 new plays for young audiences that speak to the contemporary experience of being a child. In 1993, Saar changed the face of theatre for young audiences when he wrote and produced The Yellow Boat, a play about a young artist who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. Based on true events, Benjamin's story of love, perseverance and the transcendent power of art pushed the professional theatre field to redefine what young people are capable of and reimagine what Theatre for Young Audiences can be.

Over the years, Saar's commitment to a singular mission propelled Childsplay into the national and international spotlight. Over the course of his illustrious career, he has received the Governor's Arts Award, the first Notable Achievement Award from the Herberger College of Fine Arts at ASU, the Phoenix Futures Forum Dream Weavers Vision award, the prestigious Thomas DeGaetani Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), and was the recipient of the national Winifred Ward Dare to Dream Fellowship. He was also recognized for outstanding contributions to theatre in Arizona by the National Society of Arts and Letters, and in 2010, he received the prestigious Medallion Award from The Children's Theatre Foundation honoring artistic excellence and national influence during Childsplay's long history. 

When Saar announced his intent to retire to the Board of Trustees, the ensemble knew what an enormous task it would be to find his successor. After a comprehensive search process, the Board is proud to announce Dwayne Hartford as Childsplay's next Artistic Director.

"Replacing an icon like David Saar is an impossible task. He cannot be replaced," said Childsplay Board President The Honorable Timothy J. Thomason. "But we have world class talent at Childsplay and we felt certain the best candidates were inside our doors. We were right. We had a number of superb candidates and after a meticulous interview process, we are certain that Dwayne Hartford is the right person to lead Childsplay into the future. Dwayne is an accomplished actor, director and playwright. He embodies strikingly original theatre and we are excited beyond words about our future under Dwayne's leadership."

Dwayne Hartford is an Associate Artist and Playwright-in-Residence at Childsplay who first joined the company as an actor in 1990. Through his time with the company he has become one of the leading directors and playwrights in the field of theatre for young audiences. His onstage roles have included Toad in A Year With Frog & Toad, the BFG in The Big Friendly Giant, the Moon in Pero or the Mystery of the Night and Father in the original production of The Yellow Boat.

He has been a director with the company since 2005, directing Childsplay favorites such as The Three Javelinas, The Boy Who Loved Monsters and The Girl Who Loved Peas, Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type, A Wrinkle in Time, The Borrowers, Lyle the Crocodile and Seussical.

Most of the plays Hartford has written for young audiences have been developed through Childsplay's Whiteman New Plays Program before premiering with the company. Five of his plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing and have been produced around the country and in Canada. Eric and Elliot was named the 2005 Distinguished Play by the American Alliance for Theatre & Education. And by the end of next season, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane will have been produced by most major theatres for young audiences in the country. Other plays include: The Imaginators, A Tale of Two Cities, Rock The Presidents and The Color of Stars. Hartford recently received the 2015 Medallion of Merit from the Greater Arizona chapter of The National Society for Arts and Letters for his work as a playwright and director. He received his BFA from the Boston Conservatory in 1983.

"25 years ago, I had no intention of spending my career at Childsplay. But over the years, as the company changed and grew, I found I was changing and growing with it. Theatre for Young Audiences and, more specifically, Childsplay's mission has become my life's work," said Hartford. "While nobody can replace David Saar, I am ready to be his successor, carrying on and expanding his original mission, while securing a place for professionally-created theatre in our rapidly changing world."

Throughout the 2015-2016 season, Hartford will work alongside Saar as Artistic Director Designate learning from him as he prepares to lead the ensemble. Their decades-long history of collaboration will serve the company well as the entire ensemble looks to the future of the organization.

"It is with absolute joy that I look back on the last 4 decades of strikingly original theatre. When I started Childsplay, I could never have imagined what it would become," said Saar. "One of the things I am most proud of is the home for artists that we have built. I am so pleased that one of those artists, Dwayne Hartford, will be leading Childsplay into the future. His vision, artistry and passion for the mission make him the ideal leader for the ensemble."  

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