When Dennis Zacek, the artistic director of the Victory Gardens Theater, announced his retirement this month, he did not take the usual tack of demurring as to who should be his successor. In several candid interviews, Zacek said his associate artistic director, Sandy Shinner, should immediately ascend to the top artistic job. Shinner has worked in the Chicago theater for more than 30 years — Zacek asserted that that was a key qualification for the job. Yet the chairman of the Victory Gardens board, Jeff Rappin, insisted that due diligence required the theater to conduct a national search for Zacek's replacement. There were howls of dissatisfaction from many of those associated with the theater.
Meanwhile, the board chairman of the Next Theatre has come out in favor of hiring locally. As the Evanston-based theater moves to find a replacement for its short-lived artistic director Jason Southerland, who came from a Boston theater, Judy Kemp said the directors plan to look only in the Chicago area for Southerland's successor. Southerland was fired after a scandal involving his not securing the rights to the play “Return to Haifa.” Next was burned — almost fatally — by an out-of-town hire. It has circled its wagons. And it doesn't plan to take that chance twice.
Indeed, many of the recent out-of-town hires in the Chicago theater have proven problematic, at least in terms of the city's culture.
In Boston we have had several changes at the top spots over the last few years. Most of them have come from out of town. Trinity Rep, The Huntington Theatre Company, American Repertory Theater and New Repertory Theatre all went outside the Boston/New England area for replacements. It has become pretty standard operating procedure here.