Segerstrom Center’s New Leader is a Risky but Intriguing Choice

Photo courtesy of SCFTA

Casey Reitz has been named the new president of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Good news for local theater fans: by hiring a new leader steeped in New York’s theatrical world, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts could be embracing plays and musicals in bigger and more innovative ways. Orange County’s largest arts institution announced today that it has hired Casey Reitz, the executive director of New York’s respected Second Stage Theater, to be its next president. He is leaving Second Stage after nine years of leadership to take up the reins at SCFTA in December.

Reitz is an unexpected choice, with no experience helming a major regional performing arts center. According to tax information submitted to guidestar.org, Second Stage’s gross receipts in 2017 were $45.2 million, which included almost $30 million in gifts and government grants, meaning non-earned money accounted for two-thirds of its income. Segerstrom works at a scale of double that amount and relies on ticket sales and other sources of earned income more heavily. Segerstrom Center reported gross receipts of almost $98.6 million for 2016, but only a quarter of that was generated from donations and investments.

Second Stage runs two off-Broadway theaters: the 296-seat Tony Kiser Theater near the Theater District, and the 108-seat McGinn/Cazale Theater on the Upper West Side. In 2015, the company bought and renovated the 597-seat Helen Hayes Theater, a Broadway venue. That purchase made it the forth non-profit theater company to own and operate a Broadway house.

SCFTA has three major venues that can seat a total of more than 5,000 people. It’s a presenter and producer with significant seasons in dance, cabaret, jazz, classical music and musical theater, among other things; Second Stage produces theater only.

Reitz comes with a solid pedigree in fundraising. According to his LinkedIn profile, he performs administrative, marketing, fundraising and financial activities at the Second Stage, which opened its doors in 1979. He led the efforts to acquire the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Before taking the position at the Second Stage Theater in September of 2010, Reitz was director of development at the Public Theater and director of individual giving at Manhattan Theatre Club. He holds a master’s in fine arts in theater management from Yale School of Drama and an undergraduate degree in theater from the University of Alabama.

Reitz takes control of an institution that weathered significant financial storms before becoming financially healthy under its previous president, Terrence W. Dwyer, who served in that role for more than 12 years. Voice of OC broke the news about Dwyer’s sudden and unexpected departure in February. He now heads the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.

Dwyer’s effectiveness in leading Orange County’s flagship cultural center through various hardships and steering it in a more progressive direction has been widely noted. He strongly believed that Orange County’s changing demographics, and the radically different tastes of younger arts patrons, demand fresh programming ideas, even a re-evaluation of the Segerstrom Center’s purpose and place in the community.

“I hope and expect that the Segerstrom Center will continue down the path that we started on,” Dwyer said when asked about his wishes concerning a successor. “Artistic leadership, cultural and civic impact, institutional relevance—these things are all integrated in a way. You have to have an organization that is constantly learning and flexible and open to new ideas. I’m confident that the Center will be constantly evolving to stay ahead of the change curve.”

It’s unclear if Reitz shares Dwyer’s philosophy. But before and during Reitz’s tenure at Second Stage his theater’s track record as an innovator has been impressive, with an emphasis on emerging creative talent and groundbreaking musicals. It staged the New York premiere production of “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won six 2017 Tony Awards, and the world premiere of “Next to Normal,” which garnered three 2009 Tonys. Other Second Stage honors include a 2002 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Body of Work and 28 Obie Awards. In 2010, “Next to Normal” received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Reitz’s theater has encountered the same financial problems that have plagued many not-for-profit stages across the country. Season subscriptions declined following the last recession, from $1.6 million in 2007-8 to $953,000 in 2014-15. Its purchase of the Helen Hayes required risky borrowing strategies, according to some sources.

Requests for an interview with Reitz have not yet been granted. Voice of OC will publish an in-depth interview once we are able to connect with him.