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UO alum returns to lead Lord Leebrick Theatre.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

The Lord Leebrick Theatre Company didn't have to go far to find a new managing artistic director. Craig Willis was in Seattle.

The 38-year-old director-administrator lately has spent so much time in Eugene that he might be considered a local. Willis received his doctorate in theater arts from the University of Oregon in March.

On July 8, he will become the Lord Leebrick Theatre Company's fourth managing artistic director, succeeding Corey Pearlstein, who resigned after three years to collaborate with solo performer Joe Von Appen on an East Coast summer tour of their new work "Shadow Factory."

In the fall, Pearlstein intends to move to Los Angeles to open a small performance venue with two stages, a bar and a coffee shop. He describes it as "two Lord Leebricks in one building with Allan Brothers and the Wild Duck, all under one roof."

Willis said he took the Lord Leebrick position because he wanted to live in Eugene and wanted to operate his own theater company.

"Every time I went (to Lord Leebrick Theatre), it was exciting," Willis said. "I thought the quality of acting level was quite high, and I thought the design elements had come along quite nicely."

Willis credits Pearlstein for upgrading the Lord Leebrick facility and solidifying the company's financial situation, which allows him to "continue on the line and build on it."

Further, Willis said Pearlstein is "to be credited with trying to bring a new vitality with some of the alternative programming and some of the late-night offerings. He's had a real consistency with directors and actors that I want to continue with."

As a director, Willis is known to Eugene audiences from such University Theatre assignments as Moliere's "The Learned Ladies," Noel Coward's "Design for Living" and Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Willis won't be directing at Lord Leebrick Theatre until late next season. Pearlstein has already picked directors for the 2003-04 season, which will include the plays "Proof," "The Pavilion," "Spinning Into Butter," "Wonder of the World" and "Far Away."

A sixth play is yet to be chosen. Willis is "starting to do some legwork" on that and probably will direct the play.

As for possible changes at Lord Leebrick, Willis said he may tap his background in theater for young audiences to "occasionally" present "story-driven, actor-driven, high-quality theater" for youngsters.

Willis grew up in communities near Bellingham, Wash., where he went to college. In moving from Washington to California to Ohio and back, he worked in management positions at California Theatre Center, Sunnyvale Summer Repertory and Dayton Ballet. He also directed for fringe theater companies and community theaters.

In 1991, Willis came to Eugene to work on a master's of fine arts degree in directing, which he completed in 1994. Afterward, he moved to Seattle, where he worked as a director, stage manager, teacher and actor for Seattle Children's Theatre, Intiman Theatre and others.

At the same time, "to pay the bills," he worked as an account executive for Lanier Health Care.

Willis started his UO doctoral studies in 2001, completed his degree in March and then moved back to Seattle, where he teaches acting and dramatic literature at Cascadia Community College.

At the moment, Willis is in the process of moving from Seattle to Eugene.

"It's all very new. I don't know that I have any Earth-shattering innovations," he said. "I'm currently in contact with directors and designers and trying to solidify who's working on which project."

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or fcrafts@guardnet .com.


Craig Willis, now taking over as artistic director of Eugene's Lord Leebrick Theatre, has been working in Seattle.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 8, 2003
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