Annenberg Center for Performing Arts' New British Artistic Director Talks L.A. Move (Q&A)

Paul Crewes, Wallis Annenberg Center - H
Steve Tanner

Paul Crewes is set to take the creative reins at Beverly Hills' two-year-old facility.

After an international search that began in March, Beverly Hills' Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday revealed its new artistic director. Paul Crewes, the head of Britain's Kneehigh Theater Group — which in 2013 took Brief Encounters to the brand-new facility — is set to take the reins at the center, which next month will celebrate its second birthday.

The same morning that Crewes broke the news to his Kneehigh colleagues, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to him about his move from the U.K. to the West Coast.

So when do you actually head over?

I start part time Oct. 1, but fundamentally I start full time at the beginning of April next year, so I’ve got six months' notice to work through with Kneehigh and basically make sure that’s all going to go well. And I move to L.A. in April, and the family will join me as soon as the school term’s finished. I’ve got five children. It’s a definite moment in time.

Are they all going to be going to California with you?

My eldest is 22. She’s working in London as a stage manager at the moment and is freelance, so she’ll obviously come out and visit. I’ve got a 19-year-old boy who’s at college. He’ll be finishing his courses, and when I told him about it, he was just, "I’m on a plane with you." My 15-year-old step-daughter is finding it a little more unsettling. For a 15-year-old girl, at this point in her life, it’s a big change. My 10-year-old and 5-year-old just keep saying, "How far is Disneyland, Daddy?"

Are you excited about the move? Nervous?

All those things. Very excited. When I’m [at the center] I actually feel very at home. I felt that when I took Brief Encounter there. I felt that when I visited even while it was being built, because we were the first company to come into the building — Kneehigh had the second show there, opening the first season following the in-house show. So I always felt comfortable. And going through this process, I spent a day with all the board [members] and at the end of the day I just remember thinking it absolutely feels right, whether I get the job or not. And it’s going back into a building again. I’ve worked a lot of my career in buildings, I’m used to it, but I’ve been 10 years out of one and it’s quite exciting to go back inside again.

When you went at the center with Brief Encounter, did you have any inkling you might end up working there?

Not at the time, but I did like it. It’s a brand-new theater. It’s two years old now, but when we were there the builders were still clearing the mess away. I just remember thinking what a fascinating opportunity this is. [Executive director] Lou Moore was still there at the time, and I’d met Lou prior to that when we were setting the whole thing. But I didn’t think of it in those terms, although I’ve always liked the West Coast of America. I’ve also spent a lot of time in New York at St. Ann’s Warehouse. We’ve taken shows there, and talking to [artistic director] Susan [Feldman] about L.A. and the West Coast and how things are changing, her feeling was that a lot of artists in the theater world are leaving the East Coast and going west. Obviously the visual arts there are amazing, and the music. Your initial feeling is that L.A. is about film, but the reality is you’ve got a lot of creative people there, and I think it’s going to be very exciting to have another creative hub. The more, the better.

Are there any differences between working in the theater in the U.S. and the U.K.?

We’ve actually been touring a lot internationally; recently as a company we've been doing 50 percent of our time out of the country. We’re used to touring in the U.K. and slogging around England and seeing over the last 10 years the change in the environment in England in terms of funding. It’s getting harder in the U.K. But we’ve always had a fantastic time in America. There are certainly cultural differences and different ways of doing things, but ultimately we all think and speak the same way, and I feel that certainly the work we were doing with Kneehigh translated brilliantly in America. I think fundamentally people are looking for interesting, exciting work, and there’s room for that on the West Coast.

Are you already thinking about ideas as artistic director?

Yeah. I’m flying out mid-October just to say hello to everyone and the staff. But the reality is that although I’m stating very clearly that I start full time in April, people will think of me as sort of artistic director from now. So I’m hoping to influence and offer my support from day one. I’ve got a fairly full workload here, but I have to and will want to get involved with what’s going on and have thoughts on how we might develop things. But hopefully I won’t be measured on that first season, before I get there.

Any fears about getting homesick?

No, I’ve spent a lot of time in the U.S., so I'm not worried about the tea bags or anything like that. I want to embrace the American culture and enjoy it.

So, are you going to come back with immaculate white teeth?

Ha! That’s the one thing that everyone is teasing me about and the one thing I daren’t do.