On Wednesday the Geffen Playhouse’s artistic director, Matt Shakman, announced he will step down from his role in February. Shakman, who is also a director for television and film, will program the company’s 2023-24 season before he departs. He plans to remain on the board after that.
In an interview with The Times, Shakman said it was getting trickier to balance his work in theater with his film and TV endeavors. Shakman directed and executive produced the critically acclaimed Disney+ miniseries “WandaVision,” which earned nearly two dozen Emmy nominations and raised his profile considerably in Hollywood. He recently left a gig directing the upcoming “Star Trek” movie, and is in talks to direct Marvel’s “Fantastic Four” reboot.
“As I look ahead to where I’ll be in the next few years, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to continue to do the best for the Playhouse,” Shakman said, adding that he can’t speak to any specific projects at the moment but that the upcoming years are going to be busy.
Shakman’s departure adds to a significant shake-up in L.A.’s live theater scene as the Geffen joins Center Theatre Group in a search for a new artistic director.
The Geffen’s executive director, Gil Cates Jr., said in an email to The Times that the search for Shakman’s replacement will begin immediately and that the goal is to bring someone on as soon as possible. The search committee will be made up of Geffen leadership and board members, he said.
“This is an exciting time for an incoming artistic director, right on the heels of our 25th anniversary season,” wrote Cates. “It’s also a great opportunity for a new leader to build on the Geffen’s legacy and boldly move the theater forward for decades to come.”
Shakman, who has been artistic director since 2017, said he will not be a part of the search for his replacement.
“I’m immensely proud of the work that we’ve done — on stage and also in the classroom,” said Shakman, adding that his goal when he arrived at the Geffen was to up the company’s commitment to new work and that he is particularly proud of the Geffen’s writer’s room and new play development programs.
Shakman also reflected on the work the Geffen did throughout the pandemic. During the dark days of 2020 and early 2021, when live performances weren’t a possibility, the Geffen launched the Geffen Stayhouse — a series of popular virtual shows that probed the financial viability of live-streaming theatrical entertainment and inspired other performing arts companies to attempt the same.
Stayhouse launched in May 2020 with a magic show called “The Present,” featuring magician Helder Guimarães. Presented over Zoom, and directed by Frank Marshall, the riveting show was a critical and popular hit, mesmerizing audiences around the world. By the time the show closed in mid-October, Guimarães had performed 251 sold-out shows, grossing more than $700,000.
“It was a miraculous time,” says Shakman of those difficult days. “We were making theater and staying in community and building our audiences in remarkable ways during one of the most challenging times in the world.”
Shakman said he remains committed to the Geffen and will continue to forge bonds between those working in Hollywood and those working in theater, just as he has done over the years as artistic director.
“I plan to remain close to this community as a patron and a donor and will serve out my full term as a member of the board, with hopes to continue in that position for years to come,” Shakman wrote in an email to staff on Wednesday.
He met with staff members shortly after sending his letter and said the moment was bittersweet.