Perseverance Theatre welcomes new managing director Joshua Midgett

Julie CoppensFeatured

Perseverance Theatre, Alaska’s professional regional theatre company, has hired Joshua Midgett as its next managing director. Midgett will join the company’s leadership team this fall as Perseverance launches its 40th season, reporting to the Board of Directors alongside Art Rotch, who’s transitioning from his longtime role as executive artistic director to that of artistic director.

“I can’t imagine one person doing both of those jobs, as wonderful and as capable as Art is,” Midgett said. “I’m looking forward to working with Art as a partner, so that both sides of that coin”—the business and the art of running a theatre company— “can get the attention they deserve.”

A dynamic up-and-comer in the field of nonprofit theatre administration, with childhood ties to Juneau, Midgett has been general manager of the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, W.V., since 2015. In 2014 he earned his M.A. in arts management and a certificate in international arts management from American University in Washington, D.C.—where, not coincidentally, one of his faculty mentors was former Perseverance Theatre manager Jeffrey Hermann. Midgett completed a study program in international business, tourism management, and theatre at Victoria University in New Zealand in 2013, and earned his B.A. from Keene State College in New Hampshire, double-majoring in theatre and economics. He’s worked in production and company management for a wide range of regional theatres, including Utah Shakespeare Festival, Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., and GALA Hispanic Theatre in Washington, D.C.

At CATF, an organization with an annual budget in the same ballpark as Perseverance ($1.8 million), Midgett has mastered most of the tasks he’ll tackle here: hiring and managing staff, overseeing daily operations, staying on top of industry-wide trends and challenges, and turning budget shortfalls into surpluses.
Midgett will visit next week, meeting with Perseverance staff, board, artists, and other stakeholders in Anchorage and Juneau, and working out the details of his transition to full-time work in Juneau by mid-October. It will be a homecoming of sorts: Midgett’s father was in the Coast Guard, and was stationed in Juneau for five years in the 1990s. Midgett attended Mendenhall River Elementary and Floyd Dryden Middle School, and remembers learning Tlingit language and culture as part of his classroom Raven clan. Having returned to Alaska twice as an adult, Midgett said, “there’s kind of an overwhelming nostalgia that I really don’t feel anyplace else.”

Back in graduate school, after his professor Jeff Hermann mentioned his own experience working at Perseverance Theatre, “we talked about how much I miss (Juneau) and wanted to get back there,” Midgett recalled. “I never thought I would.” But he had spoken with Rotch and others connected with Perseverance over the years; in 2016, both CATF and Perseverance were part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere of Not Medea, by Allison Gregory.

“He’s been on our radar for a while,” Rotch said. Then this summer, as Perseverance was staging its financial comeback and the board was seeking managing director candidates, friends at the Rasmuson Foundation and the executive search firm m/Oppenheim Associates (which has helped Alaska Public Media, the Anchorage Museum and others find leaders) suggested a familiar name: Joshua Midgett.

“I’m excited to be a part of an organization that is truly integrated into the community,” Midgett said, comparing Perseverance’s year-round presence in Alaska to CATF, a seasonal destination in a tiny university town. And he’s looking forward to working not just in service of new plays—CATF’s domain—but also time-honored classics, musicals, explorations of Native culture, and other kinds of works. Perseverance’s 40th anniversary season, opening Oct. 5 in Juneau and Nov. 9 in Anchorage, will feature Our Town, by Thornton Wilder; the world-premiere plays Franklin, by Samantha Noble, and Whale Song, by Cathy Tagnak Rexford; the musical Guys and Dolls, by Frank Loesser, Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows; and Steve Martin’s comedy The Underpants. In addition, Anchorage will enjoy A Christmas Carol at holiday time, and several smaller Alaska communities will play host to Perseverance’s touring production of The Winter Bear.

The recapitalization package that has made this season possible includes major gifts from investor/philanthropists Robert Ziff and John Rubini, Judy Rasmuson, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and others, as well as a $100,000 challenge to individual donors, and a $50,000 challenge to business and corporate sponsors. The “Persevere With Us!” challenge already has generated some $45,000 in new contributions since its June 29 launch, according to development director Erika Stone; the deadline for individual donors is Sept. 30.

“The community can see that Perseverance is moving in the right direction,” Stone said. “Having such a strong managing director coming on board should give donors even more confidence that the company will be good stewards of these funds. It’s great news for us.”

Additional new hires

In addition to Midgett’s position, the company is hiring in other critical areas: local theatre veteran Shelly Wright has joined the staff as costume shop manager, and Cameron Thorp, one of many successful alumni of Perseverance’s internship program, is the new company manager. Perseverance is also recruiting a technical director, assistant technical director, and bookkeeper.

The staffing changes are just part of the ever-shifting landscape in Alaska nonprofit theatre. With a lingering statewide recession straining everyone’s budgets, and a new generation staking its claim on the Alaska economy and culture, the artists at Perseverance will have to hustle harder than ever to meet the rising costs of production while building its audience and achieving its goals, both organizational and creative.

“This is a really tricky time,” Rotch said, reflecting on the significance of Midgett’s hiring at this 40-year milestone. “It’s going to be important to have someone as talented as he is, and as capable as he is. Someone needs to come into work every day focused on supporting the people in the trenches. He’s a really high-energy dude, and this”—managing a nonprofit, professional theatre in a unique position on the American stage—“is what he wants to do.”