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Hana Sharif steps down as Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ artistic director after 5 years

Hana Sharif, new artistic director at the Rep, has plans to enhance the theater company's reach into the neighborhoods of the region. [9/4/19]
Cheshire Isaacs
Hana Sharif is stepping down as the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ artistic director after five years of leading the organization. She’ll take over as artistic director of the Tony Award-winning Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Artistic Director Hana Sharif is stepping down after five years of leading the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Sharif will leave the Rep in June. She’ll take over as artistic director of the Tony Award-winning Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Sharif will succeed Molly Smith, who will retire in June.

“It truly is one of the great honors of my life to be able to serve as artistic director of the Repertory Theater of St. Louis,” Sharif said. “It's a city where the arts really have been able to thrive for many, many decades, and I felt so warmly embraced.”

Before joining the Rep, Sharif served as associate artistic director at Baltimore Center Stage in Maryland and artistic producer at Hartford Stage in Connecticut. She took over at the Rep when Steven Woolf retired after heading the organization since 1986.

Sharif became the first Black woman to lead the Rep and the first Black woman to lead a major regional theater in the country. She led production of the highest-grossing shows in the theater’s history, including her St. Louis' directorial debut, an adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” During Sharif’s tenure, the theater premiered new shows, including “Dreaming Zenzile,” and was the third theater in the country to produce “Confederates.”

Sharif said theaters across the country are at an inflection point where there’s a generational change in leadership, so more theaters need to be more accepting of women and people of color.

“Even if I'm the face or the voice that's making it through, I'm really a reflection of hundreds of women who have come and pushed against those ceilings,” Sharif said. “When times get hard, I remind myself that I'm staying committed to this industry because I believe in the power of the work to transform community. And also I am holding the space for generations coming behind me.”

Managing Director Danny Williams will work with the Rep's board and Associate Artistic Directors Becks Redman and Reggie D. White to oversee the theater’s upcoming season.

Like most theaters, the Rep faced numerous challenges as the coronavirus pandemic shut down venues across the country. Sharif led several programs while theater companies were adapting to pandemic restrictions, including Play at Home, a collaboration among theaters across the country through which people could download virtual performances. The Rep was also one of the first theaters in the country to produce a live play again, in April 2021.

Sharif said live theater venues continue to face difficulties adapting to the new phase of the pandemic. Most of the money that funds grants and performances dried up during the pandemic.

Sharif said the next leader needs to continue the Rep’s work and experiment to find ways to keep live theater strong as many are still dealing with the impact of the pandemic.

“It does mean addressing some of the kind of systemic issues of our field that we've known were problems for 20 years but hadn't quite figured out how to shift the model. In a way, the pandemic has forced our hands,” Sharif said.

The Rep will lead a national search for its next artistic director. The search will begin late summer or early fall. Williams said that Sharif’s departure is a bittersweet moment and that he’ll miss working with her. Williams said the Rep will look for a leader who will champion equity and antiracism and ensure the experiences of the audience will be reflected onstage.

“There are many different people all over the city who come from many walks of life,” Williams said. “I think that it's very important that the art on our stage reflects the people who are in the city that it's in.”

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.