The Play’s His Thing

David Ivers, artistic director for Arizona Theatre Company, has a lengthy background as a performer, which includes acting in all but a few of Shakespeare’s plays. Photo by James Patrick.

For new Arizona Theatre Company Artistic Director David Ivers, the road to the stage led straight from his front door. “I’m first-generation American,” he observes. “My father was French Canadian, my mother is English, and they were both really passionate about literature and the arts, so I had exposure to that.”

Sports, especially soccer and baseball, drew the Southern California native as well, and he admits to a bit of an internal “battle” until he finally made up his mind during his junior year in high school. “By that time, the hook was sunk pretty deep into the theater,” he admits, “and I never looked back.”

During his high school years, he performed in The Music Man, which he is producing for ATC next season; Woody Allen’s comedic Don’t Drink the Water; the supernatural drama Dark of the Moon; and the 1950s musical The Pajama Game.

His undergraduate degree was earned at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon, where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival takes place. The effect on him of the works of The Bard of Avon was profound, and he reveals that he has performed in all but three of Shakespeare’s plays. “It wasn’t really until I got to college that I started unpacking the classics, and they ‘unpacked’ me,” he notes with a laugh. “That’s when I began thinking, ‘Wow, this is a craft, and it is vigorous, rigorous and requires absolute engagement if you want to do it well.’”

One particular performance he watched during his college years stands out. “There was a production my first year in school at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival of Luigi Pirandello’s Enrico IV, which is a play that I’m keen at doing with ATC at some point. It was so mesmerizing and alarmingly brilliant that I saw it eight times, and I wish I could see it again tomorrow. I had never witnessed anything like those performers’ commitment to the absolute musculature of acting.”

For his graduate degree, Ivers attended the University of Minnesota, whose alliance with the Guthrie Theater meant that he gained direct insight into the life of a working actor. “I was able to wrap myself up in an immersive environment where not only did I learn about the craft, but I could see a path in front of me to actually have it happen,” he explains.

His path to Arizona has included everything from directing productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa), Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Pioneer Theatre Company (University of Utah), and a lengthy stint as artistic director of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

For the Old Pueblo and Phoenix — the two homes of ATC — he has put together an exciting season that includes familiar works, a U.S. premiere, and several plays that have a direct connection to Arizona. On the schedule are Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a comedy about a property dispute that breaks out between neighbors of diverse backgrounds; Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, which exams the life and career of the popular humorist and long-time Arizona resident; The Music Man, Meredith Willson’s musical about a con man who finds love, and the spirit of a small town, transforming his heart; Two Trains Running, August Wilson’s drama about the Civil Rights Movement in Pittsburgh in 1969; American Mariachi, the comic (and musical) new play by José Cruz González about an all-girl mariachi group in the 1970s; and Things I Know to be True, Australian playwright/screenwriter Andrew Bovell’s drama about parents who had great aspirations for their now-grown children, and how reality has intruded on their dreams.

There is definitely nothing random about the selection of plays. Ivers jokes that he is a “structure monster,” adding, “I believe that well-made plays require you to pay attention to dramaturgical structure, and within that is the illumination of character, narrative and plot.”

Beyond just wanting to pick great plays, however, Ivers is committed to making selections that he feels are “essential for the growth of the theater.” He states that he is embracing the legacy of ATC, as well as moving things forward.

Though his title and mandate resides on the artistic side, he is keenly aware that the company — like many arts organizations across the nation — has had its share of money problems. “My greatest hope is that in five years we’ve stabilized the financial picture. The community deserves that trust. Without that, there’s no chance of doing anything I want to do here.”

He also hopes to build on the audience demographic, and reach the underserved community and kids who might not otherwise come to a live theatrical performance. That means everything from programs that make the theater affordable, to choosing material that reflects the breadth and depth of real life. “At Arizona Theatre Company, we are a living, breathing community, part of a larger one in the state and in the country,” he observes. “That’s where I start wearing my dad cap, since I have two young boys who deserve to see the world the way it really is. I try to be responsible for that side.”

Family, in fact, is always uppermost in his mind. If you ask him what he likes to do with his free moments, he quickly says, “Cycling and swimming. But pretty much doing anything with my boys Jack and Elliot, my wife Stephanie, and our dog Knuckles, is heaven to me. I think my whole family finds the landscape here to be arrestingly beautiful. Also, Tucson is an incredibly inquisitive city and that makes me excited. It has major places of learning. The food is off the charts. The natural environment blows my mind every day. Its identity with its cultural heritage is intact and I like that.”

And though you may bump into Ivers at a local restaurant, or cycling in the Sabino Canyon area, there’s a very good chance that you’ll sit in the Temple of Music and Art one evening and see him on stage. “I started as an actor and I’m still an actor,” he sums up. “The unspoken pact between an actor, a story and an audience is a very generous act of acceptance. Somehow, that has remained one of the most powerful experiences in my life.”Scott Barker

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