Altarena Gets a New Artistic Director
Artistic director Clay David pushes for education, diversity, and access.
The Altarena Playhouse gets a new guy: Clay David, the new artistic director.
Photo by Megan Small
How did a goofy Cajun boy get from the bayous of Louisiana to backstage at Altarena Playhouse? Practice, practice, practice—plus a few years off Broadway in New York, some stage time in London, and lots of hard work in between.
Clay David, the new artistic director for Alameda’s longtime theater company, tells his story in snippets between sips of coffee and lots of laughter. He grew up in a little town near New Iberia with a keen appreciation for comedy and drama. “I could do Shakespeare and I could sing,” he recalled. He had a flair for languages and comedic timing that served him well in the spotlight. “I have really good antenna to connect to the audience,” David said.
But all roads lead to Alameda, and in the spring, Altarena’s board chose David to replace retired artistic director Fred Chacon. “We are thrilled to have Clay join us as artistic director,” Board President Joe Mallon said. “We look forward to working with him to continue our growth as one of the Bay Area’s premier theater companies and expand our artistic and educational offerings to Alameda and the entire Bay Area.”
David has 30 years’ experience in acting, directing, artistic design, production management, and arts education, and he has earned many awards for his thespian work that has taken him on national tours and to regional theaters. Bay Area affiliations have included San Francisco’s Circle of Life at the Victorian Theatre, Novato Theatre Company, Ross Valley Players, and the Berkeley Playhouse as well as San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre, the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Yerba Buena Center, and the Lesher Center for the Arts.
High on David’s list of to-dos at Altarena are to ramp up education and access. He plans to make the theater compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning wheelchair and disabled accessible. With a brother who is severely disabled, David is adamant about bringing accessibility to the theater, where he wants everyone to feel welcome. Some of his favorite past shows have included choreographing The Nutcracker for “little girls with Down syndrome as Sugar Plum Fairies and decorating wheelchairs to Tchaikovsky music and a mirror ball. That’s magic.”
He plans to offer acting classes for differently abled youth and to kids with full-spectrum autism. With a new education director, Emily Garcia, on board, “We’re going to make magic happen—and heal.”
Summer drama camps are already happening (visit the website for information), and patrons can expect acting workshops and classes for all ages to continue throughout the year. “There will never be a down time” for the theater, he said.
In addition, theatergoers also can expect diversity on the stage and behind the scenes. “While respecting well-established performance traditions, I also hope to offer a dynamic forum for exciting new voices and diverse points of view,” he said. “Most theater companies in the Bay Area will choose a season written by male playwrights. I believe in gender equality,” he said, explaining he will offer three plays by women, three plays by men.
“Altarena Playhouse will honor and respect all artists, all genders, and all abilities.”
So far, the slate will encompass six shows in the regular season, with five alternative shows such as comedy, one-man or one-woman shows, or poetry, for example.
“I look forward to promoting a distinctive, vibrant performance aesthetic by teaming with directors, performers and designers who are imaginative, resourceful, willing to take risks, and who share my love of the magic of the theater.”
The remainder of the regular season includes Eat the Runt, a mixed-up casting comedy by Avery Crozier (Aug. 14-Sept. 13), and Nunsense, a kooky musical comedy featuring the Little Sisters of Hoboken (Oct. 9-Nov. 15). Look for announcements of special shows in between at www.Altarena.org.