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Great Lakes Theater executive director resigns after less than 2 months

Richard Parison
Great Lakes Theater
Richard Parison, a Painesville native, began working with what was then the Great Lakes Theater Festival in the 1980s. He took the helm of the company in September before resigning Oct. 27.

Great Lakes Theater is searching for an executive director – even though the company just welcomed a new one.

Richard Parison Jr. took the helm in September and resigned Oct. 27. Great Lakes Theater confirmed the resignation, but had no further comment about Parison.

Artistic Director Charles Fee said there will be no disruption to their season, either onstage or off, during the search for a replacement.

“Our ability to function at a very, very high level, even with a missing link in our leadership, is no problem,” he said. “We've got so much depth in our team across the three theaters that we don't find ourselves in a panic. We can take our time. And finding the right person is not an easy process.”

Parison held the same title at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, a sister company. The groups also share resources with the Idaho Shakespeare Company in Boise, though Parison did not have a role there.

The Painesville native attended Miami University and began his career with what was then called the Great Lakes Theater Festival. His career took him to Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the Richmond Performing Arts Center in Virginia.

In July, Great Lakes announced Parison as the replacement for longtime leader Bob Taylor.

New York-based Management Consultants for the Arts will lead a search for Parison’s replacement. In the interim, Fee said leadership responsibilities will be spread among several people already with the three theaters.

“There’s no interruption to our work, either on the artistic production side, our education program, doing our fundraising – everything,” he said. “We just continue seamlessly. This is a bump but it's not… a crisis at all. It just means that we're back in search mode.”

Great Lakes Theater was founded in 1962. Its first director, Arthur Lithgow - father of actor John Lithgow - directed Shakespeare Under the Stars productions in the 1950s throughout Northeast Ohio.

While visiting venues ranging from Stan Hywet Hall in Akron to the Toledo Zoo, the troupe sought a permanent space in the early ‘60s. At the same time, a group of citizens led by Lakewood Board of Education President Dorothy Teare was seeking summer activities for the Lakewood Civic Auditorium.

The two factions combined to create what was first named the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, premiering with "As You Like It" on July 11, 1962.

The company moved to the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square in 1982 and the Hanna Theatre in 2008. Notable alumni include Tom Hanks, Ruby Dee, Olympia Dukakis, Cloris Leachman and Larry Linville.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.