Whenever Tyrone Davis takes on a new position, he does so with a feeling of responsibility for everything that has come before him.
It is a theme he continues as the Center Theatre Group—home to the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre and the Kirk Douglas Theatre—has appointed him as associate artistic director, a promotion from his previous job at the center’s Education, Engagement and Community Partnership Department.
His promotion is the first step in an ongoing organization shift that reimagines their structure to be more racially diverse and make the theater more accessible to greater number of audiences.
“As a native Angeleno, it is a great honor with much responsibility to take on this position where artistic decisions are being made for the Taper, the Ahmanson and the Douglas—three theaters I grew up on,” Davis said.
“I owe a true debt of gratitude to BIPOC artists like Diane Rodriguez, Lee Kenneth Richardson and so many others who laid the foundation for me, and know that I am taking on a responsibility to those that will follow. I will keep both in mind as I help to shape Center Theatre Group’s future.”
Davis is the first person in his family to earn a college degree; he graduated from California State University, Northridge. He also earned an MFA in acting form the California Institute of Arts School of Theater. Davis said he feels he has a responsibility to accomplish as much as he can.
The leadership positions he has held—including the community artistic director with San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre and an adjunct professor in drama at Contra Costa College and Los Medanos College—have prepared him for this role at one of LA’s premier theater companies.
“I have been placed in leadership all my life,” Davis said. “I’ve thought about what it means to lead, what it means to represent. Those are things I’ve been grappling with my entire life. Now that I’m in this position to influence art in Los Angeles and the stories being told, it’s about being a good steward over what has been given to you.”
He’ll be working closely with the center’s artistic director, Michael Ritchie, who said Davis has already provided them with inspiration, as he has created an insightful new series of events that will be released on the Center’s Digital Stage.
The series, “Not a Moment, But a Movement,” pairs play readings with visual artists and musicians to create an interdisciplinary collaboration that amplifies and centers Black artists.
“When we began reimagining Center Theatre Group, we knew we would need to look at the very foundations of the organization,” Ritchie said.
“Still early in that reevaluation we have realized that Tyrone has already been operating at the core of Center Theatre Group’s mission to nurture new artists and audiences. For three years, Tyrone has shaped the pre- and post-show engagement that allows audiences to dive deeper into our mainstage productions, and he has curated programs that develop our audiences’ understanding of our productions as well as our mission and values. As we started to expand our thinking about audience engagement and development and centering our attention on racial equity in our work—particularly in this time without onstage productions—we realized that we truly needed his thought leadership and contributions embedded in the heart of our artistic strategy and team.”
Davis said he will focus on helping to curate the center’s artistic offerings on and off stage, pointing out it has four stages of programming—three physical ones and the digital stage.
Working for the center for three years will help shape his new position.
“In my previous role with audience engagement, I helped to deepen the experience of our shows as well as finding different entry points into a play whether pre-show or post-show,” Davis said. “I want to find ways to connect the plays to our daily lives in different communities.”
He said he felt the artistic offerings and events around a play can deepen the impact of the work and that is a big part of what he sees his new role accomplish, in addition to being part of the team that decides what will be onstage.
“I think the power of storytelling is incredible,” Davis said. “I believe theater can be a powerful tool—a tool for social change, a tool for conversation—and these large theaters have been around for a long time and have an incredible amount of resources. I’ve been attracted to these theaters that I feel have a good responsibility and great resources to represent and tell stories that represent and tell the stories that represent the communities they serve.”
He refers back to an experience he had at the center long before he came to work for it. His wife, whom he said is not a theater person, bought him tickets to see the work of one of his favorite playwrights—August Wilson. The show was “Joe Turner Has Come and Gone.”
It became his favorite show because it had an outstanding cast and put in a performance that blew him away—even though it wasn’t opening or closing night, it was “just” a Thursday night performance.
“The show was so rich, and the performance was so great that my wife went home quoting lines from the play and reenacting some of the performances for days and days afterward.”
The team, with whom he hopes to collaborate, is working right now to reimagine who they are and who they are going to be.
“(We want) to figure out what our values are, the stories that we’re telling, the process of how we go about creating these stories,” Davis said.
“All of that is something I’m so excited to be a part of, to provide access to folks whose communities may have been on the margin and we’re finding a way to bring them to the center. That’s what I’m really focused on and excited about—creating a theater that connects to Los Angeles and that represents Los Angeles.”
They’ll be looking at ways to create new policies and processes that are as inclusive as possible. The plan is to have new pathways and to be able to cultivate artists from all walks of life.
“We are committed to changing structures which have sustained a lack of diversity in our organization, including our hiring practices, professional development investments, and organizational leadership and hierarchy,” said Meghan Pressman, Center Theatre Group managing director and CEO.
“We know this is a small and preliminary step toward a long overdue goal, but with hiring and professional development investments largely paused due to the current shutdown and resulting financial challenges our organization faces, we have begun plans for an assessment of those practices and know that adding Tyrone to the conversation at the leadership team level now will help create a better framework once we can resume those activities.”
Because many of the changes are backstage, Davis said the audience might not notice it at first, but that there is a real shifting in culture and energy, and he hopes that energy will resonate with people who come into the center’s buildings.
He also recognizes this is a critical time for theater in the United States as it prepares to end a prolonged shutdown and figure out the next chapter in its life. He said he is prepared to be a good steward of the theater as it prepares to meet the challenges of the time.
“I certainly understand what this moment means and what is happening and the shift in the American theater,” Davis said.
“I’m so excited to be a part of that shift, a part of creating something we’ve never seen in the American theater before. We’re looking at all aspects of our work, and I get to be a part of the creative process and to live during this uncertainty and what is the future of the theater going to be. To have all that is remarkable. I’m grateful for all the people who have paved the way and the people who will be coming after me. I hope I create a place for them."