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Culture / Performing Arts

Out of the Scandal — The Alley Picks a New Avant-Garde Director to Replace Alleged Bully

It’s a New Start for Houston’s Most Vital Theater Company

BY // 11.01.18

The Alley Theatre knows better than anyone that the show must go on — even in the wake of a major scandal — and it is. Today, the Alley and its board of directors revealed the theatre’s new artistic director. Avant-garde experimenter Rob Melrose is taking the helm of the Tony Award-winning company, filling the void left by the sudden departure of Gregory Boyd, who faced allegations of bullying and sexual harassment.

James Black will remain interim artistic director through the rest of the 2018-2019 season before Melrose officially takes over.

Artistic director is a prestigious and, in the case of the Alley, sometimes fraught position. Melrose is not filling big shoes as much as weird ones. Here’s hoping he ditches them altogether and goes for a new pair — and a new friendlier vision for the Alley.

Shortly after Boyd abruptly announced his “retirement” from his long-held role this January, accusations of misconduct came pouring in. Allegations ranged from bullying and abusive behavior to inappropriate touching.

While it was curtains for the contentious Boyd, the Alley is welcoming Melrose with open arms. It’s the end of a six-month hiring search, and the early returns are promising.

Melrose has an extensive and varied background — and a style that’s an unexpected departure from the last director’s vision. It’s a whole new look for Houston’s largest theater company, with the new director embodying a potentially new Alley ethos.

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Think less masterpiece and traditional productions, more existential and absurdist. Writers such as Richard Foreman, Martin McDonagh, Will Eno are right in Melrose’s wheelhouse, along with Suzan-Lori Parks. Melrose put his major playwright values this way to Playwrights FoundationParks “has it all  — a great sense of language that is risky and daring, an incredible sense of character.”

But while the Alley’s new director appreciates more experimental work, he’s got a soft spot for the originals. He told Playwrights Foundation that above all, he’d recommend studying Shakespeare to emerging playwrights.

Rob Melrose and a New Way

The award-winning director, writer, teacher and translator boasts nearly two decades of theater experience, from experimental new plays to reimagined classics. He earned a BA in English and Theater from Princeton University and an MFA in Directing from Yale, and he’s taught at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, USF, The University of Rhode Island and Marin Academy.

The former artistic director and cofounder of Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco promises an emphasis on bolstering the Alley Resident Company, improving internal collaboration and working on new play development. Most of all, Melrose plans to produce bold, innovative and inclusive plays.

On top of extensive freelance directing experience, Melrose has professionally directed plays at top-tier national theaters, including The Guthrie Theater, The Old Globe, The Public Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and PlayMakers Rep.

“I’ve always thought of the Alley as the home to great artists, and I am thrilled to lead the Theatre into this new chapter,” Melrose says in a statement. “The Alley has an exceptional history with high artistic standards and an appetite for risk and innovation.

“I am looking forward to pushing that path forward by strengthening and broadening the Resident Company, encouraging artistic collaboration, growing a culture where artists and staff are at ease, and most importantly creating productions and cultivating an audience that are as diverse and vibrant as the city of Houston.”

Rob Melrose will be making the move to Space City early next year to plan the 2019-2020 season.

It’s time for a new vision, and this playhouse isn’t playing around.

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