Snehal Desai Becomes First Leader of Color for LA’s Largest Theatre
East West Players announces today that its Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai will be leaving the organization after seven years to be the next Artistic Director of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles.
As the LA Times reports, Center Theatre Group announced Friday that it has appointed Snehal Desai artistic director, filling the role vacated by Michael Ritchie in 2021. The producing artistic director of East West Players since 2016, Desai is the first artistic director of color in CTG’s history.
“Equity, diversity and inclusion is central to my core being as an artist and as a leader, and that work is going to continue,” Desai said in an interview with The Times, adding that he hoped CTG made its decision to hire him with that knowledge in hand. EWP produces work featuring Asian American themes and artists and is the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color.
As Los Angeles’ flagship theater organization — and one of the nation’s largest nonprofit theater groups — CTG is at a crossroads in its history. Buffeted by a series of crises and challenges beginning with the Great Recession and culminating with the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movement that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the group is struggling to find its footing in a drastically changed artistic and sociopolitical landscape.
Since the summer of 2021 — when Ritchie announced his intention to leave in order to “make space for other people” — industry watchers have been paying close attention to whether CTG would see this as an opportunity to take a leap into the future or an excuse to double down on the status quo.
In Desai, CTG has found a well-respected local leader and artist, a skilled fundraiser and a known champion of theaters of color. At CTG, Desai will take on an organization that recently used special funding including money from FEMA and employee revenue tax credits to offset an $8-million budget shortfall. He will also go from operating a theater with 240 seats to running three venues — the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson and Kirk Douglas theaters — with more than 3,000 seats total. He will graduate from overseeing about $1.1 million in total annual revenue to a little more than $46 million, to go by the most recently available tax records for EWP and CTG, from 2020. His salary, according to those same tax records, will spike from around $78,000 to something in the six figures (in 2020 Ritchie earned nearly $600,000).
From the Center Group on Snehal Desai:
We are coming out of one of the hardest chapters in the history of not just Los Angeles theatre but theatre around the globe—and we were committed to appointing a leader who had the experience and thoughtful determination to pave the way forward. We are so pleased to have found our way to Snehal and we cannot wait for him to join us later this year.
When we created the Search Committee for the new Artistic Director, we cast a wide net, conducting an expansive search for our next visionary leader. Ultimately, we received more than 100 applications from both across this country and abroad. But when it was all said and done, we were delighted to have found our next artistic director right in our own backyard. The work Snehal has been doing just down the street has been nothing short of astonishing, and we are overjoyed to welcome him to our Center Theatre Group family.
Snehal is no stranger to Center Theatre Group audiences, and a longtime admirer of both the organization and the artistic vision established by Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson. During his tenure at East West Players, the nation’s largest and longest running Asian American theatre, he helped shepherd Soft Power at the Ahmanson Theatre and the recent Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
We know that Snehal is looking forward to honoring the institution’s past while also leading it into a new era. In his meetings with our Search Committee, the Board, and members of Center Theatre Group staff, Snehal articulated a vision that is firmly grounded in the type of entertaining programming we have become known and celebrated for, while also presenting a well-rounded scope of new programming ideas that will appeal to a broad range of audiences and across all three of our unique stages.