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Thursday, November 7, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Rep Hires Berkeley Rep's Artistic Director -- Sharon Ott To Replace Departing Daniel Sullivan In July

Seattle Times Theater Critic

After a lengthy national search and months of conflicting rumors, the Tony Award-winning Seattle Repertory Theatre has selected a new artistic head to replace its widely respected outgoing director, Daniel Sullivan.

The job goes to Sharon Ott, who for the past 13 years has amassed an impressive reputation as artistic director of the Berkeley Repertory Theater in Berkeley, Calif. Ott will be the first woman to guide Seattle's largest resident theater company in its 33-year history.

After more than a week of detailed financial negotiations, Ott signed a four-year contract with the Rep on Tuesday. Her appointment was scheduled to be announced officially this morning, with Ott and Sullivan in attendance, at a press conference in the lobby of the Rep's Bagley Wright Theatre.

Though Ott's full-time Rep duties will not begin until July 1, 1997, Seattle theatergoers can sample her work in January. Ott's Berkeley Rep staging of the Philip Kan Gotanda drama "The Ballad of Yachiyo" will be performed at the Bagley Wright as part of the Rep's current subscription season.

Ott has previous Seattle credits as well. Last spring, her revised production of Anna Deavere Smith's acclaimed solo docudrama "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992" played successfully at the Intiman Theatre. And in the 1980s, she directed the Caryl Churchill play "Top Girls" at A Contemporary Theatre.

Ott, 46, graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with a degree in anthropology.

She acted in Herb Blau's experimental Kraken theater company in the '70s, and became a director at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre under then-artistic director John Dillon (now a Seattle resident). She later directed at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., Manhattan Theatre Club and other prominent venues.

Hired to run the 401-seat Berkeley Rep in 1982, Ott quickly established herself as an adventuresome producer who balanced a roster of new plays with vigorous renditions of American, European and British classics.

She also sought out drama from other cultures, bringing prominent theater artists from Japan, South Africa and Scandinavia to work on the Berkeley stage.

"In Berkeley, Sharon turned what was a very popular but artistically unambitious company into a company known for taking artistic risks, developing new plays and doing challenging and sometimes absolutely wondrous productions of the classics," said San Francisco Examiner critic Robert Hurwitt.

The recipient of many Bay Area awards for her productions, Ott recently staged an acclaimed version of G.B. Shaw's "Heartbreak House" at Berkeley Rep.

She also earned national attention for directing a stage adaptation of Maxine Hong Kingston's book "The Woman Warrior," which ran successfully in California and Boston.

Unlike Sullivan, she has never directed on Broadway and has expressed no interest in tailoring her shows for possible exportation to the Great White Way.

Ott is married to theatrical composer and musical director Steve Legrand. The couple have a young son, Alessandro.

Ott could not be reached yesterday for comment on her hiring.

As Ott ends her tenure in Berkeley, outgoing director Sullivan will continue leading the Seattle Rep through its 1996-97 season and preside over the January opening of the Rep's 275-seat second stage.

Sullivan is quitting to take a break from administrative duties and to try out some other artistic forms.

In a prepared statement, Sullivan said, "I've known Sharon for many years, and I've watched with great satisfaction as she has shaped the Berkeley Rep into one of the premiere theater companies in the country. I'm delighted that she's bringing her talent and her expertise to Seattle, and I wish her all the best."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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