East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running Asian American theater and the largest producer of Asian American theatrical works, announced April 14 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.
“This is a bittersweet moment for East West Players,” said Rose Chan Loui, EWP board chair. “Under Snehal’s artistic and executive leadership, EWP has achieved incredible national recognition. We will absolutely miss having him at the helm.
“At the same time, the appointment of Snehal to artistic director of Center Theatre Group highlights the positive results of EWP’s almost six decades’ long efforts to raise the visibility of AAPI artists. We look forward to continuing to work together with CTG on developing more innovative and more representative storytelling.”
“Being the producing artistic director of East West Players has been one of the greatest joys of my life,” said Desai. “EWP is what brought me to L.A. and will always be my first true artistic home. What I didn’t expect and will forever be grateful for is the many lifelong friendships and memories.
“East West Players has a fiercely committed board, staff, and community of artists united behind its mission to raise the visibility of the Asian American community and I look forward to what comes next for our beloved EWP.”
Desai will continue in his current position at East West Players through June. East West Players will be announcing details for the search for its next artistic director in the coming weeks.
“We are excited to share today’s news that Center Theatre Group’s Board of Directors has appointed Snehal Desai as our next artistic director,” said Amy R. Forbes, president of the board, and Gail Berman-Masters, search chair and vice president of the board. “Snehal will join Managing Director/CEO Meghan Pressman in August, from his current post as producing artistic director of L.A.’s historic East West Players, where he has led the company since 2016.
“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.
“Snehal is an ideal and invigorating leader for this inflection point in our history. He is bold and resourceful, and we know he will bring that same exuberance and energy to our stages. He has long committed himself to Los Angeles, and we know he will continue to rally our many communities and undauntedly chart our course forward, both locally and nationally. He is the perfect partner for Meghan, who has courageously led us through the most challenging period in the theatre’s history and can now look toward the future with an exciting new artistic partner.
“We are thrilled to have Snehal and Meghan usher in this new chapter for Center Theatre Group. This is a great milestone, but we know we still face difficult times ahead. We know you will join us in congratulating and welcoming Snehal, and supporting him as he takes on this critical role in our community.”
“Center Theatre Group is a cultural force in the American theatre, and I am honored to be its next artistic director,” said Desai. “CTG’s vibrant legacy has been built by being the home for the preeminent theatrical artists of our time and the next great American play. I am humbled by the opportunity to enrich that legacy by uplifting and centering the diverse and thriving communities that comprise the beating heart of Los Angeles.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes with the rarest of gifts for an Angeleno — an even shorter morning commute. I look forward to working with Center Theatre Group’s board, artists, staff, and patrons in ensuring that CTG is a vital, timely, and relevant cultural home for all Angelenos.”
“Words cannot truly express just how elated I am to have Snehal join me in leadership at Center Theatre Group,” said Pressman. “I first met Snehal in graduate school, and I have watched him in admiration navigate a career that established his reputation as being both an extraordinarily talented and passionate artist, as well as an innovative and fearless leader. As we embark on a new chapter, I look forward to no longer having to simply admire his work from afar, but to get to work alongside Snehal to carry on the great legacy of Center Theatre Group, while creating a theatre that is built not just for this moment, but also for the future.”
A Soros Fellow and the recipient of a Tanne Award, Desai was in the inaugural class of Theatre Communications Group’s (TCG) “Spark” Leadership Program and the inaugural recipient of the Drama League’s Classical Directing Fellowship.
While at East West Players, Desai produced and directed the three highest-grossing and most attended shows in EWP’s 57-year history, including the post-Broadway premiere of “Allegiance” starring George Takei. During his tenure at EWP, Desai led co-productions with Center Theater Group, Pasadena Playhouse, Rogue Artists Ensemble, the LA LGBT Center, Robey Theater Company, The Fountain Theatre, API Rise, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) and TaikoProject, to name a few. EWP’s collaboration with singer/songwriter Daniel Ho was nominated for a 2022 Grammy Award.
As an artistic leader, Desai has sought to raise awareness on social issues that affect Angelenos through impactful and empowering storytelling. He has served on the boards of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists (Caata), Theater Communications Group (TCG) and Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts (LFCSA). He currently serves on the board of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT); is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab; and was a literary fellow with London’s Royal Shakespeare Company.
Most recently, Desai was on the faculty of USC’s graduate program in arts leadership, where he taught executive arts leadership. He is a graduate of Emory University and the Yale School of Drama.
EWP’s first artistic director was actor and founding member Mako, who was followed by Nobu MCarthy, Tim Dang and Desai.