Shashin Desai, the founder and artistic director/producer of International City Theatre, has decided to step down after 25 years.
His wife, and general manager of ICT, caryn desai, has been named by the board as the new artistic director and producer. The formal announcement will be made Friday, at the opening of the theater’s 26th season and the production of “Loving Repeating … A Musical of Gertrude Stein.”
“I have been thinking for some time that completing the 25th season is a good time for a change,” Desai said. “We finished the year in the black, which was a major goal. Now I want to explore some other avenues. I am a professional photographer, a sculptor. I want to learn to cook, to make martinis.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the sun rise.”
The couple met and married at Long Beach City College. caryn desai, who has used all lowercase letters in her name since college, has directed many of ICT’s plays including handling all of the general manager duties.
“I’m very excited to face this new challenge of total leadership and full responsibility,” desai said. “One of the strong points of this company has been our close partnership… We’ve shared so much on a day-to-day basis. The difference now will be just that it’s my full responsibility.”
Desai was born and raised in India. He came to Long Beach in 1976 to chair the Theater Arts Department at Long Beach City College. After several years there, he came up with the idea to create a 99-seat theater to allow professional actors to be part of LBCC productions.
“He was an indomitable spirit at LBCC,” said Beverly O’Neill, who at the time was in charge of student affairs at LBCC. She later became president there, and then mayor of Long Beach. “He wanted the on-campus theater to bring in the professionals to interact with the students. Then the second step was the creation of the International City Theatre.”
Desai had mounted 72 productions at LBCC before founding ICT in 1985. The new theater’s first play was “Quiet End,” a play about AIDS. It was a world premiere, and critics loved it.
For the next 10 years, ICT performed in the 99-seat black box theater next to LBCC’s auditorium on the Liberal Arts campus. Awards began pouring in, and caryn morse, who had been a student under Desai, came back to work with ICT.
“I became general manager in 1990,” desai said. “I worked for nothing for the first couple of years, because Shashin is, well, Shashin.”
By 1996, ICT had outgrown its City College home, and he suggested to O’Neill (then the mayor) that ICT be allowed to make the under-used Center Theater its new home. It took two years of transition, but now ICT is the resident theater there.
The staff gradually grew from Shashin and caryn alone, but the pair continued to live and breathe the theater. While desai dealt with the business end of the operation, her background was in directing. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London to go along with her arts administration and marketing and fundraising certificates from California State University, Long Beach.
The business relationship grad-
ually turned romantic, and the couple was married in 1997. The key to their success professionally and personally has been respect, desai said.
“One of the strong points for the company has been our partnership, I think,” desai said. “I have a lot of respect for Shashin both professionally and personally, and feel that he returns that respect… He has always allowed me to have my say. He’s always respected my opinion.”
There also has been a separation between work and personal life that will be emphasized now with Shashin stepping away.
“I think it is important that it be a clean break,” Desai said. “caryn is so talented, and it’s important that she be front and center. She needs to be able to make her own innovations, her own changes, to make the company her own. Of course I’ll always be there for her, but way, way, way in the background.”
Desai said that he has been considering the move for more than a year. Completion of the 25th anniversary season seemed an appropriate time, he said, and when a push from the board put the ICT books into the black for the 23rd time in 25 years, he made the move.
“We have a nice (financial) cushion now going forward,” Desai said. “We are established artistically. This healthy exit was well planned, well executed and fully supported (though with tears and hugs) by my incredibly supportive board.”
Desai said he would not direct any of this season’s plays, although he could direct in future years. caryn desai is directing this season’s opener, “Loving Repeating,” but said she would not do another this year.
“I want to do this first show, then focus on being the producer for the rest of this year,” desai said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of it, although I’ve been more involved in the grants when it comes to fundraising. But I’m not concerned. If you believe in something, it’s a lot easier to ask, and when someone has a passion for what they do, people are more willing to say yes.”
For more information about ICT and the current season, go to www.ictlongbeach.org or call 436-4610.