Ovations Profile: Center Theatre Group’s Douglas C. Baker

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by Darlene Donloe

Douglas C. Baker’s 40 years of working in the theater haven’t diminished his enthusiasm for the art form. If anything, his zeal has increased, he says, because he “loves” what he does.

You can hear the passion in the Ohio native’s voice when he talks not only about his four decades in the business of theater, but the 27 he spent in some way, shape or form at the Center Theatre Group (CTG) where he currently holds the title of producing director.

“When I joined, I was excited about working on a number of shows,” said Baker, who, at one time was the general manager at the Doolittle (now the Ricardo Montalban Theatre). “I was excited about organizing a season and curating a season of plays that was diverse and had a lot of variety in it. The goal was to support and then lead. I love this work. I get up every day ready to go. I’m going to keep going for a good while. It certainly is up to the individual to stay passionate about the work. I am and have always been. But the success of this company is not only about me, though. One needs to rely on the board of directors and the leadership.”

During his 27 years, Baker worked with CTG artistic directors Michael Ritchie and the late Gordon Davidson.

“How lucky am I to have been here and only worked with two artistic directors,” asked Baker. “They are different as different can be, but both are and were so supportive.”

Before landing the CTG gig, the married (Wendy Baker, executive director, Luckman Fine Arts Complex) father of two (Hillary and Blair), cut his teeth on Broadway by interning, in the office of a Broadway producer. The show was Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, directed by Alan Arkin and starring Jack Albertson and Sam Levene. From there Baker was sent out as a junior assistant company manager for a couple of months to places like The Shubert in New Haven and the National Theater in Washington, D.C.

Baker, a member of the Achievement Hall of Fame of Chagrin Falls Schools in Ohio and a graduate of Albion College, also managed the touring productions of Born Yesterday, Tru, The Wiz, The Gospel at Colonus, Working, Annie, A Chorus Line, and Legends!, which premiered at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1986 and starred Mary Martin and Carol Channing.

The pitch and tone in Baker’s speech change when he talks about the company’s season and the number of Ovation Awards nominations CTG received. The company garnered nods for Best Season, Best Production of a Play, Best Presented Production, Lighting Design, Scenic Design, Sound Design, Costume Design, Video/Projection Design, Playwriting for an Original Play, Direction of a Play, Lead Actor in a Play, Lead Actress in a Play, Acting Ensemble of a Play, and Choreography.

Baker considers himself a ‘glass is half full’ type of person. He’d rather not focus on why a million things can go wrong launching a show, he’d rather focus on a solution.

“I believe in good communication,” said Baker. “Most problems aren’t problems, they are just challenges. You just have to work it through.”

As a part of @THISSTAGE’s 28th Annual Ovations Series, Baker talks about his work at the Center Theatre Group.

Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat in Amélie, A New Musical at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

A Rewarding Experience

Well, we don’t think too much about being up against smaller companies. There is so much good theater going on in Los Angeles, so many strong artists here. That’s one of the reasons we started our block party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. We have a long history of reaching out to smaller theaters. We received over 70 submissions from smaller theater companies throughout L.A.

The Ovation Awards are terrific because they are not dazzled by our being big. They look at the quality of the work – no matter what size theater it is.

It’s fair to say CTG does represent the very best in a performing arts organization not only in Los Angeles, or California, of the West Coast, not even the nation, but in the world. We represent commitment, passion, and hopefully, quality and customer service. We have a proven track record of being devoted to arts education and the community. We don’t lose sight of the fact that education and outreach are critically important. Great cities need great culture and arts. We believe we contribute to that.

Artists know that through my leadership and with the help of my colleagues – they know they can count on straight-forward information, fair deal-making, support, and knowledge. We know a lot about how to produce all types and sizes of theater. I love working in a not-for-profit theater. We support our in-house artists and outsource artists every day.

Half and Half

No, I can’t pick just one play that was my favorite of the season. It would take too long to talk about each one individually. Lets just say, we love all of our children equally at CTG. We work hard here. The way we work here I spend a great deal of time focusing on the Ahmanson. My background as a general manager on Broadway for many years helps. And experience touring shows and working with London productions, one of my primary roles here is to program the Ahmanson and to maintain the relationships with the Broadway and London producers so that we can present remount and touring shows at the Ahmanson. I’m very involved in everything we do at all of the theaters.

The thought process when putting together this season and why we chose what we chose is simple. We wanted to present the very best shows. It’s a joint effort.

We have self-produced shows. Some shows are revivals. Most of them are premieres. Some of the nominations are from shows we brought in from the outside. It demonstrates the variety and complexity of attempting to present the very best.

Yes, without a doubt we consider this a successful season. When you look at the shows, for me, it just makes sense. The way we program all of the theaters is that first, we look to the shows we are developing in-house. We have a robust play development department. We look at what’s ready to go. I would say next we look to the artists. We take all the info in and go back to our core mission. Do we feel we are producing high caliber work? Are we supporting new artists somewhere in the season? Are we going to be attracting new audiences? How are these shows, productions going to align with our arts education programs and community outreach programs? No matter what happens at the box office, we love to sell tickets, but a successful season begins with – have we met all the items I just mentioned. It’s about having high caliber theater, new artists, new audiences, and arts education.

In The End

We are really proud of our nominations. We recognize that the awards help with our position in the field and in the city. The awards are a snapshot of our relationship with our artists.

We truly believe awards are important in terms of recognition for the artist. We make every effort to align ourselves with great artists.

It is an honor to be nominated. It absolutely is. Do we like to win awards? We do. It’s not for us. It’s for the artists. That said, we are not going to stop doing what we do if we don’t win. Winning is the icing on the cake. Cake is always better when there is icing on it.

The Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, and Kirk Douglas Theatre) is a nonprofit theater company, located at 135 N Grand Ave, Ste 201, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Darlene Donloe

Darlene Donloe

Darlene is a seasoned publicist and an entertainment and travel journalist whose work has appeared in People, Ebony, Essence, LA Watts Times, Los Angeles Sentinel, EMMY, The Hollywood Reporter, Rhythm & Business, Billboard, Grammy, BlackVoices.com and more.