A Letter from David Armstrong

One comment

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

It is with very mixed emotions that I announce that I have decided to step down from my position as the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of The 5th Avenue Theatre at the end of the 2017/2018 season.  After nearly 18 amazing years leading this organization, I have decided it is time to let go of the day-to-day burdens and responsibilities of running a large theater company so that I can focus more effectively on my creative work as a director and a writer. I will be transitioning to the new position of Artistic Director Emeritus and for at least the next three seasons I will continue to be employed by The 5th as a consultant, advisor, and frequent director.

The time that I have devoted to this theater company has truly been the highlight of my nearly 40 years of working in the American theater, and no other job has been nearly as meaningful or rewarding.  I could not be more proud of what I have accomplished during my time at The 5th, first as Producing Artistic Director, working in partnership with Marilyn Sheldonn; and then in my current role in collaboration with Bernie Griffin and Bill Berry.

My only regret in taking in this job was that it quickly became apparent that I would have to put my writing career on hold.  The work of running a major theater company and directing at least one production each season has been a thrilling, but all-consuming endeavor that made it impossible for me to find the time and focus necessary to devote to any significant writing projects. In my new position, I will have the opportunity to pursue other directing opportunities and resume my work as a playwright, and perhaps even write a history of the musical theater.

From the first day that I walked into this glorious historic building, I had a vision that The 5th could become a truly significant theater company. Today I am stunned that we have achieved even more than I thought possible.

I am very happy to say that during my tenure The 5th Avenue Theatre has become one of America’s leading musical theater companies acclaimed for both our new and vibrant productions of classic musicals, as well as our extensive development and production of new work.  Since 2001, The 5th has produced 18 new musicals, nine of which that moved from our stage to Broadway, including two that received the Tony Award for Best Musical.  It gives me great personal satisfaction to know that at least 7 of those shows have entered the standard repertoire of the musical theater and now receive hundreds of amateur and professional productions around the world each year.

Early on I recognized that Seattle possessed something that almost no other city in America can claim—a deep and large pool of gifted and talented theater artists and craftspeople.  One of my greatest pleasures has been to discover, champion, develop and employ this local world-class community of actors, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, choreographers, designers, and backstage workers of all kinds, and to partner them with the finest theater practitioners from New York, and place them at the center of our brand and our mission. This virtual “rep company” is an irreplaceable asset to this theater.  They have become my cherished friends and trusted colleagues, and it has been a joy and a privilege to work with every one of them.

I have been equally honored to collaborate with so many wonderful administrative and production staff members over the years.  Your dedication, commitment and belief in the power of musical theater has been an inspiration to me and we could never have achieved so much without your enormous contributions.

I was trusted with the opportunity to work professionally as a director at a very young age and I am especially proud of the opportunities and nurturing that we have provided to talented young people, both on and off the stage.  Many of them created significant work for The 5th, and have gone on to noteworthy positions with theaters and productions both in Seattle and New York.

School field trips to theatrical productions, along with music, dance and drama classes changed my life as a child so it was important to me that The 5th become a leader in arts education initiatives for both young people and adults.  Over the past 17 years, we created a host of celebrated programs including our High School Musical Theatre Awards, Fridays At The 5th, the Rising Star Project, Spotlight Nights, Show Talks, and our greatly expanded Adventure Musical Theater Touring shows. It has been particularly gratifying over the years to watch talented young people participate in one or more of these programs, go off to college, and then come home and begin outstanding professional careers on our stage.

It has been very rewarding to collaborate with our region’s many world-class arts organizations, most notably the Seattle Men’s Chorus and ACT Theatre.  I am very proud to have spearheaded our citywide Seattle Celebrates Bernstein festival back in 2010, as well as the upcoming Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare festival.  We have also had the opportunity to partner and co-produce with many of America’s leading theater companies, and I have been very pleased to share so many of our productions, artists, and staff with other theaters and audiences across the country.

My greatest passion, however, has been for our large and loyal 5th Avenue Theatre audience. We are blessed with one of the smartest, most passionate, musical theater savvy audiences in the world.  This includes, of course, our season ticket subscribers (still one of the largest theater subscriptions in America,) our patrons, sponsors, donors, and Board of Directors.  It is because of their outstanding commitment and enthusiasm that we have been able to so consistently produce work of such high quality and level of achievement. Theater only exists in that space between the edge of the stage and the front row where the consciousness and energy of the audience and the actors meet.  There would be no 5th Avenue Theatre without our audience, and it has been a great pleasure to get know and interact personally with so many individual members over the years.

I have no doubt that my most cherished memories of my time at The 5th will be the same as those of many of our staff, artists and audience — the thrilling productions and unforgettable moments of musical theatre magic that still give me goosebumps.  These include my first production as Producing Artistic Director, Anything Goes starring Dee Hoty and the irrepressible Bronson Pinchot, our perfectly cast A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC that opened just days after 9/11, our blockbuster production of HAIR that introduced a whole generation of future 5th Avenue stars, and the spellbinding first preview of our world premiere of HAIRSPRAY.  Other favorites of mine include our outstanding revivals of Gypsy, 1776, My Fair Lady, Sweeney Todd, The Rocky Horror Show, Wonderful Town, The Most Happy Fella, West Side Story, Cabaret, On The Town, Candide, Oklahoma, Sunday In The Park With George, The Pirates of Penzance, How To Succeed, Paint Your Wagon, The Secret Garden, and Ragtime.  And, of course, some of the terrific musicals that we introduced to Seattle: White Christmas, ELF, and the world premieres of Memphis, First Date, Disney’s Aladdin, and A Christmas Story.

In my new position, I will have the opportunity to continue working at my artistic home and to, hopefully, create other memorable productions.  Meanwhile, The 5th will be in good hands.  As I step down, Bill Berry and Bernie Griffin will expand their roles as Producing Artistic Director and Managing Director, respectively, and I have no doubt that they will lead the organization to new heights and achievements.

To Bill, Bernie, our Board Of Directors and all of you,  I would like to pass on this vision:

That one day soon The 5th Avenue Theatre will join the short list of things that everyone knows about this city.    Seattle – that’s where they have all that rain, and that incredible natural beauty, and Amazon and Starbucks and Microsoft — and that theater company that produces all of those great musicals.

Thank you to everyone who over the past 17 years helped me to bring The 5th at least part way toward that goal.  It has been a great pleasure.


David Armstrong

Executive Producer and Artistic Director
The 5th Avenue Theatre




1 comments on “A Letter from David Armstrong”

  1. My heart breaks that David is leaving us, while, at the same time, my heart rejoices over his great accomplishments and the fact that he gets to go back to writing and directing, parts of the theatre he loves, but has missed. Every season for many years, I have waited in anticipation for the new season’s musicals to be announced. Some I knew and was excited about because they were classics, and some, the new ones I didn’t know, might have held a bit of skepticism, but often they became my favorite. Attending the 5th Avenue and all the extras it offered, was always a highlight for me. I will miss David a lot, but also know that the 5th Avenue Theatre will be in good hands with Bill and Bernie. Thank you, David, for all you have given to us over the past 18 years–the thrill of musical theatre. I will watch for shows written and directed by you and cheer you on.
    Claudia Carr


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s