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Tony Award-winning producer Judy Hansen of Milwaukee helped The Rep select Mark Clements as its artistic director.

Tony Award winner steered Rep's search for director

Search committees formed by not-for-profit arts groups are sometimes like search parties in the old wild west. On the hunt for a new business manager or artistic leader, they wander in the wilderness, expend a lot of time and energy and don't come home with their man or woman.

Consultants and head hunters can be guides and scouts, but there are no guarantees they will produce the best candidate for the committee members charged with choosing an organization's next artistic or managing director. The bankers, lawyers and community volunteers making the decision are not always arts savvy.

That certainly wasn't true for the Milwaukee Rep search committee that filtered the field of about 80 artistic director candidates down to eventual choice Mark Clements. Its chair, Judy Hansen, won a Tony Award in June, a nice little perk for being one of the producers of the Broadway revival of "Hair."

With her sister, Kathy Seidel, Hansen is a partner in JK Productions, a theatrical producing company that has been quite active on Broadway the past few years. JK was involved in recent revivals of "Blithe Spirit" and "Speed-the-Plow" and last year's new David Mamet comedy, "November." The sisters are among the producers of the greatly anticipated new Mamet play, "Race," which opens in December.

It's highly unusual for a search committee chair for a Milwaukee arts group to have those kinds of credentials. A member of the family that owns and operates 105-year-old Hansen Storage, Judy Hansen is currently in her third separate stint on the Milwaukee Rep's board of directors. She was board president from 1995 to 1998, and also sat on the national council of the Theatre Communications Group, a large organization that provides services to not-for-profit professional stage companies.

Hansen was running a division of her family business a decade ago, but theater was consuming an increasing amount of her time and interest. "I asked myself, what's next?" she recently recalled.

The answer was several online theater courses, and then in 2002, at the age of 52, Hansen enrolled in the most prestigious theater management program in the country at the Yale School of Drama. The management students are usually on a three-year track for a master's degree, but the Milwaukee woman didn't want to take that much time out of her life, so she entered the school as a special student.

Noting her extensive board experience, Hansen said, "they didn't have anyone like me around." She took classes for two years, served as a research fellow and taught a class on theater company governance issues.

When her sister, Seidel, was offered the opportunity to invest in an off-Broadway show after Hansen left Yale, the siblings joined the high stakes world of New York commercial theater. A subsequent introduction to veteran Broadway publicist and producer Jeffrey Richards led to Hansen interning in his office and JK Productions being born.

Hansen spends most of her time in Milwaukee but flies into New York every few months for business.

"There were certain things I could clarify for the search committee," she said, commenting on the knowledge she acquired at Yale and in New York theater. "When we interviewed candidates, I understood what they were saying."


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