When Tony LaRussa retired as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, days after winning the World Series in fall 2011, James Larson noticed.
"It’s good to bow out at the top of your game," said Larson, artistic director at the Rose Theater. "I’d been thinking about this for a long time."
Friday, Larson announced to the Rose’s staff that he is retiring after 28 years as its artistic director. In that timespan, the Rose has grown to become one of the nation’s top-tier theaters for children and families.
"I feel like I’ve accomplished way beyond what I ever imagined," said Larson, who turns 60 in September. "My kids are getting out of college, and I’ve got a couple young-adult novels I’m trying to finish up. It’s a good time."
Larson was hired as artistic director of the Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater in 1984, when it was housed in a former movie theater at 35th and Center Streets. It moved to the former Astro Theater at 20th and Farnam Streets in 1995, greatly increasing its seating capacity and classroom space. It was renamed the Omaha Theater Company at the Rose.
The theater now adds performances to most shows to meet a mushrooming ticket demand. It has sold out season memberships the past three years.
The company’s $3 million budget is 10 times what it was when Larson signed on.
Larson established a national touring program 20 years ago, taking shows to millions of patrons in large performing arts centers throughout the country — and raising up to $590,000 in gross annual touring revenue. Larson has directed about 75 shows for the Rose.
He brought top playwrights and artists to Omaha, including Tony winner Mark Medoff, National Book Award winner Robert Bly, Pulitzer nominee Joe Sutton, and best-seller Stan Berenstain, creator of "The Berenstain Bears."
Himself a playwright, Larson adapted several books for the stage and toured them nationally, including "The Little Engine That Could," Mercer Mayer’s "There’s an Alligator Under My Bed," Beverly Cleary’s "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" and many more.
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