November 29, 2022
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Cody Estle flies north for his career’s Next Act

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The very first Ghost Light column I wrote back in summer of 2020, I interviewed Markie Gray, the incoming managing director for Raven Theatre. Gray was hired to work alongside artistic director Cody Estle, who assumed the job in November 2017 from founders (and married couple) Michael Menendian and JoAnn Montemurro. (The board’s decision to remove the original artistic leadership team, who started the company in 1983, led to residual bad feelings, as Deanna Isaacs wrote about in the Reader in 2019.)

Now Estle is heading off to Milwaukee to take over as artistic director for Next Act Theatre. He’s replacing David Cecsarini, who has headed up Next Act since it formed over 32 years ago from the merger of two other companies, Theatre Tesseract and Next Generation Theatre.

For Estle, leaving Raven now means that he and Gray have met many of the goals they set during the pandemic shutdown. In her first interview with me, Gray said, “To me, what I find actually really exciting about having this opportunity is that organizations like this very rarely have the chance to pause and think about the actual organization. And think about the things that are the foundation of all of the art that we make. And that is how we are treating our staff, how we are managing our boards, how we’re thinking about EDI, how we’re looking at ourselves as an organization. It so often gets pushed to the bottom of the list, especially in smaller companies.”

When we talked late last week, Estle noted, “I think one of the reasons I sort of felt like it would be an OK time to leave Raven—not that there’s ever an OK time or a good time—was that I’d done everything that I had said that I wanted to do. Except for the completion of the construction in the east stage. [That’s the larger of Raven’s two venues.] That’s going to start at the end of November after Private Lives. I had done everything that I set out to do, and the money has been raised for the project, or almost raised for the renovation project. When I came on, it was like, ‘We need to diversify the programming. We need to expand the staff, we need to get health insurance for the staff. We need to make sure that the theater is moving from non-Equity to Equity.’”





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