Nebraska Shakespeare has hired Omaha director, actor and educator Tyrone Beasley as its next artistic director.
Beasley is leaving his longtime post as the artistic-associate director of outbound programming at Omaha’s Rose Theater.
The hire comes at a challenging time for Nebraska Shakespeare, which stages plays each summer at Elmwood Park and has educational programs throughout the year. The company had to cancel Shakespeare on the Green in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, it canceled this year’s productions, citing a lack of staff.
In addition, it has faced criticism over the past year and a half for its perceived lack of diversity among staff and actors and its handling of other diversity issues. Leadership took steps to rectify the situation, but some said the progress was too slow.
The selection of Beasley is a positive development, said Rose Artistic Director Matt Gutschick, who is among those who have been concerned about Nebraska Shakespeare’s diversity record.
“His hiring means that they are serious about developing — and, where it’s necessary, repairing — relationships in the community,” Gutschick said. “Tyrone is a consensus builder. He’s comfortable in his own skin, confident but kind.”
Nebraska Shakespeare board member Adrian Blake said the board is confident that it chose the right candidate.
“We conducted a national search and talked to people coast to coast,” he said. “We’re big fans of the work he has done at the Rose. We cast as wide a net as we could, and we are not disappointed that we could find someone who calls Omaha home.”
Beasley, 56, grew up in Omaha as the son of nationally known actor John Beasley. He received a visual art degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a graduate degree in theater from California State University-Long Beach.
He has been an actor in Atlanta and Chicago, where, as a young man, he played the Prince of Morocco in “The Merchant of Venice” at the esteemed Goodman Theater under famed director Peter Sellers. He honed his own directing skills at his father’s John Beasley Theater in Omaha and directed “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2020 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
At the Rose, he created and presented workshops for underserved youths, including those incarcerated at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility. He also acted in productions at the theater, which offers programming for kids, and is involved in its educational wing as well.
He said he’s excited to be joining Nebraska Shakespeare. He had already signed a contract to be the director for its fall tour of a hip-hop “Romeo and Juliet” when the national search firm emailed him.
“(They) asked if I would talk about the position in the climate of what’s going on — what would it take for someone to take the position and be in the position,” Beasley said.
Eventually, they asked if he would be interested in it.
“I said yeah, I would be. It’s an important tradition, and I’d like to see it grow and be more inclusive and welcoming,” he said. “I decided I would take that challenge if they were interested in me.”
As he saw what was happening behind the scenes, including inclusive hiring searches and recruiting people of color for the board, Beasley became confident that Nebraska Shakespeare’s leadership is “dedicated and sincere about being an inclusive organization,” he said.
He sees plenty of opportunities for growth and community partnerships. He’s already talked with Gutschick about working with the Rose, and both are enthusiastic about the prospect.
He’s also looking forward to working with the organization’s new executive director.
A nationwide search for that job is almost complete. Blake said they plan to extend an offer this weekend and will probably announce the hire in a couple of weeks.
“We look at this as an opportunity to create a new generation for Nebraska Shakespeare,” he said.
In the meantime, Gutschick will soon embark on an extensive search of his own. He’s thrilled about Beasley’s new opportunity but knows that he will be hard to replace, especially given his work with struggling young people.
“I think he will not only be an incredible artistic leader, but will be a compassionate and clear voice for (Nebraska Shakespeare) in the community,” Gutschick said. “I will miss him.”