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International City Theatre's caryn desai
September 11, 2012 - caryn desai, artistic director and producer at Long Beach's International City Theatre (ICT), has taken it upon herself to bring new experiences, ideas and societal concerns to audiences that represent the regional community.
ICT is a professional and award-winning nonprofit regional live theatre company completing its 27th year. desai has been in her current position for just over a year and a half, filling the role her husband held before retiring. Previously, she spent the last 20 years or so as the general manager of ICT – working administrative, literary, educational, development and promotional duties.
desai, who has spelled her name with lowercase letters since college, has more than 20 years of directing experience – from premieres and classics to musicals and new works. She has also taught college for more than 20 years, directing more than 30 university and college productions. She has received a number of awards and nominations from the LA Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, Drama-Logue, Robby, Ovation and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
desai earned an associate's degree in acting and theatre at Long Beach City College, her bachelor's degree in acting and directing from California State University, Long Beach and a master's degree in directing from University of California, Irvine. She also earned a certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, received a full fellowship for the executive program at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and completed an executive coaching program through the Hudson Institute in Santa Barbara.
Locally, desai has been honored as "Enterprising Woman in the Arts" in Long Beach and with the "We Can Do It" award from the Rosie the Riveter Foundation in 2011. She has developed a variety of educational outreach programs, including ICT's Performing Arts Classroom Teaching (PACT), which includes visits to approximately 4,200 3rd-grade students in the area.
In this interview with the Business Journal, desai describes the positive influences in her life, her passion for directing, the upcoming ICT season and what lies ahead for the theatre.
LBBJ: Your bio says you have a BA degree from CSULB and an MFA from UC Irvine. Did you always know you wanted to work in the arts or entertainment industry?
desai: I knew from the time I was a child that it was the arts that brought me happiness. So no matter what I was doing, I was always involved in the arts. My family could all be watching a TV show, and I would be sitting in the corner, drawing or writing or making something. I have to say that I was blessed to be going to school at a time when music and arts were in schools. I excelled in school. The arts helped me excel because [it's a motivator; it's something one wants to do]. That's one of the reasons why I'm so committed to the outreach we do; I feel for kids that are in school that are like me that aren't getting what they need to satisfy them.
LBBJ: Did you have a mentor, or someone who helped guide you to the arts and entertainment industry?
desai: I would say that the choir director and his wife at the church I grew up in, who also ran a theatre company, were positive influences on my life. And then, later, my husband was, because I first met Shashin when I was a student.
LBBJ: Were you pursuing your bachelor's or master's degree at the time you met Shashin?
desai: That was at [Long Beach] City College, before I went to Cal State Long Beach. We've only been married 15 years this year. I went away after city college, to London to study at the Royal Academy. I went to Cal State Long Beach, then got my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at UCI. While I was getting my MFA he invited me to teach for Disney. They were doing a program to train young people. So I came back and taught, and then he asked me to work at ICT and manage the company. At first I said no, but the deal was that I would direct as well. So I was teaching and directing.
LBBJ: Is there a job you've had that stands out among the others?
desai: Directing is my passion. I love to direct. I love telling stories. I love script analysis. I'm painting pictures on stage. I went to arts school. I used to perform, so I studied music and dance and all of that. I loved all of it, and that's really what drove me to theatre. It combines all the art forms. I would say directing, but I love teaching, too. I taught in college for over 20 years, and I love working with bright young people.
LBBJ: You have significant experience as an executive in the arts and entertainment industry. What does it mean to you to be an arts leader?
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