By Will Norton-Mosher

After more than 20 years of shaping Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Artistic Director Paul Whitworth is leaving.

The actor started at the company in 1984, and later stole the spotlight role of artistic director. Now, 23 years later, he plans to leave his position to pursue other opportunities.

“I have often had to turn down opportunities to act and direct in other places.” he said. “It’s good for any organization to have a change in leadership from time to time.”

Shakespeare Santa Cruz is a professional repertory theatre company in residence with UC Santa Cruz. Shakespeare Santa Cruz runs the third-largest Shakespeare Festival in California and is one of only three Shakespeare companies in California that receive National Endowment for the Arts funding.

After returning from a two-year sabbatical from Shakespeare Santa Cruz last year, Whitworth thought of stepping down, but decided to stay for Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s 25th anniversary season.

Whitworth has taken an unusual path in Shakespeare Santa Cruz, both directing–and acting in–many of Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s plays. Beginning with his part as Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I and then continuing with Iago in Othello, Salieri in Amadeus, Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Richard III in the play Richard III.

When Whitworth takes his final bow as artistic director at UCSC in December, he will have directed, produced, and acted in over two-thirds of the 94 productions that Shakespeare Santa Cruz has produced since its creation.

“It’s a marvelous company and it’s been a great privilege to help build it up,” Whitworth said. “Now it has national recognition. Now we bring in artists from all over the country, it’s grown enormously.”

Before coming to Santa Cruz, Whitworth studied in the celebrated Royal Shakespeare Company, which was based in the Bard’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Great Britain. Whitworth also studied literature and Hispanic languages in St. Andrews and University of Oxford.

As an artistic director he worked closely with people involved in the production to select a theme for each season.

Choosing a theme each season is possible only because Shakespeare Santa Cruz produces all of its plays in a repertory, meaning that all of the plays are rehearsed and presented concurrently.

“This gives the audience the opportunity to see the plays in any order they want and make connections between them” Whitworth wrote in a e-mail to City on a Hill Press.

Dana Werdmuller, the media spokesperson for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, said that Whitworth will be working until Dec. 31, but will retain his professorship at UCSC.

She said that it will be difficult to replace Whitworth, but an alternate will be found.

“We have a national search that’s in place from all over the country” she said. “We’re hoping to know by when the summer ends.”

Jennifah Chard, the company manager, expressed regret that he was leaving, but pointed out that he would still be involved with the university.

“He’s not evaporating. He’s still in our sphere,” she said, adding with a laugh: “our Shake-sphere.”