DAVENPORT — After 11 years of tremendous growth in the nation's second-oldest children's theater, Daniel Sheridan will resign as artistic director for Davenport Junior Theatre at the end of this season, in May/June 2020.
However, the 36-year-old Davenporter and DJT alum will stay as the city's performing arts supervisor and will continue to oversee all DJT theater and dance classes, camps, and programs. Sheridan also will continue to oversee the city-owned facility at 2822 Eastern Ave., its development, and all rentals. Applications for a new artistic director — a part-time job that currently pays up to $10,000 a year — are due by Dec. 15.
“The position of artistic director has amazing potential,” Sheridan said this week. “The program has grown so much that it was time for me to shed the position and make room for another artistic leader.”
The artistic director will exclusively focus on the professional producing arm of the company, leading the Mainstage Company (which puts on three productions each season). The director will report to the Junior Theatre Inc. board of directors, and is not an employee of the city of Davenport.
“I love and care about the organization and what we do,” Sheridan said. “The artistic directorship, I was looking at peeling away what I do. This was the most enticing, dynamic piece that could attract the kind of leader we want. With just everything growing, it got to be too much. Over the last couple years, I felt like I've just been maintaining what we do, not being dynamic, creative in taking it to the next level, creating new opportunities for audiences and our students.”
Since 2008, DJT (which serves area kids ages 3-18) has exploded from 300 registrations to about 1,800 this season, from 30 towns in the area. A big growth engine has been the dance program, which launched in 2011 and has expanded from 60 to 240 students, Sheridan said.
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“A lot of the growth has to do, whether theater or dance, the focus is on meeting every kid where they're at,” he said. “The arts provides these communication skills, that bring them joy.”
Since Sheridan started, “we have drastically improved our production quality, fundraising capacity, student engagement, attendance levels, good standing in the community, and have offered an array of new and exciting Mainstage projects and activities,” according to the DJT site that explains the job responsibilities, davenportjuniortheatre.org/opportunities.
Junior Theatre Inc. (an independent nonprofit) has its own board and has oversight over the mainstage productions, Sheridan noted. It's not city-funded, but does annual fundraising, and between ticket sales and fundraising events, is self-sustaining, he said.
When DJT did its renovation of the Mary Fluhrer Nighswander Theatre in 2017, the city gave an initial $70,000 matching grant, and Junior Theatre Inc. raised the remaining $112,000, Sheridan said. “As a former Junior Theatre student, to have the opportunity to have been part of renovating our theater home so completely, was pretty special to be part of that.”
This will be the first time in DJT's 69-year history that the performing arts supervisor for the city and artistic director will be different people, he added. “I'm pretty excited; there's potential for the position to grow financially as well.”
Increased personal obligations are taking more of Sheridan's time as well, as he and his wife Jessica have two little boys — Charlie, 3, and Elliot, 1½. “Getting the chance to spend more time with my boys and family will be even more special,” he said. Sheridan, who last directed a DJT production four years ago, is looking forward to directing more theater in the area.
DJT says on its site it plans to involve and pay the new artistic director to shadow the process for its final show in the current season, “Robin Hood,” to allow for a smooth transition. Finalists will be asked to make a public presentation on Jan. 7, with an announcement of the successor Jan. 13.