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On the brink of the new theater season, Studio Arena Theatre suddenly is without an executive director.

However, the departure of Brian J. Wyatt, who returned to California after three years at the administrative helm of Western New York's leading repertory theater, will not disrupt preparations for opening night next month, Jonathan H. Gardner, president of the theater's board of trustees, said Wednesday.

The Main Street stage will lead off with John Guare's black comedy "The House of Blue Leaves" on Sept. 11.

"We're in very good shape. The first four plays are fully cast; contracts are signed," Gardner said.

An interim executive director will be appointed soon to handle business affairs until Wyatt's permanent replacement is found, Gardner added.

"We are speaking to some very strong candidates" for the temporary post, he said.

Wyatt's leaving was not unexpected, said Gardner and Artistic Director Gavin Cameron-Webb. The affable 48-year-old veteran of theater management tackled the executive director's job with great enthusiasm after arriving in October 1995 from the Berkeley Repertory Theater, where he had been general manager.

In 1997, Buffalo News critic Terry Doran observed that Studio Arena had "turned an impressive corner" under Cameron-Webb and Wyatt by securing a $200,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, establishing the Studio Too! series at Pfeifer Theatre and forging strong alliances with other regional theaters.

Wyatt "did some fabulous things for the theater, such as overhauling the backstage to create a much better space for visiting artists and the resident staff," Cameron-Webb said. "He was attentive to creative needs and also did us a tower of good in the community.

"He was terrific to work with. I'll miss him tremendously."

Widely regarded as a leading regional theater, Studio Arena is sometimes taken for granted at home. Wyatt tried to change that.

"We have great national visibility. One of the things Brian did particularly well was increase our visibility locally," Gardner said.

But Wyatt longed to get back to the West Coast, where he had done all of his prior work in theater.

"He really made no secret of it," Gardner said. "Like many professionals, he wanted to move on to bigger and better things. When he decided not to renew his contract, it was no great surprise."

A committee of the Studio Arena board will be formed to conduct a national search for Wyatt's successor.

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