One of Ralph Weeks’ great pleasures was to take visitors on a history tour of the two-century-old Walnut Street Theatre, showing off the paintings, statues, and memorabilia in the lobbies and on the walls, running down the list of great performers and performances from its 208 theater seasons. He was proud of the Walnut Street’s distinctive history, as the oldest theater in the country — it was founded in 1809 — and its equally distinctive business model, as a nonprofit theater with the largest direct-subscription base (around 56,000) of any theater in the country.
And now Weeks, director of marketing and public relations for the theater since 2003, becomes part of its history. He tendered his resignation on Aug. 11, and his last day on the job will be Sept. 8, after which he will return to his native North Carolina. No successor has been named yet.
“It may be a retirement, it may not be, I’m not quite sure,” Weeks said by phone. “Part of the freedom I have is that I can do so many new things. Perhaps I’ll live abroad, travel, be with family. After 14 years here, it’s great to have yet another new chapter.”
Weeks brought to his job both marketing and media experience and a deep commitment to theater. His career began with theater, took a detour through Wall Street, and returned. He started in New York at Circle Repertory and then Playwrights Horizons, where he was director of marketing. Then he went to Wall Street, working for investment banker Ivan Boesky before joining National Thrift News, showing a knack for rebranding the company and expanding its product line, which included publishing and CDs. In 1998 he went west, to become marketing director for the Pasadena Theatre. Five years later, he came to the Walnut Street Theatre in the same capacity.
The theater recently announced that the 2016-2017 season had been one of its most successful. Ticket sales at the main stage rose 16 percent over the previous year. The Independence Studio on 3 sold a record number of subscriptions, as did the Walnut Street Theatre for Kids season. Overall, the income from the 2016-2017 season was the second highest in the theater’s two centuries of operation. The theater’s 209th anniversary 2017-2018 season opens Sept. 5 with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
“I love the Walnut Street Theatre, and I’ve always loved community theater,” Weeks said. “I believe in institutions like the Walnut Street that support the artists in their hometown. And I’ll keep working with communities that want to tell their stories, that use theater as a way to tell those stories.”