"This is all so fresh," Carden told KCUR. "Just hearing it spoken aloud that I'm the new artistic director of Kansas City Rep just immediately raises the hair on the back of my neck, makes me very, very excited to be at this moment."
The 55-year-old regional theater began searching for a new artistic director after Eric Rosen announced in June 2018 that he was stepping down after nearly a decade and re-locating to New York City.
"This is the exact right leader for us at this moment in time," said Angela Gieras, the Rep's executive director, said of Carden. "His energy, his enthusiasm for Kansas City, the amount of research that he did. I think people are going to be really wild when he gets here and on the ground."
Carden, 46, is a Chicago-based director, producer and educator. As a freelance director and producer since 2015, he has developed projects with more than a dozen organizations including The Old Globe, Chicago Children's Theatre and City Theatre Company. For a decade before that, he served in associate artistic director roles at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois; City Theatre in Pittsburgh; and Silk Road Rising in Chicago.
"First and foremost, Stuart is a storyteller, whether that comes in the form of new work, or re-imagining a classic, or working with younger audiences or family programming," said Kathryn Lipuma, executive director of Writers Theatre.
At the Writers Theatre, from 2009 to 2014, Carden co-produced more than 25 productions, developed audience engagement and enrichment programs and built on the theater's new play development program.
He also directed new works, including a collaboration with Pigpen Theatre Co. of "The Hunter and the Bear," a folk fable with music; and the premiere of Tim Sniffen's "Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf," a comedy mash-up of the three classics in the title and "Our Town."
"He's an innovator, but he also understands the value of community and collaboration and transparency," said Lipuma.
A 2016 production of "Longer! Louder! Wagner!" marked a partnership between sketch theater artists from The Second City and singers from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
"That's an example of the type of partnerships I will be looking to cultivate," Carden said. "I have a career of doing hybrid work. It's where I find the most satisfaction as an artist and an arts leader in these unique partnerships."
KC Rep's 2019-2020 season is already set, which gives Carden breathing room. But he said he expects to hit the ground running when he arrives in Kansas City.
"I have a very aggressive 90-day plan," he said, which includes getting to know the Rep's staff, audience, funders and donors, as well as Kansas City's artistic and cultural community.
"It gives me the opportunity to come in and be focused on relationship building, and for me to really wrap my brain and my arms around the city," he said.
Carden said he expects lots of conversations over the next few months, as well as travel back and forth between Chicago and Kansas City. He's married to contemporary and public art curator Neysa Page-Lieberman, who will stay in Chicago with their seven-year-old twins as they finalize plans for a new home and a new school by the end of the year.
"It's going to be a really great opportunity for us as a family," said Carden.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.