Director Emily Mann Will Retire From McCarter After Next Season
By Donald Gilpin
“A provocateur, a nurturer, and a creator, a fierce and brilliant woman,” according to her colleague Adam Immerwahr, Emily Mann will be moving on from McCarter Theatre following the upcoming 2019-2020 season. She has served as artistic director and resident playwright at McCarter since 1990.
Widely acclaimed as a champion of works by women and people of color, Mann, whose play Gloria: A Life, a bio-drama based on the life of Gloria Steinem, opened off-Broadway in October, looks forward to entering “a new personal and professional chapter of writing and directing opportunities,” after her final year at McCarter.
“As a producer, she championed several generations of artists whose work has gone on to shape our industry,” said Immerwahr, former McCarter associate artistic director who now serves as artistic director of Theater J in Washington, D.C., the nation’s largest Jewish theater.
Immerwahr commented on Mann’s impact on contemporary American theater. “As a writer, she helped to hone and build the form of documentary theater — a form that is thriving and growing,” he said. “As an artist, she showed the world that women could be strong artistic leaders of theaters that they did not found themselves, opening the door for other female artistic directors to step into leadership positions at major resident theaters around the country.”
He added, “The larger theater world is lucky that she will continue in her work as a playwright and director after her time at the helm of McCarter is over.”
Mann discussed her years at McCarter and the timing of her decision to step down. “Three decades ago, McCarter took the brave and bold step of casting a young female artist as its artistic director, long before women writers and directors were widely embraced in American theater,” she said. “After what has been an extraordinary journey, it is time to pass the torch to the next generation of artistic directors, many of whom I have been privileged to mentor, so that they may impart their own unique signatures at McCarter.”
Immerwahr, who first came to McCarter in 2005 as directing intern to Mann, served as her assistant on the world premiere of Christopher Durang’s Miss Witherspoon, collaborated with her over the years, and now continues to direct at McCarter from time to time, described Mann’s “one-of-a-kind ability to give notes that get right to the heart of a piece of theater. Her insights are eye-opening and play-transforming. She falls passionately in love with art, and becomes a fierce and tireless advocate for the actors, designers, writers, and directors whose work she champions.”
He continued, “Emily taught me the importance of giving artists an artistic home; a place where they can work over many years to build their next great masterpiece. She taught me that the best plays come from letting writers be the architects of their own plays’ development paths. As a director, she taught me the importance of letting actors take the time they need to find the depth of their performances. More than anything, she taught me that an artistic director needs to set a high artistic bar, and hold all of their artists to that same standard.”
Mann has overseen more than 160 productions at McCarter, including more than 40 world premieres. During her tenure the theater won the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, and Mann herself was twice nominated for Tony Awards as a playwright and director. Her other awards include eight Obies, a Peabody Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and many more.
“Emily ushered in an exceptionally robust artistic period that catapulted McCarter to the world stage,” said Interim McCarter Board of Trustees President Reginald M. Browne. “She has been a trailblazing force in shaping the course of American theater through her focus on diversity and inclusiveness and her passion for nurturing scores of emerging and established artists whose creative expression has challenged convention and enriched our collective community. Her imprint as an agent of change is as inspiring as it is indelible.”
June Ballinger, actress and former artistic director at Passage Theatre in Trenton, and Mann have been friends ever since Ballinger moved to Princeton from New York 23 years ago to take charge at Passage. “We have become good friends and continued to commiserate on the balance of home life, our creative work, and leadership responsibilities,” Ballinger said. “I adore her. We also had a wonderful collaboration together. Passage and McCarter had an understanding where many of her talented directing, marketing, casting, and literary interns came directly to work at Passage following their year at McCarter.”
Ballinger continued, “She is fiercely intelligent and articulate and has managed artfully to put together seasons that are both challenging, containing new work by important new voices, and classic productions executed boldly and with great distinction. This is no small feat as she can appeal to the conservative patrons and risk-seeking audiences within the same season — and sustain that.”
Mann’s final season at McCarter, which will be announced in March, will be “Signature Emily,” plays celebrating diverse and emerging artists. McCarter’s board will be formalizing a process for selecting the theater’s next artistic director, “with a commitment to build on Emily Mann’s storied legacy,” according to McCarter’s press release.