NEW YORK CITY: After 34 years at its helm, New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) artistic director James C. Nicola will step down on June 30, 2022.
Under Nicola’s guidance, NYTW has become an indispensable Off-Broadway theatre, with such Broadway phenoms as Rent, Once, Slave Play, and What the Constitution Means to Me appearing on its East Village stage, and artists ranging from Ivo van Hove to Mfoniso Udofia, and such resident companies as Noor Theatre and Elevator Repair Service.
“New York Theatre Workshop has been the greatest gift in my entire life and my proudest accomplishment,” said Nicola in a statement. “I have been honored to be a steward of this rambunctious, restless community for more than three decades—almost half my life—and I am deeply grateful to those who have given me this sustaining blessing for as long as they have.”
Nicola will turn 72 in July 2022—a milestone he said he sees as “the moment to interrupt whatever patterns there might be in my life, and to leap off a cliff into reinvention. So that is my plan. My departure will be over a year from now, as I intend to see NYTW back to welcoming audiences into our theater and provide the theatre ample time to plan for a smooth transition. I look forward to new adventures and to cheering on the next artistic director to create NYTW’s future.”
“Jim is a true visionary whose unique artistry has been assembling a brilliant community of talents, providing them with the space and resources to expand the boundaries of the theatrical form, and connecting them with audiences eager to hear their voices and engage in meaningful conversations about our shared human experience,” said Kelly Fowler Hunter, president of NYTW’s board of trustees, in a statement. “His tireless efforts to ensure that artists are afforded the freedom to fail have led to extraordinary work, and his impact is felt far beyond the Workshop’s home on East 4th Street.”
“Jim Nicola is New York Theatre Workshop: his vision has defined what the theater has become under his artistic leadership,” said Stephen Graham, founding trustee in statement. “He shared the ideals of those of us who founded the theatre, but it took Jim to translate those ideals into reality. He’s more than a great artistic director. Take him for all in all, he’s one of the finest human beings I know.”
In his tenure at NYTW, Nicola initiated and championed an extensive series of workshop opportunities that have continued for over 25 years, including the creation of the 2050 Artistic Fellowship. Since the 1990s, NYTW has honed an inclusive fellowship program for early career theatremakers with a multiplicity of perspectives, including playwrights, directors, designers, and administrators. In its current iteration, the fellowship is a yearlong residency for early career playwrights and directors.
Nicola also created NYTW’s longstanding Summer Residencies. Beginning with a residency at the Hotchkiss School over 30 years ago, NYTW has hosted a residency program every summer of Nicola’s tenure. NYTW has now partnered with Dartmouth College for over 30 years on a collaborative residency program. The Dartmouth summer residency ties directly into Dartmouth’s academics, allowing theatre students to be embedded into the rehearsal process as observers, researchers and assistants, and have the opportunity to learn alongside various groups of artists and collaborators.
Works developed at Dartmouth include Jonathan Larson’s Rent, Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, Dael Orlandersmith’s Forever, and Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau. Nicola and NYTW also established a residency at Adelphi University, with an emphasis on director-generated and devised works. Adelphi is also the home to NYTW’s 2050 Fellows Annual Retreat.
In the midst of the past year’s shutdown, Nicola led the workshop in finding an opportunity to continue to engage with and offer financial support to NYTW’s artistic community through the creation of the Artistic Instigator program, which asked artists to imagine work in our present moment that creates community within the given circumstances of social distancing.
Throughout his time at NYTW, Nicola forged a unique community of theatre artists, the Usual Suspects, whose work has shaped the very idea of what theatre can be. This group of writers, directors, designers and actors form the core of NYTW’s artist development activities. NYTW aims to be a resource for their Usual Suspects, providing them with free artist tickets, unlimited access to the theatre’s rehearsal and meeting spaces, developmental opportunities and more. The Usual Suspects now comprise 600 members across all disciplines, including Quincy Tyler Bernstein, Marin Ireland, Taibi Magar, Robert O’Hara, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leigh Silverman, Hansol Jung, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Hammaad Chaudry, Thaddeus Phillips, Will Davis, Melissa Crespo, Bess Glorioso, Erin Markey, Rachel Hauck, Riccardo Hernandez, Dan Moses Schreier, Kristen Sieh, Patrice Johnson, Christine Jones, and many more.
As artistic director, he was instrumental in the development of many NYTW productions, including five productions by Caryl Churchill; eight productions directed by Ivo van Hove; Jonathan Larson’s Rent; Tony Kushner’s Slavs! and Homebody/Kabul; Doug Wright’s Quills; Claudia Shear’s Blown Sideways Through Life and Dirty Blonde; Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Valhalla; Martha Clarke’s Vienna: Lusthaus; Will Power’s The Seven and Fetch Clay, Make Man; Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s Aftermath; Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher; Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, and Enda Walsh’s Once; David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus; Dael Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick and Forever; Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown; Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me; Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play; and Sam Gold’s production of Othello; as well as acclaimed works from Mfoniso Udofia, Rachel Chavkin, Ayad Akhtar, Amy Herzog, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Anne Kaufman, Celine Song, Lucas Hnath, Elevator Repair Service, and countless others. NYTW productions have won virtually every major theatre accolade, including the Pulitzer and 25 Tonys.
Before joining NYTW, Nicola spent seven years at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., first as a National Endowment for the Arts Directing Fellow and later as a producing associate. From 1975 to 1980, Nicola was a casting coordinator for the New York Shakespeare Festival where he developed his commitment to new voices in the theatre.
Over the coming months, NYTW will be conducting a thorough search for its next artistic director. NYTW is committed to an equitable and transparent process and will announce a search firm partner and further details about the timeline for submissions and selections as soon as that information is available.
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