BOSTON: The board of the Huntington Theatre Company announced today the appointment of acclaimed stage director, producer, and community builder Loretta Greco as the Huntington’s next Norma Jean Calderwood artistic director. Best known for her tenures as artistic director of San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, and before that of New York City’s Women’s Project (now the WP Theater), Greco will be the first woman to lead Huntington in this role, and the fourth artistic leader in the company’s 40-year history. Her immediate predecessor, Peter DuBois, resigned in the fall of 2020 amid complaints about inequity and the mishandling of staff grievances. Greco will begin immediately on a consultant basis and join the company full time starting July 1, 2022.
Greco joins the Huntington at a time of great transformation for the company. Alongside managing director Michael Maso, she will lead an organization of 120 full-time staff members with an annual budget of $18 million, producing 7-8 shows and serving 200,000 audience members in multiple venues each season. (By comparison, the Magic Theatre has a budget of around $1.34 million.) She will also play a leading role in the Huntington’s commitment to becoming a more equitable and antiracist organization as it emerges from the pandemic, and will continue to oversee a major renovation of the Huntington Theatre, currently underway and scheduled to reopen in Fall 2022.
“Loretta Greco is a proven, fierce, and passionate advocate for writers and a fearless theatrical producer,” said Maso in a statement. “She will bring an unmatched talent for true collaboration to the Huntington’s stage, to our staff and our board, and to the Boston theatre community. I could not be more delighted at her acceptance of this position.”
For her part, in a statement Greco said, “I am absolutely thrilled to be named the next artistic director of this extraordinary theatre company. I‘ve been so inspired by the Huntington’s commitment to animating impactful conversations between new and newly imagined work created by a wildly diverse array of world-class artists, and by the passionate, deeply mindful, and longstanding engagement within the community.”
In her 12 years at the Magic, Greco helped to create an artistic home for a wide range of writers, including Luis Alfaro, Jessica Hagedorn, John Kolvenbach, Taylor Mac, Sam Shepard, Octavio Solis, Lloyd Suh, and Mfoniso Udofia. As a prolific freelance director, she has directed a wide range of premieres to reimagined classics and has been produced all over the country. Previously she was producing artistic director of the WP Theater (formerly known as the Women’s Project) in New York City, and was associate director and staff producer of McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J.
Some of the artists whose careers she nourished were quoted in an official press release. Mfoniso Udofia, the playwright of Sojourners and runboyrun, called Greco “a breathtaking director—a rigorous, demanding artist with a decidedly human touch.” And playwright/performer Taylor Mac, whose Hir bowed at the Magic, called her “one of the great humans working in the American theatre. Inspirational, committed, so insightful, craft up the wazoo, years of experience demanding inclusion, and a blast to be with.”
Huntington artists, including actor Adrian Roberts and director Awoye Timpo, who both have previously collaborated with Greco, also offered enthusiastic quotes about her appointment. Timpo, the director of the Huntington’s current production of The Bluest Eye, hailed Greco as “a fearless leader, champion of artists, and brilliant curator. And Roberts, who has appeared at the Huntington in Ruined (directed by Liesl Tommy) and Raisin in the Sun (directed by Kenny Leon), as well as in many productions at the Magic, said in a statement, “Loretta has been instrumental in lifting me up as an actor of color. I’m indebted to her for much of the success I’ve had. She will be brilliant in Boston when it comes to lifting up social justice for all. She champions everyone, and I mean everyone.”
Greco’s appointment is the culmination of a six-month, national search, led by a 12-person search committee made up of Huntington board members, staff representatives, and community leaders, chaired by Huntington Trustees Betsy Epstein and George Yip, and working with consultants Tom Hall and Christine O’Connor of Albert Hall & Associates.
On Valentine’s Day over Zoom, I spoke to Greco, who sat in a lovely, plant-decorated room with the California sunlight streaming in, about her time at the Magic and what lies ahead for her in Boston.
ROB WEINERT-KENDT: First, congratulations. This is exciting news that I didn’t see coming, but obviously it’s been in the works for a while.
LORETTA GRECO: Thank you. It’s news to me that it’s official, but it’s been a long, very mindful process, for sure.
It was a few decades ago that we stood and talked outside the Black Swan Theatre at Oregon Shakes, where I’d just seen your great production of Stop Kiss. Looking over your résumé, where did that fit in? That was years before you led any theatres, right?
Oh, it was so long ago. That was after I’d been at the McCarter Theatre as an associate artistic director. And I was like seven months pregnant then—I don’t know if you remember that detail.
It rings a faint bell.
This is how I know how long ago it was: My daughter’s 21. So it was a minute ago.
Your career started on the East Coast, so is this a return to home in a sense?
Yeah, it is. I grew up in Miami. And then I did New Orleans undergrad, and then D.C. graduate, and then the McCarter in Princeton. And then I worked in New York for 12 years before getting the job at Magic. I was at the Magic 12 years, and then we’ve all been in limbo for this weird time. It’s funny, because several of the board members on the search committee were like, “Is this possible? Would you move to the East Coast?” You know, in some ways, it’s a return home.
In some ways, although Miami is a much different part of the coast than Boston.[Laughs] Okay, rub it in!
But obviously there were all the years in New York. Were those your freelance directing years, before you led a theatre, and did you start to seek out a leadership positions, like the one at Women’s Project, because you yearned for a home base?
I worked at Women’s Project as a director, and then I did the turnaround—that’s how I like to phrase it, it was just a couple of seasons (2004-2006)—between the founder, Julia Miles, and the future. Julia gave me my second job in New York, and Jim Nicola gave me my first job at New York Theatre Workshop. And then I did a lot of work at the Public under George C. Wolfe, as a freelancer, and then all over the country. The thing is, when you’re a freelancer, your focus is so much more narrow. Because you have to be thinking about promoting yourself, which I totally suck at—I mean, you can only control your destiny to a certain extent. What’s beautiful about having a home is that you take the blinders off, and suddenly the world is much larger, and you’re responsible for igniting a larger conversation than you possibly can as a freelancer. And I just love that responsibility of being able to think about, what are the conversations we need to have right now, and what’s going to entertain and challenge and stretch people, and then how do the plays talk to one another? It just feels like having a community and, yes, an artistic home—but more importantly, for me to offer an artistic home to other artists—is just an astounding thing about getting the privilege of leading a theatre.
Tell me a little bit about your impressions of both the Huntington and of Boston, the city you’re about to make your home.
I think the city is pretty extraordinary. It’s beautifully diverse; it looks like the world. It’s a real city that is nature-adjacent. It’s a walking city. I have very few complaints about the Bay, because it’s completely amazing to be here, but San Francisco is not a walking city. So I’m really looking forward to those wonderful spontaneous conversations that happen on the street, as you’re walking down into subway and as you’re coming back up, and as you’re walking in to work, etc.
It’s odd, because I decided that my 12th year at the Magic would be my last, for a myriad of wonderful reasons. I always knew that I wanted to lead a flagship theatre, and I thought I would jump into seeing if that could be a viable proposition for my next adventure. And then the pandemic hit while I was still at the Magic. But then a really good friend of mine sent a text the minute she knew that Huntington was going to be looking for a new leader. I’d only seen one thing there, and I’ve not been a part of what they were making, because I was all the way out here. But the more I learned, the more I thought, This is the theatre for me. And then when I came out and I met the staff, they’re just incredible, so dedicated, so passionate, so involved and prideful of what they’re what they’re a part of, and the board is equally exciting and ambitious. They have wholeheartedly taken this moment to really reflect and wrap their arms around really elevating their EDIA (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access). And Michael Maso is just a total mensch. I love him and I want to learn everything I can from him.
The last thing I’ll say is, their work in the community really inspired me, in a couple of ways. They have this two-decade program at the Codman Academy that I think is unparalleled. And the Calderwood is a space that, once they realized that spaces were closing around town, they have really thrown it open to smaller theatres to produce there and have it as their home, without stamping their name all over everything, or waving a flag to say, “Look at all the good we’re doing.” I was really moved by that and thought, there’s room to grow those relationships and to see what other synergistic, like-minded organizations in the community might need something and could use something that we might provide. So between the the art, the passion for EDI and inclusion, and this long-term belief in community, it was just the perfect fit.
It’s a big step in scale to lead what you call a “flagship” theatre, from the relatively small if hugely influential Magic. How do you feel about that transition?
I think that the shift is more quantitative than qualitative. People wildly underestimate the skills it takes to hold a small theatre together. I remember Carey Perloff told this story when she first got the job at American Conservatory Theater after being at Classic Stage Company; she was asked, what would be the difference? And she said, “Well, I won’t have to Xerox scripts anymore.” Of course, that was the lede in the Chronicle story! Most people don’t realize how, when you’re running a smaller theatre, you do everything. So in some ways—I’m not saying this will be easier, I’m just saying, it’s going to be different. I’m going to learn enormously from Michael, who has been there for decades, and it has been his passion and his devotion, both the city and the theatre. But I think my biggest learning curve is going to be learning Boston. Like all cities, it’s complicated, and it’s gonna take a while. I’ve got to be there and be present, not just not just with my theatre colleagues but really in the community.
You know, I started at the McCarter, so this is coming full circle. I was at ginormous regional theatre right out of grad school, and I couldn’t have been greener when I arrived. Emily Mann wrapped her arms around me; she really was tough, and I learned so much from her. I knew that she and Jeffrey Woodward were grooming me to run a big flagship theatre. When I left, I think I surprised everybody by not doing that, but I had fallen in love with new plays and wanted to see where that took me. I wanted to become a real artist, because I believe in artists running artistic organizations, and I needed to become a better one, and I wanted to learn from other producers. In my time on the road freelancing, I got George C. Wolfe, I got Carey Perloff. I learned from so many different people. So after that and then 12 years at Magic, really having my fingers in everything, I’m ready to merge what I can do and to have these these bigger conversations.
You mentioned EDIA and the theatre taking this time to “reflect,” so I need to ask for your impressions of your predecessor, Peter DuBois, and what happened during his tenure. Do you get the sense that you’re heading into a situation where a trauma has happened, and a lot of repair and trust-building will be needed?
Here’s how I’ll answer that, Rob. I fly to Boston this week, because I want to spend the first two weeks on the ground with the staff, and then I’m moving there in July. I assume that when I arrive, I will learn more about what you speak of. I’m not naïve, I know things weren’t great, but I don’t really know the history of what went down. What I will tell you is that in the process, which started last August, what was apparent to me was that whatever trauma or bad things or neglect or whatever had happened, Michael and the board and the staff have used this time to do a lot of healing. I got the sense that people have come together and risen above, and that the pandemic also gave us all new challenges to meet. I mean, we saw a lot of theatres just kind of cocoon during this time, but the Huntington has found myriad ways to make things and to be in communion with their people in the community, so I got a sense that there was something very much moving forward.
I can also tell you that it’s clear from my meetings with the staff that they need a lot of artistic love. And I’m a mother hen that way. I think the bar is actually quite low in terms of what they hoped for, and I was like: Okay, lift the bar up. I show up, I come to work, that’s who I am—you’ll probably want to see less of me once I’m here for a while! The good news is that the theatre’s education department, it blows my mind what they’re doing. So I want to see, how does that get integrated in a more organic way? How do we open up—not just to be transparent, because that feels like a half step, but how do we really open access up to what’s happening artistically? Not even, what are we planning, but what are we thinking about? And how do we bring everybody to that table to be as much a part of it as they like?
I know the Huntington has created partnerships with local organizations, like one with the Front Porch Collective, and commissioned a raft of playwrights, so there’s a lot to build on there. I look forward to seeing what you’re able to do there.
And thank you for making me think back to Stop Kiss. I’ll never forget, after a performance, in the back where the one of the parking lots is, a young woman grabbed my arm, and she had mascara down her face, and she basically said, “Thank you, you just told my story.” And I’m like, “Thank you, that’s Diana Son’s play, I just interpreted it.” But it really reminded me of how much theatre means to people when they see themselves reflected for the first time. And that was a big moment for me as a baby director.
Rob Weinert-Kendt (he/him) is the editor-in-chief of American Theatre. firstname.lastname@example.org
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