Weston has a new director

Susanna Gellert (Photo by Roxxe Ireland)

“It’s unbelievably exciting,” Susanna Gellert says about becoming the next director of Weston Playhouse. “It really is a dream come true.” This week Oliver K. Olsen, chairman of the board of directors of the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, announced Susanna Gellert has been chosen to be the company’s new executive artistic director. Last year, Weston founding directors Malcolm Ewen, Tim Fort and Steve Stettler announced the 2018 season would be their last. After 30 years at the helm, they will leave Vermont’s oldest professional as one of its most successful, having just built its second theater, the $10 million Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm. “Where I would say Weston is at this moment is that it’s becoming more and more a centerpiece, not just of the Vermont arts scene, but also nationally,” Gellert said Wednesday by phone. “It’s a place that people go to who are looking to develop new work, new perspectives and points of view, and new ideas — and I think that’s just going to grow over the years. “That’s my hope, certainly,” she said. With 15 years of experience in New York and regional theater, Gellert is now associate producer and director of the studio at New York’s Theatre for a New Audience. “It’s a theater that’s rooted in the work of Shakespeare,” she said. “And the catch line is that it does ‘Shakespeare and other contemporary playwrights,’ so it’s very much a classical theater that is interested in new work.” Which is what Weston does. But much of its reputation comes from traditional musicals. And, though Gellert has been involved in many, it hasn’t been her focus. “For me, Shakespeare, classical theater and musical theater are very proximate because it’s about language, how language creates expression and a large-scale expression — and the possibility of that,” she said. “And musical theater is a constant reinvention in the same way that classic theater is. You really, as an audience and artists, are meeting anew every time. “So I think it makes sense for a place like Weston to be invested in new work,” Gellert said. “And in musical and classical theater, the impulse to approach them as if they were new work is really important.” In fact, Gellert subscribes to the Weston Playhouse motto of “celebrating the classics and nurturing the new.” “It’s a really special theater that can make a home for exciting and joyous musicals and that’s also able to experiment with plays like ‘A Doll’s House, Part Two,’ as they’re doing this season,” she said. “It’s an idea of theater that has been around for a long time, but is really the cornerstone for how theater works in America — where it’s a place for people to come together and think together and have conversations around the work together.” At Theatre for a New Audience, Gellert worked on shows such as Shakespeare’s “Pericles” directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, the world premiere of Adrienne Kennedy’s “He Brought Her Heart Back In A Box,” and award-winning productions of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” and “An Octoroon” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Previously, Gellert was artistic producer and resident director at Center Stage in Baltimore where she developed the theater’s groundbreaking Third Space Initiative and produced “My America,” which commissioned monologues by Christopher Durang, Neil LaBute, Lynn Nottage and others. Gellert currently teaches in the MFA directing program at the New School, and she holds degrees from Yale University School of Drama, Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Gellert became familiar with Weston Playhouse through theater colleagues and living part-time in Shaftsbury for the past seven years. She hopes to move closer to the theater and will begin sharing duties with Stettler, Weston’s current producing artistic director, July 16. Asked whether to expect a continuum or shift at Weston, Gellert’s reply was sure but nuanced. “It is very clear to me, and has been clear to me for a while how loved the three guys are, and how much the theater is identified with them,” she said. “Some theater transitions happen when there really needs to be a leadership change because of something that’s happening in the art or the community. That’s not the case here. “Weston is in a great place, so I feel like it’s very important that I do continue the work that they have been doing — and that the theater is doing,” Gellert said. However, the opening of the smaller state-of-the-art theater Walker Farm opens seemingly endless possibilities of innovation and incubation of new theater. “Built into this continuum is a kind of new phase of this journey,” Gellert said. “The trick is going to be keeping things going on the track that they’re on, but creating a new world.”

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