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The Public Theater Names Shanta Thake & Saheem Ali Associate Artistic Directors

Stage Directions • Industry News • August 27, 2020

Saheem Ali and Shanta Thake (Photos by Simon Luethi and Gregory Kramer)

The Public Theater announced that Saheem Ali and Shanta Thake have been named Associate Artistic Directors as part of an expanded and restructured artistic leadership team. Increased demands for equity and accountability within the theater industry have sparked a long overdue moment of change, and The Public is stepping into this moment and working toward building an anti-racist institution by transforming its artistic leadership and beginning to rebuild existing structures and systems.

Ali will serve as Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director, Thake will be Associate Artistic Director and Director of Artistic Programs, and Mandy Hackett continues as Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Theater Productions. Each associate artistic director will have their own areas of focus and responsibilities, as referenced by their secondary titles.

“Saheem, Shanta, and Mandy, in their joint capacity as associate artistic directors, will be core to the artistic leadership team, and alongside me, they will contribute to and create the overall artistic direction of The Public, in all its manifestations,” said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “This restructuring celebrates the growth and strength of our artists, diversifies the artistic decision-making authority at The Public, distributes leadership, and opens up our decision making to more voices. There is much more work to come, and shortly, but I believe this is an important step in the process of The Public becoming a more progressive, just, and anti-racist institution.”

Ali, who will start at The Public effective immediately, most recently directed the four-part radio play of Free Shakespeare on the Radio: Richard II. For years, he has also been deeply involved with The Public not only as a director, but also as an active community member and leader dedicated to improving and guiding the institution’s cultural transformation work.

“It is a joy to welcome Saheem Ali onto the staff of The Public, where he has already made a home in the last few years,” said Eustis. Saheem is a brilliantly talented and versatile director, a calm and powerful leader, and a man whose values and integrity are a perfect match for The Public. I have grown to cherish and rely on him in the last years, and I eagerly look forward to working with him to craft the future of The Public. His duties will involve seeding, creating, developing, and directing productions for all the stages of The Public Theater, serving to craft the plays, programs, and policies of The Public at the highest artistic level.”

“I’ve been an ardent admirer of The Public since I first immigrated to this country from Kenya, with the dual dream of becoming an artist and an American citizen,” said Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director Ali. “Having worked at The Public as a freelance director, I’m absolutely thrilled to be calling it my new artistic home. These are turbulent times for our country and our field. We’ve been reminded that the journey towards racial equality is far from over. As a theater community, we must continue to ask what we can do better and consider the ways in which we have been inadvertently but effectively complicit in the tenets of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. I look forward to working with Oskar, Mandy, Shanta, Patrick, and the extraordinary staff of The Public, as we evolve in these challenging times, and strive to continue the exemplary programming synonymous with social engagement and artistic excellence.”

Thake currently oversees all artistic programs, including Joe’s Pub, Mobile Unit, Under the Radar, Public Shakespeare Initiative, Public Works, and Public Forum. In her new role, she will continue to oversee those programs, while also expanding her responsibilities as associate artistic director.

“Over her 18 years at The Public, Shanta has grown into one of the most accomplished and innovative leaders in our field. She did a masterful job shepherding Joe’s Pub, and for the last two years, she has guided our artistic programs to increasing excellence and prominence. Elevating her is a tribute both to the importance of those programs, and to Shanta’s increasing importance as an artistic pillar of The Public.”

“The Public’s breadth of programming and support of multiple voices telling new American narratives has always been a source of deep inspiration and pride for me personally and professionally – I am so honored to work alongside these amazing artists and colleagues in this complicated, revolutionary time to reflect our changing relationships to our world and each other,” said Associate Artistic Director and Director of Artistic Programs Thake.

Ali and Thake will work alongside Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Productions Mandy Hackett, who will continue to lead The Public’s commercial project efforts from the earliest stage of development and production of shows at The Public through respective Broadway transfers.

“Mandy Hackett has served this theater with skill and passion for 15 years, shepherding both our commercial productions and our relationships with countless artists, from Suzan-Lori Parks to Danai Gurira,” said Eustis. “She will continue to be central to the artistic profile of this theater as she is joined by Shanta and Saheem.”

“I am delighted to work with Shanta and Saheem in this new capacity. Shanta has been a cherished colleague whom I have deeply respected for her commitment to artists, her thoughtful and incisive mind, and innovative spirit. I have also greatly admired Saheem’s work as a director, his work ethic and vision, and look forward to him joining our team,” said Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Productions Hackett. “There is much more work ahead for us to do, but I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Saheem and Shanta as we begin this journey together.”

 

Bios
Saheem Ali
(Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director) has worked as a freelance director on new plays, musicals, and classics. This summer, he conceived for the radio and directed Richard II starring André Holland for The Public, in collaboration with WNYC. Recent productions include Shipwreck (Woolly Mammoth), Fires in The Mirror (Signature Theatre), The Rolling Stone (Lincoln Center Theater), The New Englanders (MTC), and Passage (Soho Rep). His original musical Goddess, with Michael Thurber and Jocelyn Bioh, will receive its world premiere at Berkeley Rep in 2021. Other past productions include Fireflies (Atlantic Theater Company), Dangerous House (Williamstown Theater Festival), Sugar in Our Wounds (MTC), Tartuffe (Playmakers Rep), Where Storms Are Born (WTF), Twelfth Night (The Public Theater Mobile Unit), Kill Move Paradise (National Black Theater), Nollywood Dreams (Cherry Lane), and Dot (Detroit Public Theater). Saheem works extensively on new work and has workshopped plays and musicals at The Public, Playwrights Horizons, The Playwrights Realm, MCC, New Dramatists, O’Neill Musical Theater Conference, New York Stage & Film, Roundabout Underground, Page 73, NAMT, and The Lark. He is a New York Theater Workshop Fellow and Usual Suspect, a Sir John Gielgud SDCF Fellow, and a Shubert Fellow. He holds an MFA from Columbia University.

Mandy Hackett (Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Productions) is at the forefront of non-profit leadership with over 20 years’ experience in producing exceptional theater. During her tenure at The Public, Mandy has launched innovative new programming including Public Lab, Public Studio, Emerging Writers Group, and The Master Writer Chair. Mandy shepherds The Public’s commercial producing from early stages of development and production at The Public through Broadway transfers and international tours on such productions including Fun Home, Girl From the North Country, Eclipsed, Sweat, Latin History for Morons, and Sea Wall/A Life, among others. In addition, Mandy produces The Public’s annual gala at The Delacorte Theater and sits on the Nominating/Governance committee of the Board. Prior to joining The Public, Mandy was the founder of The Underwood Theater, a company dedicated to producing new work from emerging playwrights. At Underwood, she produced the world premiere of Julian Sheppard’s Buicks (nominated for two Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play and Outstanding Lead Actor, Norbert Leo Butz) and the New York premiere of Sunil Kuruvilla’s Fighting Words. Prior to founding the Underwood Theater, Mandy served as Literary Manager/Resident Dramaturg at New York Theatre Workshop where she had the privilege of collaborating on many projects including Jonathan Larson’s Rent, James Lapine’s Dirty Blonde, Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, Doug Wright’s Quills, and David Rabe’s A Question of Mercy, among many others. Mandy sits on the boards of The Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History and Almasi Arts, a Zimbabwe based arts advocacy organization founded by Danai Gurira. She graduated cum laude from Columbia University, and lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Shanta Thake (Associate Artistic Director and Director of Artistic Programs) oversees the growth and development of The Public Theater’s artistic programs, including Public Works, Mobile Unit, Under the Radar, Joe’s Pub, The Public Shakespeare Initiative and Public Forum. Previously, she spent 10 years as the Director of Joe’s Pub, the intimate cabaret venue which hosts over 700 shows annually and is consistently hailed as one of New York City’s most prestigious venues for both emerging and established artists. In addition, she is the co-director of GlobalFEST, North America’s world music festival and non-profit organization whose mission is to foster cultural exchange and to increase the presence of world music in diverse communities nationwide, and in this role received the William Dawson award for Programmatic Excellence. She has served as the co-chair for The Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference in 2019 and 2020. She received a B.A. in theater as well as a degree in management from Indiana University and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Further information from The Public Theater: publictheater.org

 

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