Second Stage Becomes First Broadway Nonprofit in Decades to Name New Leader - The World News

Second Stage Becomes First Broadway Nonprofit in Decades to Name New Leader

Second Stage Theater, one of the four nonprofit organizations with Broadway houses, on Thursday named a new artistic director as the sector braces for a wave of leadership turnover.

Founded in 1979 and distinguished by its commitment to presenting work by living American writers, Second Stage said that its board had chosen Evan Cabnet as its next artistic director. Cabnet is currently the artistic director of LCT3, Lincoln Center Theater’s program for emerging writers, directors and designers. Cabnet will succeed Carole Rothman, one of the theater’s founders, who led the organization for 45 years and is stepping down in August.

Second Stage has a proud history of presenting acclaimed work, including the Pulitzer-winning shows “Between Riverside and Crazy,” “Water by the Spoonful” and “Next to Normal.” Its plays and musicals have won multiple other honors; most recently, the organization’s production of “Appropriate” won this year’s Tony Award for best play revival.

Second Stage owns Broadway’s smallest house, the 600-seat Hayes Theater. Like many nonprofit theaters, Second Stage has reduced its footprint since the pandemic — it let go of its Off Off Broadway space on the Upper West Side, and at the end of this year is letting go of its Off Broadway venue in Times Square, although it plans to continue to produce such work in other spaces. The organization currently has 47 staffers and an annual budget of $27 million; this season it is planning to stage two Broadway shows, two Off Broadway shows and a Next Stage Festival for early-career work.

The leadership of the four Broadway nonprofits has not changed for decades, and the industry is closely watching to see how a new generation of leaders might differ from its predecessors. Two of the other nonprofits will also be looking for new artistic leaders: Lincoln Center Theater’s producing artistic director, André Bishop, is ending his 33-year tenure next spring, and Roundabout Theater Company’s artistic director and chief executive, Todd Haimes, died last year after 40 years at that organization. (The fourth Broadway nonprofit, Manhattan Theater Club, is led by Lynne Meadow, who has been that organization’s artistic director for 52 years.)

Cabnet, 46, is a Philadelphia native who has lived in New York since 1996 and currently resides in Brooklyn. He has led LCT3 since 2016; previously he was a freelance director and an artistic associate at Roundabout. He will start his new job on Sept. 1; the first season to feature shows he chooses will begin in the fall of 2025. In an interview, he talked about his plans; these are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Why did you want this job?

My commitment is, and has always been, to new work, and contemporary American work, and new voices, and the alignment of my personal mission and the institution’s mission felt like an extraordinarily good fit. I am excited not only to work with new and emerging talent but also to be a champion of more established writers, and to be able to revive recent plays that are worth another look.

Second Stage has had this commitment to living American writers. Do you intend to maintain that commitment?

Yes. Carole’s legacy is extraordinary — it’s unrivaled. And it’s my hope, it’s my task, it’s my dream to uphold and honor that legacy. The mission will remain the same.

I’m assuming you did some due diligence before taking this position. What is your sense of the health of Second Stage?

It’s an extraordinarily healthy organization.

But, like many nonprofits, they’re doing fewer shows than they were, and they’ve let go of the Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway venues.

Look, there are challenges across the not-for-profit theater world. The first thing I always look at is the quality of work on the stages — that’s always the most important thing — and if you look at what Second Stage has done, especially in the last couple seasons, it’s extraordinary. And the truth is theater has always had challenges — I don’t see it as any more challenging than before the pandemic, it’s just a different set [of challenges].

Should Second Stage have a permanent Off Broadway home?

The amount of moving parts that have to go into a decision like that include information that I don’t have yet. What I can say is that it’s less about real estate, and more about what kind work we’re producing, who are the artists that we’re championing, and what kind of audiences we’re welcoming.

This will be your first job where you’re responsible for programming a Broadway stage.

It’s thrilling. What we have learned recently is that there’s a real appetite for serious American plays on Broadway. I don’t say “serious” like they all need to be tragedies, but I mean formidable. We have proven this. And this is very much in alignment with what I’ve been doing for a long time.

Do you think Second Stage is becoming a primarily Broadway company, or what’s your level of interest in the Off Broadway part of the operations?

We treat all of our initiatives equally. There are the established writers and the established plays that we will produce in the Hayes; there are midcareer or maybe emerging artists that we’ll be producing Off Broadway; and the Next Stage Festival will give opportunities to writers who have never been produced at that level. We don’t play favorites. All of them are the most important, and all of them get an equal amount of our attention.

Do you feel like the country is awash with excellent work, so you have amazing options, or do you feel like there’s a large number of nonprofits grappling for a handful of excellent shows?

There are so many playwrights in America who are working at such an unbelievably high level and we can see it when we’re looking at not-for-profit seasons all across the city — there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great plays. But an extraordinary thing about Second Stage’s mission is the recent revival piece of the puzzle — “Appropriate” is an excellent example of that. Over the last 20, 25 years we’ve seen so many incredible plays produced at institutions that, for whatever reason, had a short run or didn’t get the attention it deserved, and one of the things that Second Stage is well-suited to do is give these plays another life so that they can assume their place as part of the American canon.

What’s your position on movie stars?

I always start with the play. We figure out who is the best person for the role, and we go from there. Sometimes it is a famous actor, and sometimes it isn’t.

I associate you with plays. Second Stage has done some important musicals Off Broadway over time [“Dear Evan Hansen,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Next to Normal”]. Do you have any affection for that art form?

Absolutely. I want to consider those projects, and I want that to be part of the lifeblood of the organization moving forward, especially Off Broadway.

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