Wynn Handman is the Artistic Director of The American Place Theatre, which he co-founded with Sidney Lanier and Michael Tolan in 1963. His role in the theatre has been to seek out, encourage, train, and present new and exciting writing and acting talent and to develop and produce new plays by living American writers. In addition, he has initiated innovative Arts Education Programs, such as Literature to Life®.
Mr. Handman has been instrumental in bringing to the stage the early work of many of America’s finest playwrights, including William Alfred, Ed Bullins, Phillip Hayes Dean, Maria Irene Fornes, Ron Milner, Jonathan Reynolds, Ronald Ribman, Sam Shepard, and Steve Tesich. He has introduced plays by writers from other areas, such as Donald Barthelme, Robert Lowell, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Robert Penn Warren. Important writer/performers received early recognition through their work at The American Place Theatre, including Bill Irwin for The Regard of Flight, Eric Bogosian for Drinking in America, John Leguizamo for Mambo Mouth, Aasif Mandvi for Sakina’s Restaurant, and Dael Orlandersmith for Beauty’s Daughter.
He is a recipient of the 1999 Obie for Sustained Achievement; the Lucille Lortell Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the league of Off-Broadway Theatres in 1993; the Rosetta LeNoire Award in 1994 from Actor’s Equity Association in recognition of his artistic achievements and contribution to the “universality of the human experience in American theatre”; two Audelco for Excellence in Black Theatre Awards, as Best Director for Zora Neale Hurston, in 1990, and Fly in 1998; the Carnegie Mellon Drama Commitment to Playwriting Award in 1996; the Working Theatre’s Sanford Meisner Service Award for “his leadership in disseminating the arts to working people,” and was honored by The New Federal Theatre in 2001. In addition, he received from the Alumni Association of City College of New York, The Townsend Harris Medal, “in recognition of his distinguished contributions to his chosen field of work and the welfare of his fellow men." In May of 2003, Mr. Handman was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of Miami.
Plays he has directed at The American Place Theatre include: Manchild in the Promised Land which he adapted from the novel by Claude Brown; I Stand Before You Naked by Joyce Carol Oates; Words, No Music by Calvin Trillin; Drinking in America by Eric Bogosian; A Girl’s Guide to Chaos by Cynthia Heimel; Free Speech in America, and Bibliomania by Roger Rosenblatt, with Ron Silver; Coming Through also adapted by Mr. Handman; Spokeman written and performed by John Hockenberry; Fly by Joseph Edward; and Dreaming in Cuban and Other Works: Rhythm, Rum, Café con Leche and Nuestros Abuelos by Cristina Garcia and Michael Garcés. Also, he has adapted and directed many of the American Humorists’ Series productions.
A noted teacher for over 50 years, in his professional acting classes, Mr. Handman has trained many outstanding actors including: Alec Baldwin, James Caan, Kathleen Chalfont, Chris Cooper, Michael Douglas, Sandy Duncan, Richard Gere, Joel Grey, Allison Janney, Raul Julia, Frank Langella, John Leguizamo, Susan Lucci, Donna Mills, Burt Reynolds, Tony Roberts, Anna Devere Smith, Mira Sorvino, Christopher Walken, Denzel Washington, and Joanne Woodward.
No one says it better than Shakespeare: On Your Imaginary Forces Work!
Managing Director, Acting Executive Director
Jennifer Barnette's career began at an early age as an arts practitioner and advocate. Her multiple associations with community-based organizations led to her appointment as the Managing Director of The American Place Theatre in 2003.
Now entering her 10th year of providing guidance for the leadership of APT, Jennifer is committed to leading the Staff and Board of Trustees into its next chapter. Among her priorities are building a new philanthropic base for extended week in-school community engagements outside of New York and incorporating the broader New York community with existing and future Literature to Life students and their schools.
Jennifer is dedicated to ensuring that APT preserves its reputation for creating theatre and educational programming of unsurpassed quality for now 50 years. She works closely with and on behalf of the organization's esteemed Founder/Artistic Director, Wynn Handman, to produce dramatic work that features the country's richest artistic talents with the least possible indirect costs. Since 2002, she has managed the producing side of ten new Literature to Life theatrical adaptations, having introduced three of those book titles to the roster. Jennifer shares the organization's belief that the quality of artist educators who provide direct student services must match the masterful level of acting in APT productions. In 2004, she secured pilot funding for and developed/managed APT's highly successful Teaching Artist Training program in New York City. In the coming years, she will guide the expansion of this program to include Master Teaching Artists in other parts of the country, enabling extended residencies to reach students beyond the New York City Department of Education.
In partnership with the organization's former Executive Director David Kener, Jennifer created and has produced the annual Literature to Life Awards for the past seven years. This honor has provided a significant source for fundraising for APT and has been placed prominently on the book jackets of such important contemporary American literature as Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle. Jennifer is particularly effectual in meeting organizational capacity needs with minimal overhead cost. Among the pro-bono relationships secured and nurtured under her leadership are multi-year design, CRM database, event, and fundraising related vendors. She has worked closely with APT's Educational Staff to create educationally practical and pedagogically effective materials that accompany Literature to Life performances and workshops. Jennifer has also managed administrative, programmatic, and development activities in an effort to meet organizational goals set by the Board of Trustees and senior leadership. She is most proud to lead a staff of tenacious and loyal professionals who are committed to the belief that students' lives are made richer by great theatre and great literature.
Jennifer's drive towards non-profit leadership took root as early as elementary school. Her parents demonstrated a personal commitment to the vitality of community arts organizations through exceptional volunteer time and board governance, and they invited Jennifer and her siblings to be involved at every level of their work: from advocacy of the Blount Cultural Gardens and Historic District to marketing for the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra to events at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. As a student, a state-wide winning history project in middle school entitled "Economics of the Arts" evolved into internships with both State and Local Arts Councils, all while working as an apprentice to the professional ballet company in Montgomery, AL. She went on to earn a BS in Theatre and Dance. Building upon her admiration for corporate philanthropist and patron of the arts, Winton "Red" Blount, Jr., she then received her Masters in Arts Administration with a focus on corporate sponsorship of the arts.
Director of National Education
Gwen Brownson, as the newly created Director of National Education, will oversee the national outreach of Literature to Life by managing and administering programming for Literature to Life. She also oversees curriculum development for all new Literature to Life content and designs and oversees the Theatre's Annual Teaching Artist Training Program. Gwen has been producing, directing, teaching and acting in the theatre for over 20 years. She received her Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts from UCLA and her Masters Degree in Educational Theatre from NYU. Gwen acted as Education Director for The Catskill’s Theatre Program in Los Angeles, Co-Director of Theatre for Young Audiences at Manhattan Theatre Source and founded the After School Theatre Program at The Old Vineyard Theatre in New York.
Gwen produced and co-directed the critically acclaimed productions, The Magic MetroCard and This is Not a Pipe Dream under the foundling production company The Paddywack Players for which she acted as Artistic Director. While in Los Angeles Gwen was a producing member of Theatre of Note, one of the oldest theatre companies in Southern California - where she directed a successful run of her own original theatre piece, Aftershock. Gwen is the coauthor of the critically acclaimed play The Magic MetroCard, which was published in an anthology of short plays in 2005. She has taught in schools throughout New York and Los Angeles and as an actor has performed at The Provincetown Playhouse, The Rita and Burton Goldberg Theatre, HERE Art’s Center, Manhattan Theatre Source, LATC, and The Actor’s Theatre of Seattle to name a few.
Associate Director of Literature to Life Programs
Rob Bradshaw joined The American Place Theatre in the Spring of 2008. He currently holds a MA in Theatre Studies with a concentration in Arts Management and a BA in Theatre Studies from Montclair State Univeristy in New Jersey. Over the past several years, Rob has collaborated with several companies including Park Players, Centenary Stages, The Carl Pfeifer Performing Arts Center, Arts and Cultural Programming at the Kasser Theatre, Saddle River Youth Theatre, The Highlands Regional Playhouse, Theatre in the Raw, The Playwrights Theatre of NJ, Luna Stage, Strange.Dog Theatre, and Cafe Theatre. He has also been recognized as an acting coach and director by the SSDC, The Kennedy Center, and the National Partners/American Theatre.
Associate Director: Education Programs
Manuel Simons brings more than 20 years of experience as a professional actor, writer, director, producer, and educator to his theatre and teaching artistry to his work as Associate Director: Education Programs. In New York City, London, and Buenos Aires, Manuel has taught theatre for youth and adults in public schools and conservatories. As a Literature to Life Master Teaching Artist, he works locally and tours nationally to conduct arts-integrated classes, workshops, and residencies for K-12 and college students. In professional development settings, he teaches educators to create innovative curriculums with dramatic activities. Manuel is a professor at New Jersey City University and The Borough of Manhattan Community College where he teaches Speech, Creative Writing, and Literature & Film. He holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Theatre and a Bachelor’s Degree in Acting, both from New York University.
His acting credits include national and regional tours of Driving Miss Daisy, The Stone Guest (based on Moliere’s Don Juan), and Murder at Café Noir. His New York theatre credits include Suzan-Lori Parks’ El Silencio Grande at The Public Theater, Faux-Real Theatre Company’s William Shakespeare’s Haunted House at The Public Theatre, Not in My Name with The Living Theatre, and Shakespearean roles as diverse as Hamlet, Richard III, and Malvolio. Amongst his many on-screen credits, he played Watergate villain Jeb Stuart Magruder in Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, and has appeared on Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, and Sex and the City. Manuel’s screenplay, Unlikely Cowboys, was a New Century Writers Award Quarter-Finalist. His solo play, Queer in the U.S.A., was developed on the stages of The Provincetown Playhouse and The American Place Theatre, and will begin touring this summer at the Kansas City Fringe Festival.
Alexandra Scuro joined The American Place Theatre as Development and Finance Associate in the Summer of 2010. She holds Bachelors Degrees in English and History from the University of Florida and a Juris Doctor from Fordham University. She cultivated a strong enthusiasm for primary and secondary education by working at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth (CTY) for two summers and coordinating the New York City Bar Association’s 2006 Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program. Alexandra is also passionate about literature and the performing arts. Her two favorite books – The Things They Carried and Three Cups of Tea – are on the Literature to Life® roster.
Associate Artistic Director
Elise Thoron, as Artistic Associate at The American Place Theatre in New York 1991-97, worked on new play development, where she developed and directed plays: ranging from Carson Kreitzer’s Slow Drag to Michael Garces’ (bilingual), (The Site); and three one-person shows: The Mayor of Boys Town; Extreme Girl; I Love America, all of which have gone on to other venues and cities after American Place. While at American Place, Elise also helped launch a highly successful educational program Literature to Life (now nation-wide).
Her Literature to Life adaptation of The House on Mango Street has been playing for students for over fifteen years. She recently developed County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle with Tony award winning poet Lemon Andersen and has returned to the theater as Associate Artistic Director. Her current project is the new Literature to Life adaptation for the 2010-11 Season of the Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Elise Thoron’s music theater pieces have been developed and produced both in the United States and Europe. Green Violin, based on murals Marc Chagall painted for the first Soviet Yiddish Theater, music by Frank London of the Klezmatics, premiered Prince Music Theater, (Winner 4 Barrymore Awards, 2003); Teatr na Mokhvaya, St. Petersburg (2005); Jewish Music Festival, Amsterdam (2006); in Russian at Hermitage Theater, Moscow (2008), published in Nine Contemporary Jewish Plays.
Her first piece based on the paintings of Charlotte Salomon, Charlotte: Life? or Theater? music by Gary Fagin, premiered at The Prince Music Theater (2001); The Met Theater, Los Angeles (2007); also United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Hermitage Theater, St. Petersburg; Soho Theatre, London and in Amsterdam with a major exhibition of Charlotte Salomon’s paintings (2002). Prozak and the Platypus music by singer/songwriter Jill Sobule, Summer Play Festival (Beckett Theatre, New York, 2004); New York State Summer School for the Arts (2005); Brand: New, Hartford Stage, (2006) CD and graphic novella release (2007). The Thief of Venice about the life of 16C Venetian courtesan and poet, Veronica Franco, currently in development in London. She has adapted/directed two music theater pieces commissioned by Bard Summer Music Festival: Good Morning Moscow, (Shostakovich) Sosnoff Theater, Fisher Arts Center; Correspondence based on the letters of Tchaikovsky and his patroness, Baroness Von Meck.
Since 1985, Elise has created cross-cultural collaborations with Russian and American theater artists through the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and ASTI in Moscow, an organization she founded. She has received many grants, and American and Russian government support for her Russian-American exchange work, which covers a wide variety of theatrical disciplines. She continues today with a focus on musical theater. She directed the first Sam Shepherd play in Russian in Moscow (1989), and later adapted/directed, The Great Gatsby, which played in repertory at the Pushkin Theater for over nine years. She created a company of American and Russian actors for bilingual productions of Oleg Antonov’s Egorushka in America and Constance Congdon’s No Mercy in Russia. She has translated the work of the Russian playwrights: Liudmila Petrushevskaya and Alexander Galin, for production and publication in the United States and Canada.
Just as we'd like to know more about you and your educational needs, we thought you'd like to know a bit more about behind the scenes and Who's Who at The American Place Theatre. Be sure and check out our Staff Bios and Director's Statements to learn more about who's on the other end of the line when you call.
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Our Intern Corps
The Fall 2010 Intern Corps is made up of three remarkably talented future leaders in the field. Katie McGhee, Elizabeth Stone, and Liz Zaita are lending artistic, educational and technological support to our Staff and Company. Keep a look out for details on their contributions and blogs about their observations.
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Email Elizabeth, Educational & Outreach Intern
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