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Incoming Artistic Director Launches New Era At Pittsburgh Public Theater

Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Marya Sea Kaminski, 40, speaks to a crowd of about 100 subscribers, donors and local talent to announce the 2018-19 lineup for the Pittsburgh Public Theater on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

Marya Sea Kaminski said Pittsburgh made a big impression on her the first time she drove through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. 

Kaminski herself might have had a similar impact with her own first public appearance at Pittsburgh Public Theater, where the incoming artistic director announced the company’s 2018-19 season this week.

The roster of plays she touted to a crowd of subscribers, donors and local stage talent at the O’Reilly Theater was notably more contemporary than is usual at the Public, which under artistic director Ted Pappas has divided its energies between new works and classic titles.

Plays for the new season include Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning 2017 drama Sweat; Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House Part 2; and Kaminski’s own adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The season announcement, an annual event, took place at the Public’s O’Reilly Theater, Downtown on Tuesday night. Both Kaminski and her play announcements were received with loud ovations. Pappas, who led the Public as producing artistic director for 18 years, also spoke, as did Lou Castelli, the long-time Public staffer as incoming managing director will run the company with Kaminski.

In his remarks, Pappas joked that after 18 years at the Public, he felt like he was sending a kid off to college. “It’ll always be my baby, but now it gets to meet some new friends, and it gets to grow in amazing ways I never even imagined.”

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA
Ted Pappas, outgoing producing artistic director at Pittsburgh Public Theater

Kaminski, in turn, called Pappas “a titan of the American theater” who’s “laid an astounding foundation” for the Public’s future. She said she wants to continue his legacy while presenting “familiar classics told in an unexpected way, stretched open to include artists with diverse perspectives,” as well as new stories “that might offer us a chance to invite some new folks into this building and some new conversations onto this stage.” The 2018-19 season is themed “Welcome Home.”

Kaminsky, who is concluding a lauded tenure as associate artistic director at Seattle Repertory Theatre, will take over at the Public this summer.

She told 90.5 WESA that she and Castelli chose four plays for the new season, while Pappas chose two.

The six plays Kaminski announced struck a balance between nodding at the past and looking toward the future. Five are very recent works, including Kate Hamill’s postmodern comedic 2017 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and A Doll’s House Part 2, Lucas Hnath’s critically praised 2017 Broadway drama that’s a sequel to the Ibsen classic.

Among the other new works, the most prominent is Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s 2017 drama about contemporary working-class life in Reading, Pa. Indecent, by iconic playwright Paula Vogel, is an historical drama set in 1920s New York, where a famed Jewish playwright and his acting troupe were all arrested on obscenity charges. And Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime is a literally forward-looking play, set in a near future where holograms of departed love ones are available for purchase.

Kaminski will direct Marjorie Prime, which she added will launch a new series at the Public titled the Innovation Series, focusing on technological ideas and design. She’ll also direct her own adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with a woman in the traditionally male role of the lead character, the magician and deposed monarch Prospero.

Other directors for the season include such nationally up-and-coming names as Desdemona Chiang, who’ll direct Pride and Prejudice, and Justin Emeka, who’ll helm Sweat. Emeka attended Tuesday night’s season announcement. Pappas himself will return to direct A Doll’s House Part 2.

In her talk, Kaminski, 40, also spoke more broadly about her approach to theater. “I don’t really believe in art for art’s sake. I believe in art as a means to connect us,” she said. At Seattle Rep, one of the signature productions during her tenure was an epic adaptation of The Odyssey that included more than 100 members of the community, literally putting Seattle on stage, as Kaminski has said.

“I actually think theater is what happens between a community and an organization, an audience and an artist, and I think that’s really possible here,” she told the crowd at the O’Reilly.

She also acknowledged the members of the local theater community who attended the announcement. “There are a lot of theater innovators in the audience tonight who I admire a lot, and whose work I’ve started to get to know,” she told the crowd.

Asked whether the play selections at the Public reflected her “stamp,” Kaminski said, “I don’t know if my job is so much to put my stamp on Pittsburgh Public Theater as to listen and to start some interesting conversations in the community, and I hope that some of these plays will do that.”