- By Dan Veaner and staff
- Around Town
Last week the Kitchen Theatre Company (KTC) announced the departure of Producing Artistic Director M. Bevin O’Gara, and that David Winitsky has been named Interim Producing Artistic Director. Founder and Executive Artistic Director of New York’s Jewish Plays Project (JPP), Winitsky, a director and producer, was unanimously named to the position by the KTC Board of Directors. He is also a Cornell graduate who was a student when KTC was founded.
"I am most looking forward to getting us back into the theater, and, that moment when the lights go down and we get to start telling our stories," Winitsky says. " I think that's the thing that I'm most looking forward to, but as somebody who has a long history with Ithaca, I'm so looking forward to meeting the audiences, and meeting the board and staff who I have met online. I'm very much just hungry to get into town and to meet people. "
Winitsky will face special challenges in the coming season, bringing the Kitchen back to its 'Bold. Intimate. Engaging' mission. It is not yet clear when the physical theater will reopen, and while plays had been chosen for the 2020-21 season, he and the Kitchen staff are thinking of replacing some of those choices with scripts that respond to the events of the past two months. Some of the plays and playwrights he has worked with at the JPP may be in the running for next season, but Winitsky says that the primary force driving those decisions is bringing plays that are relevant to the Ithaca community.
"We're saying, 'what kind of conversation needs to happen right now?'," he says. "So we do have a good plan that we could go forward with right now, but the staff and I are reviewing that and thinking about how we need to make those conversations continue to advance the dialogue in our area and in our community."
Winitsky was a Cornell freshman when KTC was founded. At that time the company was performing in various spaces including the now closed Firehouse Theatre. He says those early productions were important influences on him.
“When I was in Ithaca 30 years ago, a group of my acting teachers started this crazy company called the Kitchen Theatre,” said David. “Their first productions -- including their seminal 'Cloud 9' -- are formative theater experiences for me. I am so humbled and honored to return to Ithaca to lead this now-thriving institution through what promises to be a truly unforgettable year.”
Winitsky has directed or assisted on Broadway, off-Broadway, and regionally at Papermill Playhouse, California Shakespeare Company and Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theater. His New York directing credits include the world premiere of H. Levick’s Displaced Wedding (New Worlds Theatre Project) and Brooke Berman's Until We Find Each Other (Best of Festival, MITF). Regional hits include The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Our Dad is in Atlantis (“theater with a capital T”), and Camillo Almonacid’s The Assignment (“all the superlatives”).
He has developed 50 plays from some of the best artists working in New York, including writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff (Come from Away), Robert Askins (Hand to God) , and Lauren Yee (Cambodian Rock Band) ; directors Marc Bruni (Beautiful), and Daniella Topol (Rattlestick Theater); and actors Andrew Polk (The Band’s Visit, Billions) , Ronald Guttman (Mad Men, Homeland) , and Kirrilee Berger (Amazon’s J ust Add Magic). He has also held leadership positions at HERE Arts Center in New York (General Manager) and Playwrights Theater of New Jersey (Producing Director), in addition to positions in commercial theater (Broadway on Broadway, Chicago, Rent, Miss Saigon).
JPP develops contemporary Jewish scripts with community input and play readings around the country. In that sense of community conversation, it is similar to KTC. But, unlike KTC, JPP doesn't produce full scale productions of the scripts, instead advocating to produciong organizations like KTC that they mount productions of the scripts. Winitsky will take a sabbatical leave for the 2020-2021 season to work at KTC, giving the Kitchen Board time to conduct a national search for a new permanent Producing Artistic Director.
Pandemic shutdown rules forced the theater to cancel its production of 'Catch As Catch Can' and its annual fundraiser event. While full scale productions have not been offered online, a virtual 'Script Club' is the equivalent of an online book club. Every two weeks KTC shares a script that the staff has been considering for the 2021 season, and participants discuss it online.
"That's something that I very much want to continue," he says. "The work I've been doing at the JPP is very community engaged, and a lot of it has to do with taking in the opinions of a specific demographic on a specific kind of content. And I really love that. I love to get everybody's opinions. I love to know when you love it. I love to know when you hate it. I love to know when it pushes your buttons in good and bad ways. I love to be engaged in that conversation. I definitely think that we will continue this club in this intermission moment that we're in."
At the end of May Managing Director, Stephen Nunley announced tha KTC is in stable financial condition that will allow it to operate until live performances resume in late fall or early 2021. The closure forced the company to furlough staff as of March 20th and cut expenses, but donors, emergency grant funding have enabled the theatre to function.
"On behalf of the entire staff and board, we are thrilled to welcome David to the Kitchen Theatre Company family. His artistry and expertise will be huge assets not only to the organization but also to our community. We look forward to his guiding the Kitchen to even greater heights over the coming year," says KTC Board President Joel Malina.
Winitsky holds an MFA in Directing from Northwestern, where he studied with Tony Winners Frank Galati, Mary Zimmerman, Tina Landau and Anna Shapiro. He received his BA in Mathematics from Cornell, where he was a College Scholar. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Cornell in Performing and Media Arts, and Jewish Studies, teaching the course 'Sitcom Jews: Ethnic Representation on TV and Stage, 1948-2020'. Winitsky lives in Philadelphia with his wife Elizabeth Samet and two sons. He will commute to Ithaca, generally spending four days a week here. He begins working at KTC July 1st.
"I'm really looking forward to the collective creativity it's going to take us -- audience, community, theater, board -- to respond to this moment," he says. "We all want to be together, but we want to be together safely. We all want to tell stories, but we want to tell the stories that feel are the most critical right now. We all want desperately for the world to move past this just incredibly tense, fraught moment that we're in. I have friends across a lot of different spectrums of ideas, and I don't think anybody's happy right now. I think that we're all looking for the ways that we can move to a place of more harmony and more togetherness and being together in a space. Creating theater is one of the ways that we do that."