James C. Nicola (Photo provided by NYTW.)
New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) artistic director James C. Nicola has been at the forefront of Off-Broadway theater for nearly 25 years. NYTW productions have won virtually every major theatre accolade, including the Pulitzer Prize and 25 Tony Awards. The theater’s success on Broadway under Nicola’s leadership has allowed NYTW to continue and expand its core mission: to continue investing in the next generations of artists and to give all their artists the space and resources they need to follow their vision. Come June 30, 2022, it will be time for a new visionary to take the helm when Nicola departs the theater.
“New York Theatre Workshop has been the greatest gift in my entire life and my proudest accomplishment,” said Nicola. “I have been honored to be a steward of this rambunctious, restless community for more than three decades—almost half my life—and I am deeply grateful to those who have given me this sustaining blessing for as long as they have.
In July of 2022, I will reach the age of 72. In my mind, that has always been the moment to interrupt whatever patterns there might be in my life and to leap off a cliff into reinvention. So that is my plan. My departure will be over a year from now, as I intend to see NYTW back to welcoming audiences into our theater and provide the theatre ample time to plan for a smooth transition. I look forward to new adventures and to cheering on the next Artistic Director to create NYTW’s future.”
Nicola has been the Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop since 1988. Under his guidance, NYTW has remained steadfast to its founding commitment of nurturing emerging, mid-career and established theatre artists and promoting collaboration and bold experimentation with theatrical forms.
“Jim is a true visionary whose unique artistry has been assembling a brilliant community of talents, providing them with the space and resources to expand the boundaries of the theatrical form, and connecting them with audiences eager to hear their voices and engage in meaningful conversations about our shared human experience,” said Kelly Fowler Hunter, President of NYTW’s Board of Trustees. “His tireless efforts to ensure that artists are afforded the freedom to fail have led to extraordinary work, and his impact is felt far beyond the Workshop’s home on East 4th Street. New York Theatre Workshop’s Trustees will be forever deeply grateful to Jim for his decades of service to our community and to the American theatre.”
“Jim Nicola is New York Theatre Workshop: his vision has defined what the theater has become under his artistic leadership,” said Stephen Graham, Founding Trustee. “He shared the ideals of those of us who founded the theater, but it took Jim to translate those ideals into reality. He’s more than a great artistic director. Take him for all in all, he’s one of the finest human beings I know.”
In his tenure at NYTW, Nicola initiated and championed an extensive series of workshop opportunities that have continued for over 25 years, including creating the 2050 Artistic Fellowship. Since the 1990s, NYTW has honed an inclusive fellowship program for early-career theatre-makers with various perspectives. These fellowships have taken many forms, supporting playwrights, directors, designers and administrators.
In its current iteration, the 2050 Artistic Fellowship is a yearlong residency for early-career playwrights and directors. The Fellowship provides a space for experimentation, artistic and administrative support, and mentorship. Fellows are early-career artists who, with their unique voices, give us perspective on the world in which we live; and who challenge us all to contend with this changing world. Current 2050 Artistic Fellows include Josiah Davis, Adil Mansoor, Tyler Thomas, Nissy Aya, Ruth Tang and David Zheng; past 2050 Artistic Fellows include Whitney White, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Martyna Majok, Nathan Alan Davis and Shayok Misha Chowdhury.
Nicola also created NYTW’s longstanding Summer Residencies. Beginning with a residency at the Hotchkiss School over thirty years ago, NYTW has hosted a residency program every summer of Nicola’s tenure. These residencies are a place for artists to work with collaborators on various projects; just as importantly, they are a place for artists to retreat from the realities of daily life, reconnect with their artistic impulses, strengthen relationships with existing collaborators, and build community with artists who they may not already know while allowing artists to try out new work.
NYTW has now partnered with Dartmouth College for over 30 years on a collaborative residency program. The Dartmouth summer residency ties directly into Dartmouth’s academics, allowing theater students to be embedded into the rehearsal process as observers, researchers and assistants, and have the opportunity to learn alongside various groups of artists and collaborators.
Works developed at Dartmouth include Jonathan Larson’s RENT, Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, Dael Orlandersmith’s Forever and Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau. Nicola and NYTW also established a residency at Adelphi University, emphasizing director-generated and devised works. Adelphi is also the home to NYTW’s 2050 Fellows Annual Retreat.
Under Nicola’s leadership, NYTW has also launched their Companies-in-Residence, the Mondays @ 3 reading series, the 2050 Administrative Fellowship program, Mind-the-Gap, Learning Workshop, the Next Door at NYTW series and many more public programs and community partnerships.
In the midst of the theatre shutdown, Nicola led the Workshop in finding an opportunity to continue to engage with and offer financial support to NYTW’s artistic community through the creation of the Artistic Instigator program. Artists were asked to imagine work in our present moment that creates community within the given circumstances of social distancing, celebrates the liveness inherent in a theatrical experience, and examines the relationship between theatre, distance and technology. The Artistic Instigator program has resulted in projects from Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, Victor I. Cazares, Celine Song, Theater Mitu and Rubén Polendo, the Dominican Artists Collective, Martha Redbone and Aaron Whitby, Doug Wright, Hilton Als, Modesto Flako Jimenez, and upcoming projects from Jeremy O. Harris, Kristina Wong, Aleshea Harris, Whitney White and more.
Throughout his time at NYTW, Nicola forged a unique community of theatre artists, the Usual Suspects, whose work has shaped the very idea of what theatre can be. This group of writers, directors, designers and actors form the core of NYTW’s artist development activities. NYTW aims to be a resource for their Usual Suspects, providing them with free artist tickets, unlimited access to the theater’s rehearsal and meeting spaces, developmental opportunities and more. The Usual Suspects, created by Nicola, now boasts over 600 members across all disciplines.
As Artistic Director, he has been instrumental in the development of many NYTW productions, including five productions by Caryl Churchill; eight productions directed by Ivo van Hove; Jonathan Larson’s RENT; Tony Kushner’s Slavs! and Homebody/Kabul; Doug Wright’s Quills; Claudia Shear’s Blown Sideways Through Life and Dirty Blonde; Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Valhalla; Martha Clarke’s Vienna: Lusthaus; Will Power’s The Seven and Fetch Clay, Make Man; Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s Aftermath; Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher; Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová and Enda Walsh’s Once; David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus; Dael Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick and Forever; Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown; Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me; Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play; and Sam Gold’s production of Othello; as well as acclaimed works from Mfoniso Udofia, Rachel Chavkin, Ayad Akhtar, Amy Herzog, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Anne Kaufman, Celine Song, Lucas Hnath, Elevator Repair Service and countless others.
Over the coming months, NYTW will be conducting a thorough search for its next Artistic Director. NYTW is committed to an equitable and transparent process and will announce a search firm partner and further details about the timeline for submissions and selections as soon as that information is available.