Campus & Community

Three new appointments at the A.R.T.

7 min read
Robert Orchard, Robert Woodruff and Gideon
Robert Orchard (left), newly appointed executive director of the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), shares the stage with new artistic director Robert Woodruff and Gideon Lester, the A.R.T.’s new associate artistic director/dramaturg. (Staff photo by Kris Snibbe)

Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine announced today the appointments of Robert Woodruff as artistic director, Gideon Lester as associate artistic director/dramaturg, and Robert J. Orchard as executive director of the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) to take effect in August 2002.

This change in leadership is the result of a yearlong effort which began in March 2000 when the A.R.T.’s Founding artistic director, Robert Brustein, made public his desire to “begin preparing for the time when I will be yielding my day-to-day artistic leadership of the A.R.T. to someone who can represent a rising generation of talent.” Woodruff will officially assume the title of artistic director on Aug. 1, 2002. In the coming year under the artistic direction of Robert Brustein, Woodruff has been engaged as artistic director-designate.

Beginning in July 2002, Brustein will be on sabbatical leave, returning to the A.R.T. a year later as founding director and creative consultant.

In making these appointments Rudenstine stated: “This is a significant and exciting moment in the development of the A.R.T. It has been clear from the beginning that there was no way to ‘replace’ Robert Brustein, given his extraordinary national leadership in drama for more than three decades. But Robert Woodruff’s appointment as artistic director of the A.R.T. brings to Harvard and the broader community of greater Boston – and beyond – one of the most brilliant and deeply reflective directors in the world of theater. He knows the A.R.T. well, he understands universities, and he cares passionately about the capacity of drama to create powerful aesthetic and social experiences for people from all walks of life.

“In addition, Gideon Lester will take on new challenges – working with Rob Orchard and Robert Woodruff – in his new role as associate director/dramaturg of the A.R.T. Gideon has already made very important contributions to the vitality and quality of the A.R.T productions, and he will now be a senior partner in the new team being assembled. Rob Orchard will lead that team, bringing all his experience and many capabilities to the task of sustaining the high standard already set by the A.R.T., while also creating new pathways for the future of the company. I am fully confident that the A.R.T. will continue to present powerful interpretations of classical and contemporary theater to our many audiences, long into the future.”

Brustein observed: “I am deeply satisfied with the appointments of Robert Woodruff and Gideon Lester as my successors, as well as by the promotion of Rob Orchard to executive director. The appointment of Rob Orchard assures the managerial continuity of the A.R.T. through the agency of a brilliant administrator long associated with the company. The appointment of Gideon Lester as associate artistic director/dramaturg overseeing the humanistic work of the theater demonstrates our ongoing commitment to youth and to the talent trained under the auspices of the A.R.T. Institute. And the appointment of Robert Woodruff as artistic director-designate signals our determination to remain on the cutting edge of theatrical advance with one of the most accomplished directors in the world.”

As a director, Robert Woodruff’s distinguished career involves more than 50 professional productions in this country and abroad, many of which have been the recipients of numerous awards. His work at the A.R.T. includes the recent productions of “In the Jungle of Cities” and “Full Circle,” both of which won the Elliot Norton award for best direction of the year. Woodruff also directed the current A.R.T. production of Shakespeare’s “Richard II.” He is the co-founder of the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, and founder of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

Woodruff is also a dedicated teacher, having taught at the A.R.T. Institute, New York University, and the University of California at San Diego and Santa Barbara. He is currently assistant professor at the Hammerstein Center for Theatre Studies at Columbia University.

Lester is a graduate of Oxford University and the A.R.T. Institute and has served as the dramaturg of the A.R.T. for the past four years. In his role as associate artistic director, Lester will be working closely with Woodruff and Orchard in shaping and implementing the artistic and institutional goals of the organization, including the A.R.T.’s engagement with Harvard students and faculty. Most recently, Lester helped to adapt and served as the translator for the János Szász production of Brecht’s “Mother Courage.” Lester also teaches at the A.R.T. Institute and at Harvard College.

Orchard co-founded the A.R.T. with Brustein and has served as managing director since 1979. In this capacity he has administered nearly 150 productions, including 83 world and American premieres, as well as tours to more than 100 cities in 15 countries. He is the architect of the A.R.T.’s collaboration with the Moscow Art Theatre and its affiliated school and has been active as a consultant in Russia since 1985. Orchard has served on numerous national and local boards. Last spring he was named to succeed Robert Brustein as director of the Loeb Drama Center at Harvard and received the coveted Elliot Norton Prize for sustained excellence. As executive director, Orchard will work in partnership with Woodruff and Lester to ensure the health and vitality of the A.R.T.

In reflecting on this change in leadership Orchard said, “The A.R.T. is privileged to be able to extend the extraordinary legacy of Robert Brustein by engaging the many talents of Robert Woodruff and Gideon Lester. Our commitment to professional production and training and undergraduate education will benefit enormously from their vision and experience. I can’t wait to get started. I also want to thank President Rudenstine and Dean Jeremy Knowles for their supportive and sensitive leadership in this process.”

Woodruff commented, “In accepting this position I look forward to furthering the imaginative and daring leadership of Robert Brustein, who has created one of the country’s flagship theater companies. In partnership with Rob Orchard and Gideon Lester, we will continue to develop iconoclastic work with a great company of gifted artists and collaborators from around the country and abroad. My thanks to President Rudenstine and Dean Knowles of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in making this appointment, and to Robert Brustein for his vision and support.”

Lester added, “I’m delighted to be joining Robert Woodruff and Rob Orchard at the helm of the American Repertory Theatre. Robert Brustein has established one of the most exciting theater companies in the country, and it will be an honor to preserve and extend his legacy. A.R.T. has been my artistic home and training ground for six years, and I’m looking forward to many more seasons of outstanding, innovative theater. President Rudenstine should be congratulated on appointing Robert Woodruff, one of the world’s finest directors, to serve as artistic director of this great institution.”