Nearly 20 years ago, Lynne Meadow said that when she became artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Club, her dream "was to be at the helm of a major institution in New York City, one about which people would say, ‘I know her work and it's good.'" It's fair to say that her dream has more than come true.
"I've always wanted the name of this theatre to be associated with quality," Meadow says now. "I feel proud that this has been my personal mission, and proud of the accomplishment."
In her 33 years in New York theatre, all as M.T.C.'s artistic director, Meadow has produced or directed more than 400 New York and world premieres. Three productions — Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart, August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and David Auburn's Proof — have won Pulitzer Prizes. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune started at her theatre. So did Ain't Misbehavin', Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! and Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. So it's no surprise that Christine Baranski, herself an M.T.C. veteran, once called Meadow "La Mère of Midtown."
All in all, not bad for a young director from Bryn Mawr College and the Yale School of Drama who, with little experience, was hired in 1972 to run M.T.C. At that time it was a small theatre company in the former Bohemian Benevolent Society headquarters at 321 East 73rd Street. Meadow grew up in New Haven and was attracted to the theatre at an early age. "My mother was very influential," she recalls. "She used to work with amateur theatre groups at our temple. Something happened very early to me when I watched my mom acting in the basement of Temple Mishkan Israel. I thought, ‘This is for me.' But the real cementing thing was that when I was 12 my mother and I appeared in a musical written by Richard Maltby and David Shire at the Yale Dramat, the undergraduate theatre. It was called Grand Tour and starred Gretchen Cryer and Austin Pendleton. Richard went on to direct Ain't Misbehavin' with us."
After Yale, Meadow came to New York, and the artistic directorship of M.T.C. was almost her first New York job. "It was not a time when a lot of women directors were being hired. I probably instinctively had a sense that the only way I would get to direct would be to have the power to hire myself."
Meadow and M.T.C.'s executive director Barry Grove, who has been her partner for 30 years, oversaw their company's move in the mid-1980's to two ceaselessly inventive theatres at City Center. Last year, M.T.C. landed on Broadway with its third and newest stage, the completely restored Biltmore Theatre.
"We really were bursting at the seams at City Center. Barry felt strongly that we needed to work in a larger venue. I credit Barry with saying that this is something that's got to be done."
The most invigorating thing about her job, she says, is the future — "the possibility of something new, of working with new writers, new actors, new forms. I'm still seduced by the magic of the theatre. I am fascinated by the idea that you can make anything happen on a stage. It's a place of infinite imagination."