Oskar Eustis, New Head of Public Theater, Speaks

News   Oskar Eustis, New Head of Public Theater, Speaks Oskar Eustis, the new artistic director of the Public Theater, said he will continue the dedication to new writers, female writers and playwrights of color which he began at Trinity Rep—and which, as it would happen, is the tradition at the Public.
Oskar Eustis
Oskar Eustis

"I'm absolutely certain I will," Eustis told Playbill On-Line an hour-and-a-half after he had been offered the Public post. "Artistically, the reason to take the job is the development of new works by diverse populations and works that are socially engaged. That is the thing I love doing the most. That is what, ultimately, made sense about my going there, because it's the thing I care about most."

Eustis said Tony Kushner and Paula Vogel, two playwrights with which he has long been associated, will be seen in future Public seasons, as will newer, lesser-known writers. "Rinne Groff, Sarah Ruhl—we'll be seeing them, too."

The Public's decision came later than initially expected. Perhaps as a result, Eustis will not assume his duties until Jan. 15, 2005, and then only on a part-time basis, with current producer George C. Wolfe continuing on in some capacity yet to be determined. Eustis will take up full-time work on June 1. During the period in-between, Eustis has offered his services to Trinity Rep's transition committee, as they search for a new leader.

Unlike Wolfe, who functioned much as an artistic director would but went by the title of producer, Eustis' official status is the traditional one of a.d. He said the new wording was the work of the board. "I've been an artistic director for many years," he said, "and what it designates is the essential partnership relationship between the artistic director and the executive director, and that's exactly the relationship I'm comfortable working in."

Under Wolfe's leadership, subscribers saw the vision of the Public's signature summer season at Central Park's Delacorte season fluctuate. One year, the outdoor, free series—once home exclusively to the Bard—would play host to a musical, On the Town, another year a production of Chekhov, The Seagull. Eustis said he'd like to see Shakespeare continue as the main attraction in the park. "The thing that I'm most excited about," he enthused, "is putting Shakespeare consistently next to new work; holding up a model of the most ambitious, most socially engaged writer we've ever had in the English language."

Another earmark of Wolfe's reign—one for which he was often criticized—were financially and artistically risky Broadway mountings. Some, such as Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk and Topdog/Underdog, added to the Public's reputation and coffers. Others, such as On the Town and The Wild Party, had near disastrous effects.

Eustis said he discussed the subject in detail with the board.

"The board and I had an excellent discussion of this, and the board was unanimous in clarifying that the moving of shows to Broadway, or any kind of commercial run, was an ancillary bi-product of the Public fulfilling its mission. When it happens, it can be really advantageous, but it's not the mission of the Public. That's very important to me."

He added, however, that "there are times when it is not only financially advantageous to the theatre, but when that is the way to make the work reach the largest number of people."

As the artistic director of San Francisco's Eureka Theatre Company, and then of Rhode Island's Trinity Rep, Eustis has directed many a noteworthy production, among them the world premieres of Kushner's most famous work, Angels in America, Emily Mann's Execution of Justice, and Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home. However, he said that directing assignments will become a lesser priority at the Public.

"I will be surprised if I direct more than once a year. My prime focus and identity will be as a producer. That's the skill I bring to the table. I think what the Public really needs is somebody who gets as invested as I do in the work of other artists."