Theatreworks/USA founders Jay Harnick and Charles Hull, advocates and producers of children's theatre for 39 years, are retiring June 30 and passing their troupe to proteges Barbara Pasternack and Ken Arthur, who become artistic director and managing director, respectively.
At a gala benefit May 8, Harnick and Hull were honored by the theatre community, including some of the countless writers, composers, actors and directors who found employment at the renowned children's/family theatre troupe over the years: Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham, four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks, Tony Award-winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens, Tony-winning actor Roger Bart, Chuck Cooper, Tony nominee Kevin Chamberlin, and Richard Kind (of TV's "Spin City").
At the gala, Harnick and Hull were awarded The Medal of Honor from The Actors' Fund of America. The prestigious award is given to visionary corporate, political and entertainment leaders. Past recipients include Helen Hayes, Richard Rodgers, Neil Simon, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters.
"[Harnick and Hull's] work has helped change the notion of children's theatre as entertainment solely for young children into a diverse, exciting genre that is entertaining and enjoyable for the entire family," Pasternack said in a statement. "Over the course of their careers, they have used this platform to bring attention to important historical figures, as well as issues pertinent to children of all ages, from drug abuse to racism."
Theatreworks/USA was founded in 1961, and is considered America's foremost not-for-profit theatre for young and family audiences. Over the years, Theatreworks has given thousands of actors their professional credentials with membership in the Actors' Equity Association. In 1996 Theatreworks was recognized by New York's theatre community with the Drama Desk Award for "35 years of providing quality entertainment to children" and the Lucille Lortel Award for "Outstanding Special Achievement."
Originating with Young Abe Lincoln, Theatreworks now has a body of work encompassing almost 100 plays and musicals created by both noted and fledgling playwrights, composers, and lyricists. Writers include Ossie Davis, Mary Rodgers, Saul Levitt, Charles Strouse, Alice Childress, Joe Raposo, the teams of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, and Art Perlman and Jeffrey Lunden. Theatreworks has also helped launch the careers of actors such as Henry Winkler, Judy Kuhn, and 1996 Tony Award nominee, Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent).
Theatreworks performs in New York City at The Auditorium at Equitable Tower, and tours shows around the country to theatres, arts centers and schools. Theatreworks has performed for approximately 60 million people in 49 states, with an annual audience of more than 4.6 million.
Incoming artistic director Pasternack was artistic director of F.I.T. Productions in New York City for three years. She developed and directed several productions at The Hudson Guild Theatre Performing Arts Workshop, where she also taught acting to children and adults. She was a reporter and researcher for The Wall Street Journal. She studied speech and theatre education at Boston University and has a Master of Arts degree in Educational Theatre from New York University. Pasternack has initiated a variety of projects that brought new writers into the Theatreworks' family, and is responsible for acquiring the rights to develop contemporary literature (e.g. "Superfudge" and "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile"). She has worked for Theatreworks since 1985.
Incoming managing director Arthur graduated from Haverford College with a B.A. in English and religion and New York University Graduate School of Business Administration, with an M.B.A. in marketing. For 10 years, following college, he was a professional actor with 54 productions to his credit. Subsequently, he worked as an associate with Buckley & Urbanski, Ltd. and Gatchell & Neufeld, Ltd. He has conducted market research for Theatreworks, helping determine priorities for new work development. He has developed a growing touring program that has reached 49 states with a subsequent sales growth of 500 percent over 13 years. He has been at Theatreworks since 1985.
-- By Kenneth Jones