PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Preston Whiteway, Executive Director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

By Sophia Saifi
22 Jul 2013

In the Heights' Janet Dacal performs at the recent gala
Puppetry, of all the professional conferences, has the biggest educational mission. Training puppeteers. That was wild for me when I first saw the Puppetry Conference. I met my four-year-old hero when I met Mr. Snuffleupagus, or the man behind it, Marty Robinson. 

It's been a joy being part of this organization and leading this organization and wearing so many hats. But it all goes back to the root of discovering and nurturing. 

Question: The O'Neill is this exceptional place where so much interesting new stuff is continuously being created. You were here when In The Heights was being workshopped. What was that like?

Whiteway: The energy in the barn when In The Heights was here was palpable. No one could predict the future about whether it was or was not going to be on Broadway but there was no question that this was a special piece. The energy was electric. The cast would have salsa dance parties every night after work and it was drawing a lot of attention out of New York, as many of our pieces do.

Question: The Tony Awards Administration Committee announced June 13 that starting with the 2013-14 theatrical season, New York-based theatre companies will be eligible to receive the Regional Theatre Award. Do you think is a problem for the future of regional theatres outside New York?

Whiteway: Regional theatre is very strong. Most of the exciting work in this country is being done by the nonprofit theatre community. The O'Neill was founded to address the lack of new American plays in New York on and Off-Broadway. In a way we are still fighting that battle. It is still tough to get a new American play on Broadway, but it is definitely easier now than it was in 1964.

The Tony eligibly being broadened to include New York theatres is a tough call. I understand a part of it. There are a lot of wonderful New York non-profit companies that are not elegible for a Tony I wish there was some solution to find a way around this: Whether a special Tony award offered infrequently but often enough to recognise talent and prestige.

As a regional theatre out of New York, I totally understand why most regional theatres feel that it is a bit of a slap in the face.

Question: Do you feel that "it is a bit of a slap in the face"?

Whiteway: It's special to have the recognition of a Tony award go to an organization outside of New York.