Having played two decades out of town, Howard Sherman makes his Broadway debut this year in one of the town's longest-running hits.
Sherman was recently appointed new Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing, the 88-year-old organization that created the Tony Awards. Sherman joins Sondra Gilman, First Vice-Chair and Doug Leeds, Vice-Chair of the Wing, in sharing the responsibilities handled for many years by Isabelle Stevenson and Roy Somlyo. With the untimely death of Ms. Stevenson, an undisputed leader of the theatre community, the Wing is redefining its role in the changing world of theatre.
The Tonys are just the tip of the iceberg for this illustrious service organization that promotes excellence in theatre, gives grants to not-for-profit theatres, offers scholarships, introduces students to the theatre and sponsors and hosts with CUNY the "Working in Theatre" Seminars.
Sherman, a former theatre manager and press agent who's been a theatre fan since grade school, said that he once fantasized about becoming an actor but decided instead to devote himself to encouraging and promoting them and other theatre artists instead. "I wanted nothing more than to be around these people, and I continue to be stunned at my good fortune to be around them, to work with them and to become friends with them," he said. "It's not about celebrity, it's about talent." Now 42, Sherman loves to tell the story of a cherished brush with greatness. As one time press director of Hartford Stage Company in Hartford, Connecticut, he once had a chance to spend the afternoon escorting stage and film icon Katharine Hepburn around thetheatre. At the end of the day, he reports, she turned to him and said, "Well you've been pretty goddamned nice, haven't you?"
Jed Bernstein, President of the League of American Theatres and Producers, hails Sherman's "energy, enthusiasm and fresh perspective."
Sherman made an appropriate debut for a theatre man: He was born, like so many shows, in New Haven, Connecticut.
He backed into public relations while still in college, helping to program and promote the Philadelphia Festival Theatre.
Sherman's first professional position was as public relations director of the Philadelphia Festival Theatre while he was still in college. He also worked at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
Subsequently Sherman was press assistant at Westport Country Playhouse. He quickly graduated to the position of press director at Hartford Stage Company, working with director Mark Lamos and David Hawkanson. Sherman stayed there eight seasons, then moved deeper into administration as general manager of another Connecticut theatre landmark, Goodspeed Opera House (now Goodspeed Musicals), working for Executive Director Michael Price.
Sherman next spent two seasons as managing director of Geva Theatre in Rochester before he was tapped as only the second executive director of the O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut, succeeding founder George C. White. Among productions developed there under his tenure was one of this year's Tony nominees, Avenue Q.
Sherman's next stop was Broadway, and the American Theatre Wing.
"Theatre is something that always called out to me," he said. "Now, through the Wing I have the opportunity to take the thing that excited me so much and try to bring it forward to vastly more people, continuing the work that Isabelle did."
Plans for the Future
The new team at the Wing is implementing plans to make the Tony a stronger brand name and maximize its identification with excellence.
Together with the League there is a long-range planning committee for the Tony Awards as an ongoing entity, not just a year-to-year event. Partly, this is to plan for the 60th anniversary of the awards in 2006. Is something special planned? "Certainly it will be an opportunity we don't want to miss out on," Sherman says. All these projects, he concludes, "are ways of enhancing and expanding the work we do, which is communication about the theatre. They are all ways for more people to get closer to the artists who make theatre."