In 1995, Scott Elliott was an ex-actor who had decided to get a PhD in psychology. But he found himself longing for the very thing he had rejected. “It’s something genetic,” says Elliott. “I just ached for the theatre again.” And so, in spite of his disillusionment, he decided to produce and direct Mike Leigh’s Ecstasy in a small basement space on 42nd Street.
While Elliott hadn’t anticipated what it would mean to run his own business, the success of the show heralded the arrival of a promising new Off-Broadway company, and the actor-turned-artistic director suddenly found himself in need of guidance. Serendipitously, he received a cold call from a couple who had seen and loved his production—they not only pledged their financial support, but ongoing guidance and mentorship. It was this early act of generosity, along with Elliott’s own experiences, that essentially wove itself into the fabric of the newly named New Group, a multi-award-winning, artist-driven company that continues to evolve after 23 years.
“[Theatre can be] filled with ambition and lack of compassion in certain ways; I had firsthand experience of that while I was acting,” he says. “I decided that I wanted to create a place where people could feel comfy, be supported financially and compassionately, as well as stretch their muscles in different ways.”
Elliott describes The New Group as “our own little cocoon of creativity,” a haven where artists can grow without the pressures of commercial theatre. His vision for the company is ensemble-driven, which has translated into a growing list of “family members” who return time and time again. Among them are David Rabe, Cynthia Nixon, Thomas Bradshaw, Zoe Kazan, Ethan Hawke, and Matthew Broderick.
The idea of the ensemble was one of the reasons Elliott settled on the name The New Group, this notion of a collective—that, and something that would reflect an organization with a contemporary outlook. “I wanted us to always look at the world in front of us and respond to that through the work,” he says. And it turned out to be very fitting. Throughout the years, the organization has garnered a reputation for developing and producing contemporary, adventurous work that reflects the present culture.
Despite its constant evolution and growth, Elliott says that in many ways, The New Group feels the same as it did in the beginning. That could have something to do with the many artists who continue to call it home, or the fact that some of the staff have stayed with the company since its founding. “We’ve all grown up together,” says Elliott. “The scale of it has changed but the heart is the same.”