Emily Mann, a pioneering creative force in American theater and longtime leader of Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, will retire after the 2019-20 season, the McCarter announced Friday.
Mann has been artistic director and resident playwright at the McCarter since 1990, championing new and experimental theater as well as work by women and artists of color.
In a statement, she said, “After what has been an extraordinary journey, it is time to pass the torch.” The McCarter board of trustees announced that it would soon begin the search for a replacement.
Among the many highlights in Mann’s stewardship at the McCarter was the 2012 world premiere of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, starring Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce, and Kristine Nielsen, which went on to Broadway and won the 2013 Tony for best play.
Mann’s 1995 stage adaptation of Having Our Say, the memoir by centenarian sisters Sadie and Bessie Delany, premiered at the McCarter, went to Broadway, earned Tony nominations for Mann for writing and directing, and has enjoyed steady success around the country.
She directed a much-admired 1997 adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, and produced a 1998 adaptation of Sophocles’ Electra, starring Zoë Wanamaker. Electra went on to a Tony-nominated run on Broadway.
Mann also produced the high-tech world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express in 2017 and directed the world premiere of Durang’s Turning Off the Morning News last year.
Mann has also directed many fresh looks at Shakespeare, Chekhov (she has written three adaptations), Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams, writing and directing an adaptation of his Baby Doll.
Under her leadership, the McCarter won a Tony in 1994 for outstanding regional theater. Mann herself has won eight Obie awards in addition to her Tony nominations. She is also the recipient of a Peabody Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Following Friday’s announcement, praise for Mann echoed around the stage world from collaborators and those who considered themselves her students.
“She has an ability, looking objectively at other people’s work, to home in on what needs to happen for that artist to realize their vision,” said Tony-winning producer Mara Isaacs, who worked for 18 years with Mann at the McCarter before founding Octopus Theatricals, the company behind Broadway’s upcoming Hadestown.
Adam Immerwahr, artistic director for Theatre J in Washington, worked with Mann as associate artistic director at the McCarter. On Facebook, he called her a “fierce and brilliant woman” and said, “It is a strange feeling to imagine McCarter without her at the helm.”
Arts marketer Hilary Judis posted on Twitter: “There will never be another Emily Mann.”
As a playwright, Mann has been drawn to “documentary drama,” adhering closely to the historical record with dialogue often deriving directly from documents or eyewitness testimony.
Her works include Execution of Justice, about the Dan White murder trial; Annulla, an Autobiography, about a Jewish woman who passed for Aryan in Nazi Germany; the popular Greensboro (A Requiem), about the 1979 murders of anti-Klan demonstrators; and Hoodwinked (A Primer on Radical Islamism), about the 2009 Fort Hood shootings.
Gloria: A Life, her bio-play about Gloria Steinem, stars Christine Lahti and is running off-Broadway at the Daryl Roth Theatre.
Mann is working on a stage adaptation of The Pianist, about musician Wladyslaw Szpilman. McCarter’s 2019-20 season will be a celebration of her tenure. Details will be announced in March.