Last Friday, members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) fired questions at the new mover-and-shaker on the Cambridge theater scene, grilling the incoming director of the American Repertory Theatre (ART) on a wide range of topics.
Robert E. Woodruff, who on Aug. 1 will take over as artistic director of the ART—the professional company housed in Harvard’s Loeb Drama Center—brings a fresh perspective and style to Harvard theater, both professional and student-directed.
Known for unique, modern and sometimes controversial productions, Woodruff may push the ART in a new artistic direction, including increasing the presence of musical theater and productions from foreign countries.
And he brings a leadership style distinct from that of his predecessor Robert S. Brustein, who co-founded the ART in 1966 and is known for leading the company with a strong hand.
“I think I’m a bit more of a consensus-type guy, a collaborator by nature,” Woodruff says.
A change in the leadership structure of the ART may also contribute to a shift in style.
Woodruff will take the helm of the ART as part of a triumvirate with Robert J. Orchard, who co-founded the theatre with Brustein and will be the executive director of the re-organized company, and Gideon Lester, who will be the associate artistic director.
“I like to think of the change in the leadership tone of the ART going from one which was more hierarchical to one which is more porous, that will engage the undergraduates in a different way,” Orchard says.
But when Woodruff—who was appointed a year ago by former University President Neil L. Rudenstine and has been working part-time at Harvard since then—assumes the position of ART director in August, he will also take over many of the same problems that plagued Brustein in recent years.
Students involved in theater and dance often complain that they lack adequate space to practice and perform due to a dearth of theaters and the fact that the Loeb Mainstage is used by professionals for most of the year.
“The problem, of course, with performance space at Harvard is there aren’t enough of them, and it’s a huge logjam,” Orchard says.
Some students also wish there were more opportunities for aspiring actors and directors to work closely with professionals in the field—which some say is the whole reason behind Harvard’s decision to let the ART use the Loeb.
The general consensus is that Woodruff will not be afraid to shake things up in Harvard’s theater community—though it is not yet clear exactly what he has in mind.
Passing the Torch
Though Brustein claims he had a large role in picking his successor, Woodruff is cut from a different artistic cloth than the departing elder statesman of Harvard theater.