The Philadelphia Theater Company’s new artistic direction comes as a package: a married couple who together will take on the role of artistic director.
Taibi Magar, an Egyptian-American filmmaker, and her husband, Tyler Dobrowsky, a longtime expert in community engagement and new play development, will share a salary, an office, and many conversations — around the dinner table and elsewhere – on the future of one of the city’s oldest theater companies.
“Our pillow talk is still about acting,” she said in an interview, looking at her husband, before making a quick mid-description correction. “Or often on the theatre.
They will each carry the title of co-artistic director, replacing Paige Price, who held the position of artistic director of production for five years and left at the end of the season. They officially begin their roles on September 6 and are busy moving into their new home in Old Town. At work, they will share an office on South Broad Street.
“We want to recognize the theater community in Philadelphia because we know and understand how important [it] is here,” Magar said in an interview at the Suzanne Roberts Theater, home to the Philadelphia Theater Company. “We want to be a cheerleader for the job, both nationally and internationally. We are in love with Philadelphia and want to spread that love throughout the country.
They had been looking for opportunities, but reluctantly, as both were dedicated residents of Providence, RI, where they met and where they both worked for the past 10 years as Associate Art Director and Director of Development. new parts at Trinity Repertory Co. .in Providence.
Magar, a director with many productions on her resume, said she knew they would eventually have to leave to advance professionally, so she was happy to return to Philadelphia, where she had taught at the University of the Arts. Another Philadelphia connection? She led the Underground Railroad Game in his off-Broadway debut. Written by Philadelphians Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard with Lightning Rod Special, a Philadelphia theater group, the play, which later toured nationally, had its public premiere at the 2015 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
PTC Chairman of the Board, Gary Deutsch, chief legal officer of PNC Bank NA, acknowledges that he was initially skeptical of the idea of co-artistic directors.
“I come from a corporate world where everyone reports to one person,” he said. “And then on top of that, you have a married couple.”
What would happen, one might speculate, if the two ganged up on CEO Emily Zeck? Or what if the two didn’t agree?
“But you have to look at the people in those positions,” Deutsch said. “I don’t think there are a lot of egos there, and they all seem to have a motivation for the mission.”
Magar and Dobrowsky said they’re running as a package deal, so while they’ll earn more than the $150,000 set as the minimum for the position, they won’t even earn close to double that. They said they were satisfied with their compensation and will work hard to increase the compensation of the rest of the staff.
Deutsch said Magar and Dobrowsky “have a very unique skill set, with the leadership skills of Taibi and the organizational skills of Tyler. I think we ended up with a lot more to the organization than we initially had. intended.
While Magar will pay more attention to the artistic side of the business — collaborating with directors, actors, and possibly incorporating her own work — Dobrowsky said her role will be to build community engagement, setting up educational programs for young people.
Dobrowsky also directed Trinity’s new playwright program (alumni include Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright James Ijames, one of three co-artistic directors working just up the street at the Wilma Theatre). Building on that in Philadelphia is also part of the plan.
The couple said they would start by listening to try to learn how PTC can better engage the community. They will have some time, as the company has already announced its three-game 2022-23 season.
The season opens with tattooed woman, from October 28 to November 20. Music and lyrics are by Max Vernon, whose hit off-Broadway musical KPOP premieres on Broadway earlier in October with its official opening on November 20. The remaining PTC parts are Empathitrax in February and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in April.
In the meantime, it’s already time for PTC to consider the 2023-24 season. “As for our first piece…well, knock on wood, we would like it to be Macbeth in stride, a new musical we created and co-produced at ART [in New York City] last fall,” they wrote in an email.
Like most cinemas, PTC is struggling to emerge from the pandemic. Ticket sales are down and the public is slow to return. Additionally, PTC had their own financial difficulties related to their home at the Suzanne Roberts Theater on South Broad Street.
For example, a second-floor studio envisioned as an intimate theater and revenue-generating event space was never built. Meanwhile, even running an empty theater is expensive — $500,000 a year for utilities, insurance and maintenance, said Zeck, who will continue to run PTC’s business side of the theater company. non-profit.
In 2012, the company stopped making payments on its $11 million mortgage. In 2014, TD Bank foreclosed on the theater, but in 2015 the theater company was able to buy it back for $5 million. Of that, $3 million was raised from donors, including funding for a foundation started by Suzanne Roberts’ son, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts and his wife, Aileen.
Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) loaned the theater $2 million, with monthly payments capped by a lump sum payment of $1.9 million due in 2020. With the pandemic, the theater was able to not only skip some monthly payments, but negotiate lower payments in the future and delaying the balloon payment until 2031, Zeck said.
“All theaters are struggling,” Magar said. On the contrary, she says, PTC is in better shape. “We wouldn’t have come here if we hadn’t thought [the board and community] could support our vision.
Their vision integrates the building. In some communities, theater companies leave their buildings, present their works where they can, and avoid the headaches and costs associated with a building.
But Magar and Dobrowsky see the building as part of their vision. “We believe a theater shouldn’t just be where you go to see great plays. It should be part of the civic and cultural life of the city,” he said. “Too often theaters look like country clubs when they should look like community centers.”