New York Theater Workshop Names Patricia McGregor as Artistic Director

Patricia McGregor, a freelance director who has worked Off Broadway and around the country, has been named the next artistic director of New York Theater Workshop, a midsize nonprofit with an outsize track record of producing important work.

McGregor, 44, will succeed James C. Nicola, who has served as the theater’s artistic director since 1988. Nicola, 71, announced last year that he would step down this summer; he is being honored next month with a special Tony Award in recognition of his successful tenure.

New York Theater Workshop, founded in 1979 and located in the East Village, has a long track record of discovering, developing and supporting new plays and musicals, but it will forever be known as the birthplace of one huge hit, “Rent,” which opened there in 1996 and, after transferring to Broadway, spun off royalties for years that helped the theater flourish.

The theater has had several other notable Broadway transfers, including the Tony-winning musicals “Once” and “Hadestown,” as well as the acclaimed plays “Slave Play” and “What the Constitution Means to Me.” It has also staged a large volume of adventurous work that has remained downtown; among the artists who have worked there often are the writers Tony Kushner, Caryl Churchill and Mfoniso Udofia and the directors Ivo van Hove, Sam Gold, Lileana Blain-Cruz and Rachel Chavkin. (Chavkin was one of two leaders of the artistic director search committee.)

McGregor has been affiliated with New York Theater Workshop as a “usual suspect,” which is the theater’s term for artists with whom it maintains an ongoing connection. She plans to assume the artistic director position in August; Nicola has programmed next season, including revivals of “Merrily We Roll Along” starring Daniel Radcliffe and “Three Sisters” starring Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac. McGregor will choose the programming starting in the fall of 2023.

And what will her programming look like? “Visceral, relevant, challenging, joyful, delightful,” she said. “And really looking at fusions of form.”

Her directing career has focused on new American plays, but she said she also has an affection for classics (she directed a mobile unit production of “Hamlet” for the Public Theater in 2016) and musicals (she worked as an associate director of “Fela!” on Broadway). Among her New York credits was a 2012 production of Katori Hall’s “Hurt Village” at Signature Theater; she is currently finishing work on three projects, including an oratorio about gentrification, called “Place,” at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Old Globe in San Diego, and her first feature film, “1660 Vine,” about social media influencers.

McGregor was born in St. Croix, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands, and moved frequently as a child, living in Hawaii, California, Illinois and Florida. Her father, who is from St. Croix, is a fisherman and engineer who served in the Navy, and her mother, born in England, is an artist, teacher and union organizer; when she assumes her new role McGregor will become one of only a handful of Black women serving as artistic directors of nonprofit theaters in New York City.

“I have a pretty broad range of lived experiences racially, economically and geographically,” she said. “I think a lot about the Workshop being both hyperlocal in its roots and international in its reach, and that feels very aligned with my lived experience and appetite to know about and engage with the world.”

McGregor said she embraced theater as a middle school student in Florida, where she first encountered Shakespeare in a theater class. “I loved it,” she said. “I had seen a production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in this terrible-acoustics auditorium, and there was something both athletic and magical. I said, ‘I can tap into this.’”

She studied theater at Southern Methodist University in Texas, and then studied directing at the Yale School of Drama. She lived in New York off and on for 16 years; she has spent the last seven years in California, and now lives in San Diego, where her husband, Freedome Bradley-Ballentine, is an associate artistic director at the Old Globe; they have two young children.

Working with her sister, Paloma, she co-founded an organization called Angela’s Pulse to produce performance work that highlights stories about Black people. She has also worked with Arts in the Armed Forces, an organization founded by the actors Adam Driver and Joanne Tucker.

“My mom said, ‘What tools do you have to build the world that you want?’” she said in an interview. “And the tool that I have is being an artist and being a community builder through art.”

New York Theater Workshop has a staff of about 45 people and an annual budget projected at $10 million next year. The organization has three buildings on East 4th Street, including a 199-seat mainstage theater and a smaller venue that can accommodate up to 74 patrons.

McGregor said she views the leadership transition as a “baton pass,” noting that she already knows many people who work at the organization. She said among her priorities will be broadening the theater’s audience. “If there’s one thing I want to revolutionize, it’s that point of accessibility and welcoming,” she said. “It’s not a quick ‘We send you a flier and you come to the show.’ It’s a long-term process.”