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Thursday, 10 February 2011 16:24

Epic Theatre Ensemble's Zak Berkman Departs for People's Light & Theatre

ZAK BERKMAN ANNOUNCES DEPARTURE FROM

NYC’S EPIC THEATRE ENSEMBLE

TO BECOME ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

AT PEOPLE’S LIGHT & THEATRE  

NEW YORK, NY – New York’s OBIE Award-winning Epic Theatre Ensemble (Zak Berkman, Melissa Friedman, Ron Russell, Founding Executive Directors) today announced that Zak Berkman will be departing the theatre company to become Associate Artistic Director at People’s Light & Theatre Company, one of Pennsylvania’s largest non-profit theatres.  People’s Light, located 20 miles west of Philadelphia, is known for its resident company of artists, an eclectic mix of productions and for innovative work with young people.

Berkman will shift to People’s Light in September, 2011.  In the interim he will work closely with Epic co-founders, Melissa Friedman, Ron Russell and James Wallert to implement current programming and oversee a smooth transition of leadership.  Berkman will also remain on Epic’s Board of Directors for the foreseeable future.

Under Berkman’s ten year tenure as Executive Director of Artistic Programming at Epic Theatre Ensemble, the company has developed and produced the Off Broadway premieres of numerous award-winning new plays including Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, Nilaja Sun's No Child..., Palace of the End by Judith Thompson and Hannah and Martin by Kate Fodor, as well as the hit revival of JB Priestley's Time and the Conways.  In addition, Zak has been part of Epic's nationally recognized Arts-In-Education programs, including co-adapting Antigone and The Visit for the company's “Journeys Series” in public high schools throughout New York City. 

“I've had an amazing ten years working with dear friends to create a company together that I’m certain will continue to have a meaningful impact for many years to come.  I look forward to frequently visiting New York to watch Epic's one-of-a-kind artists engage young people, their families and wildly diverse audiences in vital conversations about the world we live in and the ways we can make it better,” commented Berkman.  “I'm thrilled and honored to be joining the People's Light community.  They are artists, teachers and visionaries who are dedicated to powerful and celebratory theatre making, to innovation and to engaging audiences of all generations.  It's a great fit and I'm excited about the future.”

Before co-founding Epic, Berkman was an associate to Broadway producer, Margo Lion, and worked in play development at various theatres including Manhattan Theatre Club and New York Stage & Film.  As a writer, Zak's plays have been developed and produced at theatres in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.  Epic presented the World Premiere of Zak’s Beauty on the Vine prior to its publication by Dramatist Play Service and its screenplay adaptation being produced by Dirty Rice Pictures starring Olivia Wilde.  His new play, The Harassment of Iris Malloy, just received a roundtable reading by The Lark Play Development Center that featured Maggie Siff and David Strathairn.  Zak is also a former script writer for the NBC soap opera, “Days of Our Lives.”

Epic Theatre Ensemble is an OBIE, Lucille Lortel and OTTO Award-Winning artist-run company celebrating its 10th Anniversary Season presenting theatrical events Off Broadway and in the New York City Public Schools that inspire vital dialogue about social, ethical and political issues.  Epic’s programming includes full productions, new play development initiatives and in-school and after-school arts education programs.  Thousands of first-time theatergoers and high school students have attended Epic’s premiere productions of Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, No Child… by Nilaja Sun, Palace of the End by Judith Thompson and Hannah and Martin by Kate Fodor, as well as their groundbreaking Shakespeare Remix presentations.  Shakespeare Remix is an after-school youth development program that received a Coming Up Taller Award from First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House Ceremony in November 2009.  As part of Shakespeare Remix, students are led through a demanding three-month process where they read, analyze, interpret/adapt, rehearse and perform a play written by William Shakespeare.  Participating students rigorously debate the critical social and political questions of the play; they decode the meaning of Shakespeare’s text; they weave their own writing into the fabric of the script and they work with their Epic mentors to rehearse and perform this production.  This program culminates with students performing alongside professional theatre artists in a full production of a newly conceived Shakespeare play at an Off Broadway theatre.  Currently running: Shakespeare Remix: Measure 4 Measure with students from Chelsea High School.  Performances are Thursday, February 10 thru Saturday February 12 at 52nd Street Project’s Five Angels Theatre, 789 10th Avenue and 52nd street.  All Performances are free. For performance times and reservations, visit www.epictheatreensemble.org.

Now in its 36th season, People’s Light, under the artistic direction of Abigail Adams, remains committed to making theatre drawn from many sources to entertain, inspire and engage the local and national community.  It produces these plays and programs to bring people together and to provide opportunities for reflection, discovery and celebration.  People’s Light fulfills this mission by producing 7–9 plays per season, mixing world premieres, contemporary plays and fresh approaches to classic texts.  The theatre commissions and produces new work: of its 384 productions, over a third (150) have been world or regional premieres.  Upcoming world premieres include Fallow, by Kenneth Lin and Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown, by Bruce Graham.  Arts Discovery, a suite of arts education programs, in part inspires and informs the production season in a reciprocal dance of influence and support.  These programs further extend the theatre’s mission, for youth and adults, with school residencies, student matinees that bring students from 21 high schools to the theatre each year for free, a broad array of arts classes for people from 7 to 70 and special projects that move the theatre outwards from its seven acre campus in Malvern to venues throughout the Delaware Valley.  Among these programs, the New Voices Ensemble received the Coming Up Taller award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2000.  This year, supported by a grant from the Surdna Foundation, alumni from New Voices are meeting, 20 years later, to explore ways to develop and continue that program.  In addition, People’s Light has won major grants from national and local foundations and corporations, most recently the Engage 2020 Innovation Grant, supported by the Wallace Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Philadelphia Foundation. Other significant support this year includes grants from the Shubert Foundation, the Independence Foundation New Theatre Works Initiative Grant, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, The William Penn Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts as part of the Big Read program. People’s Light employs 70 full and permanent part-time artists and staff members and almost 200 guest artists.  Its annual budget is $5.3 million and the total community served each year is 85,000.

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