Home » 'A new era': Tony-winning producer David Elliott new artistic director at Cape Playhouse – Cape Cod Times

'A new era': Tony-winning producer David Elliott new artistic director at Cape Playhouse – Cape Cod Times

by Arifa Rana

DENNIS — Calling the Cape Playhouse “a pretty magical place,” Tony Award-winning producer David Elliott started work this week with the sense that his new job is as much about being an artistic steward of the nearly century-old theater as it is about being its artistic director.
“I’m really thrilled that they trusted me with the role,” he said Thursday of becoming co-leader of the oldest continuously operating summer theater in the country. “The history of (the playhouse) is incredible. … I thought, ‘This is really taking on a responsibility.’ I’m thrilled about it, excited about it, but when you think about some of the people who have trod the boards at this place … when you’re walking down the same halls as Bette Davis and Gregory Peck and Henry Fonda, it gives you a little humility, which is OK.”
Elliott was chosen from 85 applicants after a 10-month search to replace former artistic director Michael Rader, and is starting work on plans to open the indoor theater for the first time since 2019. The playhouse mounted small musicals, concerts and other programs and events in 2020 and 2021 on the expansive lawn of the Cape Cod Center for the Arts campus, but late May is due to be the first time audiences will be invited back indoors since the pandemic began.
“I’m going to do the best that I can with it and hopefully just have a really successful summer. I know that (the playhouse) has been missed,” Elliott said in a phone interview. “It’s going to be fun to bring everybody back together again. I’m just thrilled I’m going to be part of that.”
In a written statement, William W. Templeton, board chair and president of the arts center that operates the playhouse, called Elliott “an accomplished professional.”
“David clearly knows this business well and he will be a steady hand on the tiller of our theatrical productions,” Templeton said. “Most importantly, he embodies our values of collaboration and inclusiveness, which we know will be the key to our future success.”
Elliott said his career so far has had three distinct parts — show director, producer and general manager — and he believes that combination prepared him well for leading the artistic side of the Cape Playhouse.
“What those three jobs have given me is a vocabulary to speak to sort of everyone in the business,” he said. “I think one of the reasons I was an attractive hire for the board was that I’ve just worn a lot of hats and have had success doing it.”
While he long worked in New York City and occasionally in London, Elliott said he realized after the pandemic shutdown that he wanted to do less general management work. He moved to Lincoln to be with his now-wife, and said Thursday that for most of the year, he will be using her family’s home in Sandwich as his base for the Cape job.
Elliott’s multifaceted theater career has spanned more than 30 years, including for 15 years as co-director of award-winning Perry Street Theatricals. Elliott produced, directed and managed nearly 75 productions on Broadway, Off Broadway, on U.S. and international tours and in London’s West End. His theater credits include as a producer of the Tony- and Drama Desk-Award-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”; lead producer of Tony-nominated “Dames at Sea” and Olivier-nominated “Lend Me a Tenor The Musical” in England; and producing national and international tours of award-winning “In the Continuum” and “The Exonerated.”
In an email blast Thursday, Templeton told supporters: “The future of the CCCA is bright! And I am excited about our two co-leaders taking us into a new era.”
That new era, according to executive director Nora Carey, will include continued plans to winterize the theater so it can be open nine months of the year instead of three — work that is due to start in October. In addition, there are plans to refurbish the inside and outside of theater buildings, and to digitize archives while also making historical information and memorabilia available to the public in a revamped gallery/archive space. 
Carey, who moved from development director to her leadership post in February 2020, has been the playhouse’s sole staff member in recent months after the pandemic forced the lay off of other employees. Rader left in March to pursue directing and producing jobs.
Carey said Thursday that the pandemic pause allowed her and the board of directors, though, to develop plans for the future for both the playhouse buildings and the business of the arts center organization that oversees the theater and campus.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress because of our downtime,” she said.
In recent years, the playhouse has won community development grants from both Dennis and Yarmouth, funding from the Mass Cultural Council and other small grants to renovate and winterize the aging buildings. A state-funded study in 2018 indicated the need for at least $2 million worth of repairs on the theater buildings alone, according to past officials.
The troubled state of the buildings, the arts center’s finances, the archives and declining audiences were all problems starting to be addressed under Rader’s tenure. Elliott is the 11th change in the theater’s top two management positions since 2013 as playhouse officials have worked to turn around previous financial troubles and past failures to invest in repairs.
A 2020 Ghost Light Fund campaign raised $250,000 from private donations to help the theater survive, and, Carey said, a year-end campaign for 2021 surpassed its goal, raising more than $150,000.
Theatergoers will see the result of those year-end donations, Carey said, when the summer theater reopens, with work starting soon on a deep clean and installation of new carpets, curtains and cushions on the pew seats of the 1838 former church building.
Other changes this year include the theater due to open in late May rather than the usual mid-June; moving an expanded concession stand to what has long been the box office by the parking lot; and modifying the lobby and restrooms.
Elliott has inherited the six-show season that Rader had planned for 2020, with Carey having made the call to have the musical “Grease” open the earlier season to make a big first splash and also perhaps welcome more Cape year-rounders.
Elliott said he has a lot of ideas for potential programming — including the possibility of continuing outdoor entertainment — but in this first week, is simply getting oriented. “I’m really honored and feeling very privileged to be able to take the reins of the playhouse.”


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