In another high-profile addition to the steadily growing ranks of women in leadership positions at Boston-area theater companies, director and administrator Bevin O’Gara has been named interim executive artistic director at Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre.
O’Gara, 38, is replacing former artistic director Michael J. Bobbitt, who left New Rep to become executive director of the Mass Cultural Council.
The appointment of O’Gara, which was announced Tuesday, underscores the significant increase in the number of female theater leaders over the past few years, as women have succeeded male artistic directors or assumed top posts in new organizations. “It’s been decades coming,” O’Gara said in a telephone interview, then added wryly: “Maybe centuries.”
“It is time for women to be taking leadership positions,” she said. “This is a really important moment.”
After being an in-demand, award-winning director in Boston for a decade, O’Gara left in 2017 to become producing artistic director at the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, N.Y. “I have the skills and the experience that I didn’t have four years ago, and I can bring those home to an organization at a time when it needs support,” she said.
Indeed, O’Gara is taking the helm at New Rep in a period of huge uncertainty. She is tasked with figuring out when and how to reopen after a year when the Watertown company’s finances, like those of virtually all theaters, have been decimated by the pandemic. Since last March, New Rep has lost a projected $1.3 million, which equals the entirety of its usual earned revenue per year, and amounts to 70 percent of its annual operating budget.
A key step in figuring out solutions for the battered local theater industry, O’Gara said, is for the leaders of midsize theater companies to collaborate and “articulate larger protocols on how we’re making our artists and audiences safe.”
“I’ve worked at all of those theaters,’' she noted. “I have relationships with all those artistic directors and managing directors.”
She will find the leadership landscape changed even from a few years ago. In early 2020, Courtney O’Connor succeeded Spiro Veloudos as artistic director at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, not long after Courtney Sale replaced artistic director Sean Daniels at Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Erica Lynn Schwartz was named general manager of the Emerson Colonial Theatre in 2017, and Dawn M. Simmons is the coproducing artistic director of the Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black-led theater company launched in 2016.
They have joined such veteran theater leaders as Diane Paulus and Diane Borger at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater, Catherine Carr Kelly at Central Square Theater, Debra Wise at Underground Railway Theater, and Lee Mikeska Gardner at The Nora (formerly Nora Theatre Company).
O’Gara will be New Rep’s fourth artistic director in the past decade, following Kate Warner, Jim Petosa, and Bobbitt, the first Black artistic director in the company’s history. Much of Bobbitt’s stint in the job was dominated by the pandemic, but he became a leading voice in the Boston theater community, emphasizing diversity and racial equity as fundamental tenets of the operations and identity of New Rep and theater generally — an emphasis O’Gara, who is white, said she intends to maintain.
“I love what Michael has said in the New Repertory Theatre statement about diversity being an act of love,” she said. “The stories that we tell, the people we choose to tell them, and the people who engage with us as we tell them need to be as broad and reflective as possible.”
“There is still a dearth of BIPOC representation. The movement that has been made in terms of female representation in leadership positions will also hopefully lead the way for further BIPOC representation as well,” she said, using the acronym for Black, indigenous, and people of color. “The more diverse our perspectives are, the more rich our lives are.”
New Rep is holding off on naming a permanent artistic director. A spokesperson said Tuesday that the theater’s board of directors plans to “conduct a broad, potentially national, search for the next permanent Artistic Director,” and in the meantime wanted to “bring on an interim to help support and guide the organization through the pandemic.’' Asked whether she will be a candidate for the permanent position, O’Gara replied: “It’s still early to tell that as there are many factors that will need to be ascertained on both sides before getting to that point.”
“I want to start by focusing on the good I can do in the short term with getting us through the pandemic,’' she added. “And I know the staff and board feel the same way.’'
After graduating from Boston University, O’Gara worked as an assistant to celebrated Huntington Theatre Company artistic director Nicholas Martin, then went to New Rep as the artistic associate. After two years, she became associate producer at the Huntington while directing acclaimed productions at the Huntington, SpeakEasy Stage Company, Company One Theatre, New Rep, Lyric Stage, Bad Habit Productions, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, and Nora Theatre Company. She worked with numerous notable playwrights, such as Boston-area dramatists Kirsten Greenidge and Melinda Lopez, which could conceivably mean more premieres at New Rep.
“I’m not the person with the best idea in the room, but my greatest talent is recognizing the best idea in the room,” she said.
Especially given the financial losses of the past year, O’Gara knows that fund-raising will be a key part of her job. Questions of strategic planning and resource allocation will need to be addressed, all in the context of fluctuating news about the coronavirus. At the moment, she is focused on getting to know her staff of 10 as well as the New Rep board of directors, settling in at the theater that helped to launch her career.
“The theater and arts community here is home,” she said. “I love that I have the opportunity to take all that I’ve learned over the last four years and return the favor to Boston. It feels very full-circle.”