A little over four decades ago, a pair of prominent theater leaders who had made their names at Yale Repertory Theatre — Robert Brustein and Robert J. Orchard — came north to Cambridge and launched American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.
Now another transplant from New Haven is poised to play a top role at the ART, one of the nation’s most prominent regional theaters and a frequent incubator of Broadway productions.
The theater announced Tuesday that Kelvin Dinkins Jr., currently the general manager at Yale Rep and an assistant dean at Yale School of Drama, has been named executive director of the ART.
Dinkins, 35, will be the first Black executive director in the 42-year history of the theater, with primary responsibility for running its day-to-day business. He will share overall leadership duties with artistic director Diane Paulus. Dinkins, who starts June 1, arrives as the ART is in the planning and design phase for a new performance and research center in Allston that will serve as the theater’s home.
In a telephone interview with the Globe, Dinkins, 35, said that his overarching goal during his career has been to “bring theater where it’s not.” Accordingly, he said: “I want to think about how ART and Harvard invest in that, in engaging with younger folks. How do we build the next generation of theatergoers? This will be the challenge for our nonprofit theaters going forward.”
He has been active in anti-racist initiatives and in efforts to increase the numbers of people of color and women in theater leadership. In an essay last October in a Princeton alumni publication, Dinkins noted that he was “on a short list of Black managers working in a multimillion-dollar regional theater.”
He wrote: “As a producer, I long to produce and promote Black people’s stories as more than trauma porn, anachronisms, or the perpetuation of highly racialized, stereotypical narratives that are only staged in February.”
In the Globe interview, Dinkins maintained that fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion in theater operations, in programming, and in community outreach is “just as important as talking about your budget and your bottom line.” Noting that demands for racial equity in the American theater intensified during the pandemic, he said the need remains acute. “Anybody who can walk away from these two years and say we’ve done enough wasn’t paying attention,” he said.
In terms of co-leadership of the ART, Dinkins is succeeding former executive producer Diane Borger though his portfolio will differ in some ways from that of Borger, according to public relations director Rebecca Curtiss. The appointment of Dinkins means the ART will be led by two persons of color: Paulus is Japanese-American.
In a statement, Paulus said she is “thrilled to be partnering with Kelvin on the next chapter of the A.R.T.”
“Kelvin’s leadership in the American theater is rooted in a deep sense of values and humanity, vast pedagogical and managerial experience, and a passionate love of theater,” she said. “I am very excited to work with him on building a transformative future for the A.R.T., especially as we plan for our new home in Allston.”
Dinkins will have responsibility for keeping the ART on a stable financial footing in an era of fierce competition for limited public resources and philanthropic dollars — “one of the challenges we have in regional theater” — but he made clear that he does not intend to stay solely on the business side of the company’s operations.
“The art is part of the business,” he said. “Diane has been fervent that she wants a creative partner. She wants to invite me into those conversations.”
Dinkins’s first theater experience occurred in high school, when he saw a production of “Mame” and felt “that was something I could do.” First he tried his hand at acting, then took on stage manager duties as well. At Princeton, he acted in and directed student productions, and for his senior thesis wrote an original musical, “Orpheus Waking,” a modern setting of the Orpheus myth. He went on to receive an MFA in theater management and producing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts.
In his new role, he hopes to “tighten the relationship” between ART and Harvard undergraduates while strengthening the theater’s connection to the surrounding community. “How do we create a thriving theater that is serving its community in new and exciting ways?” said Dinkins. “I think that’s what ART is doing and stands to continue to do.”
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.