Kate Liberman remembers her first visit to Trinity Rep as a teenager to see “Annie.”
“I remember the show itself, but I also remember standing outside this extraordinary historic building, remarking on what a beautiful place Providence was, what a special place it was to see theater in front of that stunning façade. That’s what I really remember,” Liberman said in recent phone interview.
Now, Liberman, 37, is about to take the helm of that historic theater: She’ll join Trinity Rep as its executive director on Sept. 6. And she’s looking to create a magical “Annie”-like moment for others, to make sure every person has access to the joy of live theater.
Liberman — a Truman Scholar who earned her MFA in theater management from the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale and a joint MBA from the Yale School of Management — will co-lead Trinity Rep with Curt Columbus, the theater’s Artistic Director. Director of Development Jennifer Canole will continue to serve as Trinity Rep’s Interim Executive Director until Liberman begins full-time.
Growing up in Needham, Mass., Liberman was more into sports than theater, playing basketball, soccer, and softball at Gann Academy in Waltham. She found her calling — and her “theater family” — when her younger brother Jacob started acting.
“He’s younger than me, but he had a passion that my family followed,” she said. “The four of us trekked along to see theater — to Trinity Rep, to Wheelock, to Speakeasy, Lyric — we’d go to anything anywhere. We were getting to know local actors. They became friends, our family. We’d follow just to see friends in more shows.”
And she started to become involved herself. She sold intermission snacks during her brother’s performance in the Wellesley Players production of “Mame.” She handed out playbills for his performance in Wheelock Family Theater shows, and interned there in high school.
“Live theater has this kind of alchemic magic thing in its ability to bring people together,” she said. “We were creating a new family, building connections with new friends, seeing the impact of live theater in changing lives. It became the fabric of our family’s life: theater-going, working backstage, working front-of-house, being a part of it all.”
Liberman is currently the managing director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in New York, where she has worked since 2015. She previously served as general manager at The Laguna Playhouse, associate managing director at Yale Repertory Theatre, managing director of Yale Summer Cabaret, managing director fellow at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and associate manager of development at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Working at the iconic Kennedy Center on “Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World” was a career highlight, she said. Another? Working on Hudson Valley’s “Into the Woods,” with former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in one showing.
Her work has focused on building community and “belonging, inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism.” It’s something she plans to continue to do at Trinity.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, not only was there a national reckoning around race, but we saw one specifically in the theater industry,” she said. “A document that called out a lot of the practices and policies, ‘We See You, White American Theater,’ was signed by hundreds of theater practitioners of color from around the country. It was a huge wake-up call.”
“It’s become a personal passion and commitment of mine to make sure we do better,” she continued. “We’re all working to better understand the ways in which this industry had not been treating everyone with equity and inclusion. That not everyone felt the same sense of belonging, sense of family, was painful to hear, honestly. It’s the responsibility of all of us to correct, to reset our course, to make sure everyone feels like they belong. If that’s not happening, then we’re not doing the work of what live theater is about.”
Liberman will soon move to Providence with her husband Eric Gershman, and their 3-year-old son, Toby. It’s a homecoming, of sorts.
“I’m a New England native, there was some excitement about returning home, but also having watched Trinity Rep in everything they’ve been doing under Curt Columbus’s leadership and artistic vision, the work Curt has lead with regards to an eye for equity, diversity inclusion, and how Trinity was a real leader in the industry in responding to ‘We See You White American Theater.’ It was very powerful,” she said. “I was excited to learn more, to come home, and be a part of what’s next for this extraordinary company in Providence.”