Maria Manuela Goyanes

Artistic Director, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Headshot of a woman.

Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Music Credit: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T from the cd Soul Sand, used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

(Music Up)

Maria Manuela Goyanes: For me, that first generation-ness has to do with understanding the fact that, like, my parents came to this country and left their families-- my mom is from the Dominican Republic., my dad is from Spain-- and sacrificed a lot for us, for my sister and I to be here and to get a great education. And I needed to be able to actually show them that I could do it, that I could actually-- that I could make a living in the theater.

Jo Reed: That is Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington Dc and this is Art Works The weekly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed.

For 40 years, Woolly Mammoth has produced new plays that are edgy, challenging, and thought-provoking. It’s a mid-sized theater with large footprint, taking chances and nurturing talent. Plays that have premiered at Woolly Mammoth have been produced in more than 200 theaters in 39 states and 12 countries. It’s adventurous theater—unafraid of making audiences uncomfortable and tackling social issues head-on. It challenges both its artists and audiences in ways that are sometimes fun, sometimes difficult but always interesting. Founding artistic director Howard Shalwitz led Woolly until his retirement in 2018. Enter Maria Manuela Goyanes—a first generation Latina-American with 14 plus years at New York City’s Public Theater where she wore many hats including creating the theater Public Lab series where she worked with artists developing and presenting new plays, and often shepherding their work to one of the Public’s main stages. Maria went on to become associate producer at the public—working on shows such as Fun Home, Straight White Men and Hamilton. And in 2016, She became Director of Producing and Artistic Planning which meant planning and supervising programming at all of the Public’s five main stages, as well as Shakespeare in the Park and Joe’s Pub. All this in addition to teaching and mentoring theater artists as well as taking on the job of Executive producer for 13P--a collective of playwrights who would each write and direct one play which would get a full-scale production. Clearly, Maria Manuela Goyanes has theatrical super-powers--with the knowledge, the smarts, and the energy to take on the role of artistic director at Woolly. But theater today is not the theater of two years ago and that’s where I began my conversation with Maria Goyanes.

Jo Reed: Maria, when you became Artistic Director two years ago, it was a very different theatrical and civic landscape and I'm just really curious about what your thoughts and goals were two years ago and how they've changed or the road you see getting there has altered in some way.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yeah, what a great question. First of all, thank you for having me. I feel really lucky to get to talk to you about my experience when I first got here and now just to have a moment to reflect. I, well, so I got to D.C. in August of 2018 and I started on September 4, 2018. That was two years into the current President's term. You know, about a year after the shock of <laughs> what happened in terms of that moment. And also I had been at the Public Theater for 14-1/2 years and it was the first, you know, I was the first person to have this job at Woolly Mammoth after the founder, Howard Shalwitz had been there for about 38 years, 39 years. So there was a lot going on in that moment as well, certainly for me in my life because you know, I'm a New Yorker, you know, born and bred and so the idea of coming to move-- coming to live in Washington, D.C. was, you know, a little daunting to leave my folks and friends. But also, I just kept thinking about what an amazing theater Woolly Mammoth is. It's an incredibly principled theater and it was specifically created in Washington, D.C. because of the symbolism of being in the nation's capital and being the place where we get to activate our citizenry. And so I just, I thought to myself, I was like, oh, you can really be in the heart of it here in Washington, D.C., the seat of, you know, our nation's democracy in a way that I found really exciting. And I still find that exciting because you know, when you ask the question about what was it like two years ago versus now, now I actually know the route to go directly to Black Lives Matter Plaza to be standing in solidarity with Black voices against racism in this country. And I know that part of the glory of, you know, being in the United States of America is actually being able to have collective action and be able to say, "Hey, maybe we should change that. The culture's changing. Maybe we should rethink this." I believe in our Democracy and I believe so fully in it that I get to exercise it now in a way that I feel right at the center of it here in Washington, D.C. So I feel really privileged to be here. And so it's changed in that, you know, it felt urgent at the time when I got here and it feels even more urgent now to be talking about the things that we're all talking about, right. So this conversation around equity, justice, diversity, inclusion certainly in the theater industry is something that is not a new conversation and it has-- and the pandemic, I think, has exposed some real fault lines in our systems that really puts particularly black and brown people at a disadvantage. I think that I am happy more people are waking up to it. I’m happy that more people are talking about it, that we're not just sweeping it under the rug. And I'm ready to be in the thick of it talking about it with them.

Jo Reed: You know, it's very interesting because obviously the what the pandemic also offers in conjunction with the racial reckoning that we're having as a country and theater is having as well is that there's the opportunity to rethink everything.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yes.

Jo Reed: Because everything has to be rethought.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yes.

Jo Reed: And I would imagine as an artistic director that's both daunting and exhilarating.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: <laughs> Yeah, you know, I was thinking about that the other day. I was thinking about my counterpart at Woolly Mammoth, Emika Abe, who's our brilliant Managing Director. And, you know, I think about the challenges that she has on her side of the business, <laughs> you know, and the challenges that I have on my side, you know. And I have to say that I feel, I do feel galvanized by the problems and challenges of not being able to gather in person mostly because at a place like Woolly Mammoth we have been, you know, making unconventional, nontraditional theater for a long time. <laughs> So the idea of trying to figure out how to actually still create community without being in person has opened up new possibilities, has been an exciting opportunity for us. It's definitely not easy and what I would say is I still feel like we are missing something in our society right now in terms of not being able to gather in the theater, right. There is a space that is missing that is, I think, essential that, so it's not to say that I don't want to have in person performances ever. I absolutely do. Please get me back into a theater. That helps me understand the world and make meaning of the world and meaning of the world, meaning of myself in the world in ways that for me have been profound and transformative and impactful. And I am really excited about sort of the forced transformation that our industry is having to go through. And, you know, there was something that somebody said to me recently, that it has compelled innovation, right. And I love that. I love that phrase because to compel is to, it is another version of sort of, like, just making it happen, it has to happen. Otherwise, you know, survival is at stake and I think that's right on. And I think that's exciting for our field to move in that direction. It's scary, for sure. It's scary for sure and a lot of people are being affected by it. I mean, so many people are out of work right now and it's not lost on me that a lot of the folks who have been laid off of the theater organizations are a lot of the frontline staff, frontline workers, box office, front of house staff, ushers, et cetera. And that again, just like it exposes just like the pandemic exposes the fault lines that affect black and brown people in ways that we are still dealing with and reckoning with, that is certainly the case in terms of these organizations, because most of their diverse populations, most of the black and brown people who work in those organizations are now laid off, right.

Jo Reed: Exactly.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Because a lot of the organizations are run by white folks.

Jo Reed: You've said that you identify as a first generation LatinX woman. And you're also a working class person.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yeah.

Jo Reed: And I'm wondering how that informs the perspective that you bring to the theater.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Oh. <laughs> Yeah. Four thousand percent it informs the perspective, yeah, for sure. I, my parents didn't really, you know, go to the theater. I got involved in the theater because I have, I loved reading books and I had a very big imagination and I-- and I, you know, thought maybe I would be a writer one day or something like that. And it wasn't until high school, actually, that one of our English teachers-- I got into Bronx Science. I studied my butt off to get into that school because it's a great school in New York. It's like a magnet school, essentially. I got in by 2 points and my dad was like, "You got to go. You're going to go from Queens to the Bronx every day to go to high school because it's the best school that you got into." So I was really, I felt really lucky to be able to be amongst such self-possessed young people <laughs> who were there with me. But it was in high school that the English teacher, her name was Miss Blatner, she had a relationship with I think it was both Manhattan Theater Club and the Roundabout Theater Company-- and took us to see my first professional Broadway play. I got to see a new play by Craig Lucas which at the time it was new. It was called "Blue Window." It's a really amazing play. And I just remember the hubris of being a teenager. You know, again, like, I had a big imagination. I had been reading so many books and things like that and just imagining worlds. And so seeing the world manifested in front of me of this play, I was like, "Wow. I could do this better."


Maria Manuela Goyanes: I don't know where it came from. I had never done it before. But there was something about this, about it that just galvanized me and struck a chord in such a way that I was like, "Oh, I would totally have her walk over there and not over there. I would have her wearing a different outfit. Or I'm not sure why they chose this thing or that thing or whatever." And it just, you know, it's just that youthful arrogance that just <laughs> like came out in full force in some way. And that was when I basically said, "Okay. I got to try and make it in the theater." So to me, the first generation conversation has to do with the fact that my parents are immigrants and in that immigrant mentality it was all about security and the theater is not necessarily a secure profession. And so they wanted me to be a baker, a lawyer, a doctor or any of these things. Even my dad tried to convince me to take the firefighter test because he was, like, "You could have a good pension and a salary and retire early if you're a New York City firefighter." And I thought to myself, "Pop, I can't believe that you don't-- you don't believe in me that I can make it in the theater." And so I basically set about to show him. And, and so for me, that first generation-ness has to do with understanding the fact that, like, my parents came to this country and left their families-- my mom is from the Dominican Republic., my dad is from Spain-- and sacrificed a lot for us, for my sister and I to be here and to get a great education. And I needed to be able to actually show them that I could do it, that I could actually-- that I could make a living in the theater. The Latinidad for me, you know, one of the things that in terms of my perspective and it's been hard to maneuver for sure, is you know, I am a very white presenting person, so I walk through the world in such a way that folks do not have to know where I come from or my culture and my ethnicity unless I tell them. And that is, that has allowed me to move through rooms that I might not have been able to move through and navigate things. That's a privilege that I would say that I have, a real privilege that I don't take for granted or I try not to take for granted. And I do identify as LatinX because that's who I am. <laughs> And so for me, part of the growing that I needed to do was to stop hiding who I was and trying to conform with what it is that the sort of, you know, I don't know, the structures that exist that make us, you know, be smaller than who it is that we are to try and make it and be a certain way and try to, you know. And that really it's been a process for me of being able to hold the fullness of who it is that I am in my workspace. And for a long time that wasn't the case. For a long time I would come home and, you know, speak Spanish at home and <laughs> eat my rice and beans and that kind of stuff and not really talk about my home life with anyone else because I didn't feel like I could. I didn't feel like I could be the fullness of who it is that I am. And this is part of the conversation that we're having about the sort of forced transformation. It allows folks to bring the fullness of themselves to the conversation and particularly those folks I want to, you know, lift: disabled folks, indigenous folks, black and brown folks, like, that haven't been able to actually bring the fullness of themselves and their lived experience to the table because particularly the theater industry is so white.

Jo Reed: And bringing the fullness of themselves to the stage itself, which, I'm not suggesting Woolly is a perfect place, but Woolly is not a stranger to this work.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: No. No, thank goodness. I, <laughs> I feel really lucky that I-- And, you know, number one, I followed one of the most generous thoughtful human beings who founded this company. Without Howard Shalwitz, I would not be, you know, be able to be here, not just because I'm standing on his shoulders. He created this company. But also this, the transition and how he has supported me and, you know, he's on my speed dial. I call him when I need him and he's there. He has been just so wonderful to me in this whole the last two years. One of Woolly's core values that they decided, that the board and the staff and the strategic planning committee decided even before I got there, a core value of Woolly Mammoth is radical inclusivity and to try to foster a community across difference. And that, that felt really, really exciting to me to come and really double down on that idea. I got to Woolly and, you know, it's again, you said it before. It's certainly not a perfect place. You know, there's a lot of work to be done and there are a lot of things that we're still pulling apart and interrogating and teasing out and finding the discomfort and leading into that discomfort. And it's-- and for a progressive theater, I was-- progressive meaning like a theater that wants to be on that sort of learning edge, right, of the industry. I, my version of radical inclusivity didn't actually look like-- <laughs> look like what Woolly's did at the time I got here. So I think that-- I think that it when you ask the question about sort of how do I bring myself to this work and who it is that I am and the fullness of who it is that I am, it's my lens now that is sort of looking at what the value of radical inclusivity means and trying to get-- to make that value and that statement more and more true.

Jo Reed: Well, I think an example of that, you know, that comes to mind immediately is the way you remade the lobby.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yes.

Jo Reed: Can you, for people who have not been to Woolly, and hopefully everybody can come and visit soon, <laughs> but explain what you did.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: One of the things, a gift I feel that Meghan Pressman, who was the Managing Director at the time at Woolly, and Howard gave me was they really lobbied for money to redo the lobby around the time of when I got there. You know, one of the things, like the theater is such a beautiful space and you know, has won awards, architecture awards and stuff, but, we did the theater and you know, really kind of ran out of money when we got to the lobby. <laughs>

Jo Reed: <laughs>

Maria Manuela Goyanes: And have tried lots of different things to make the lobby more warm, hospitable, et cetera, whatever. And so the parting gift was from Meghan and Howard was really about being able to see-- finalize, actually see a vision of an open, accessible lobby for our community, our patrons, our audiences, our artists to work from in that space to see each other, to have a space where you can, you know, rub elbows with lots of different people from all walks of life. And so, we, one of the biggest changes that we did was, you know, the front doors weren't open for Woolly. So it used to be that you would walk in the side entrance. It's an accessible entrance. And the reason they chose not to open sort of the historic storefront was because at the time when they were building Woolly it was not a great neighborhood and they couldn't afford security. And so the architects were like, " Get people off the street as quickly as possible <laughs> and put the entrance on the side of the building." And you know, Penn Corridor has really changed since then. And so one of the first things that we talked about was opening those front doors and actually what that gesture does, what that gesture is meant to stand for in terms of what place Woolly has in our community. And then second, <laughs> we put a very bold statement in our lobby, you know. It's we call it our "we are" wall and it says things like, "We are a supportive home for artists," and, "We are anti-racist," and, "We are relentless in inquiry and experimentation," all of these things that we are working on being. And you know, one of the things that I want to say about that wall is for me, it's not just about us wearing our values loudly and prominently, which I believe is absolutely necessary particularly in such a divisive climate in our country. It is also our method of staying accountable to those values so that someone who comes in and sort of experiences something and says, "Hey, wait a minute. This doesn't feel like an anti-racist practice and you say that you're anti-racist. What's going on here?" That's actually really helpful to us. So, so it's hopefully one of those things that's like a high feedback loop, you know, where somebody, we say what it is that we want to do and folks can tell us, you know, if we're actually coming through because they know, because we've told them.


Jo Reed: You know, Woolly is a small theater, but boy does it have a big impact. I'd love you to just speculate about why you think this is and how you want to keep it going.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: I love that question because the, you know, I have often thought about what makes Woolly Woolly. And when I say Woolly, I mean messy, ambitious, again, sort of challenging and confronting in terms of the kind of work it is that we do. And I think about, you know, our industry and I think that, you know, what I recognize is that probably in other theater companies they do about one Woolly-type project or two Woolly-type projects a year, you know. Where in addition to, say, "A Christmas Carol" and the big musical and <laughs> what, you know, the classic text, et cetera, they have, like, one project where they're, like, pushing the envelope or it's a new play that's really untested and things like that. What I think makes Woolly special is that it's a season of that. I think that is really what sets it apart, that the idea here is Woolly is built on two pillars and when we hit it out of the park, the play or the project actually works on-- works with both of these pillars in mind. And those pillars are aesthetic innovation, right, pushing the form, the ideas within the art form in the theater itself, the writing, the design, et cetera. And then the other pillar is civic provocation. Does it really compel folks to having conversations afterwards that even if they hate the show-- I mean, that's the thing that was so funny about coming to Woolly is that you know, how many people told me, "Boy, did I hate that show and did I--" You know, "That show really rubbed me the wrong way and--" But then, you know, on the-- in the same-- by the same token, they said, "That show was super transformative." And it made me realize that the idea to be Woolly isn't actually about one particular offering or one particular product or one particular experience. It's actually the fully experience and that folks were willing and that's the thing that I found so amazing about our audiences is, like, they're willing to take the leap with us on all of the projects. <laughs> And I know that they're going to have a transformative experience and they know they might hate it but they will really, really be able to fight about it with their partners and their friends and talk about it and actually rip it apart. And that is really rare. <laughs> Most of the time when people go to something and they don't like it they don't come back. <laughs>

Jo Reed: Right. Well, that's the thing about Woolly. I mean, I might not like everything Woolly does. In fact, I don't. But boy, it's I have never not been interested. <laughs>

Maria Manuela Goyanes: I appreciate that and I think that that's the-- To me, that's the thing that I want to hold on to because I think that that's actually the thing that makes us-- makes that impact happen, not just in Washington, D.C. but on that national scale that you're talking about.

Jo Reed: Well, Woolly also has a theater company. And I wonder what that gives you as an artistic director knowing that you have this company of actors you can draw on.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: So what I appreciate so much is that they're amazing artists and they have long histories with the organization. They're really a loose collective in that regard. It was Howard's way of saying, "I want to encourage you to stay in Washington, D.C. and I want to incentivize you to make doing challenging and risky work the cornerstone of that career." And so that's really part of I think the idea behind the company of artists. It meant that I got to know some of the best actors in the theater scene here in Washington, D.C. really quickly because <laughs> they're in the company and they were part of my hiring process, for example, you know. <laughs> And they had a say on who was coming in. And I've been thinking about is how to integrate the company more into the ecology of the theater. And so some of the ways that I've started to do that that, you know, are more behind the scenes but just to share is there is now a company member seat on the board of directors at Woolly Mammoth and that just started actually last month.

Jo Reed: Excellent.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: And that is, yeah, so they are a full voting member and they, you know, the idea is to have that be a rotating seat. A term is I think two years. And that feels really exciting to have them at the table to help the, you know, the again, the sort of stewardship of the organization. I'm working on a project to have a pool of money. We're calling it the company pool, yes, pun intended, that essentially they would have access to if you're a company member of Woolly, to be able to work on your own professional development. And you could use that money to, you know, apply to buy voiceover equipment so that you can actually diversify how you're making money because again, like, by wanting to be a supportive home for artists, like, in a pandemic, that is very particular <laughs> compared to when we're not in a pandemic. And so how, you know, because we can't gather in person, like, a lot of their, you know, the money dried up about, you know, they don't know where a job is coming, you know.

Jo Reed: Of course.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: And so, what are the ways that we can actually help them. And so, you know, we're going to be launching this company pool. They can use the money to create a project together. So I'm really excited about being able to actually provide resources in that way in addition to casting them in shows, sure, certainly, you know.

Jo Reed: Well, how are you thinking right now, Maria, about the upcoming season at Woolly? I mean, I think you wrote you're approaching it with cautious optimism and humility.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: <laughs> Totally.


Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yeah. A lot of humility. <laughs> A lot of cautiousness and definitely optimism. So I think the major innovation of the season is the golden ticket. And Timmy Metzner came up with it. He's our brilliant Director of Marketing. One of the things that has been I think plaguing our colleagues is this idea of subscriptions and how do you actually create a subscription season if you don't know when it is that you're going to be allowed to return in person. And so the idea is actually moving away from a traditional subscription and saying, "Buy a golden ticket: it's a full, an all access pass to anything that Woolly does as many times as you want whenever you want, whenever we do it--"


Maria Manuela Goyanes: Was to me a way to be literally the most flexible, nimble, adaptable in this moment that we possibly could be. It's such a gift to have such a creative and original thinker in our marketing department because to make something like that work for a theater to me feels unheard of. I mean, we announced a season without any dates. <laughs> Who does that?

Jo Reed: <laughs>

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Well now we do.


Maria Manuela Goyanes: So, so when I say cautious optimism, a lot of that comes from the idea that we will do in person performances when we are able to do in person performances and that until that moment, for example, we have a project actually it's in previews now if we can utilize a theater term for something that happens on the telephone. The Telephonic Literary Union is a hotline. It is a one-on-one experience with you and your phone and this hotline. And you can be anywhere in the world and you can call into this hotline and listen to new pieces by amazing artists like Hansol Jung and Chris Chen, Brittany Allen and Zeniba Now. And It's all under this idea of a human resources hotline and taking that idea and turning it on its head. So and we also made the price point really low. So it's $7 dollars to call in and enjoy it and there are twists and turns and adventures within the hotline. And talk about, like, an unconventional, nontraditional theatrical experience., <laughs> That to me is we are able to do that because not just of the golden ticket but also because you know, this moment is allowing us to lean into different ways of making art and I'm really excited for it. So there's a lot of, I mean, I could go on and on about all the different things that we are planning on doing and thinking about doing, but suffice to say, part of the reason that we are able to do that is because of this, you know, innovation in the subscription package.

Jo Reed: Speaking of innovative theater, I do want you to say one word or two about Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical "A Strange Loop," which is coming to Woolly.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yes, it is coming to Woolly. It's coming to Woolly come hell or high water, my friend. Come hell or high water. So I've known Michael R. Jackson for such a long time. I think I met him when I was 25-years-old and he was 24 and he was working on "A Strange Loop" in grad school. I actually directed it in the early readings of the musical a long, long time ago. Talk about a strange loop <laughs> to have Michael R. Jackson's "Strange Loop" in the season and to have it have gotten the recognition that I feel like it so richly, richly deserved. It's we had been hoping to open the season with it, but then the pandemic got in the way. We are now hoping to end the season with it, which will allow us to hopefully start to do in person gatherings before we do the big musical, sort of test out all of the things that we need to test out in terms of COVID testing and rehearsal room practices, contact list ticketing. I mean, there are so many things that we have to do to make sure that we can actually have the infrastructure to be able to pull off a musical like that. So, we really have to do the deep dive in terms of the details of making sure that people will be safe and that our artists and our audiences can be safe in seeing the show and enjoying the show.

Jo Reed: You know, I wonder if anything can prepare you for the moment that theater is in now, but I wonder how your experiences in the Public Theater might have helped you as you deal with this moment at Woolly?

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yeah, it's I sometimes like to joke that <laughs> because I worked at the Public in New York for so long and you know, there are five spaces plus Joe's Pub plus Shakespeare in the Park plus the mobile unit plus all these things, and worked on producing, you know, 20 to 25 different events and shows a year, I feel like I've already had three-- I've lived three lifetimes, you know what I mean? I've done more plays and projects in that time period than most people actually do in their full careers just because of the nature of the beast of the way that the Public works. So, in terms of preparation for running a theater company, to me it was like, you know, I couldn't have had a better grad school for sure. And but nothing really actually prepares you for this moment. I remember going to see, I was in New York and I was going to see "West Side Story" and it was in February. No, it was in early March. It was around my sister's birthday and I had just gone up for the weekend. And her and her boyfriend were telling me about this virus and what was going on and they had heard about it. And I was just like, "What are you talking about?" I mean, I didn't really even understand. I couldn't compute. I couldn't compute. But I will say the thing that I love about theater people and being in the theater is the originality, the creativity, the way we collaborate together. The way we, you know, when something goes wrong how you band together around that and you know, make the show happen. Those are the skills that I feel like I see my colleagues and my team at Woolly rely on and trusting each other to have each other's back through this. I feel really lucky that we haven't had to furlough any staff because we got a PPP loan. That might not be the case in the future but I'm sort of knocking on wood that there's going to be some sort of other recovery and/or something for theaters in the future or something for our organizations to help us through. Because if we don't come through, then, you know, we can't employ artists, right. And so part of this moment is also about surviving it and making sure we can get through to the other side so that we can provide that employment in the future. I wish there was more that we can do right now, though. And I'm always cognizant of the fact that I have a salaried position in the theater as opposed to those freelance artists, those actors, those technicians, those stitchers, those drapers who don't know when the next check is going to start.

Jo Reed: This is just a bit of a non sequitur, but like you, I'm from a working class background and I love theater. And when I was a kid for my birthday once a year we would go to the theater. It was a very big deal.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Oh, awesome. Awesome.

Jo Reed: But so many working people now simply can't afford the theater. And I know producing live performances is an expensive proposition. And I just wonder what your thoughts are about this, especially as we talk about more equity and the ways the financial boundary is in the way of more people being able to partake of theater.

Maria Manuela Goyanes: Yeah. Well, I'm just going to speak for myself. I didn't necessarily think the theater was for me. Right. Because I'm just I told you, like, you know, my parents were, like, , <laughs> "How-- You know, this is a luxury. This isn't the food. This isn't the things that you absolutely need to survive." And that strikes me actually as not true, right. For me, what I have found in the theater is that it does feel essential. It does feel like a public good. It does feel like it helps, you know, that without the cultural organizations, you know, for example here in D.C. we would be a poorer place. We would be a much poorer place. Woolly was one of the first theater who did here in D.C. the pay what you can program. We have a relationship with Howard University. And in my first year we basically, we made them little cards that said, "You're a card carrying Woolly member" and essentially any Howard student who brought this card if there was an empty seat they could take it. So, you know, those are small little ways that we're making sort of an indent in that, but I agree with you, I think it's too expensive to go see the theater. And it continues to perpetuate the idea that it's a luxury and not an essential service. And there is an issue with that, right, because we are so dependent on philanthropy and philanthropic dollars including from the NEA. And we really need to look at it because I agree with you that it is hard-- it is one of those things where I just wish it was more accessible to more people and we are working hard to figure out ways to make it be that.

Jo Reed: That was the artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Maria Manuela Goyanes. You can find out all about Woolly including their 20-21 season at Woolly You’ve been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Don’t forget to subscribe to Art Works and please leave us a rating on Apple because it helps people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe, stay kind, and thanks for listening.

Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of  Washington DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is a theatrical force of nature.  She arrived from New York City’s Public Theater in 2018 where she had been Director of Producing and Artistic Planning. Her role there included planning and supervising programming at all of the Public’s five main stages, as well as Shakespeare in the Park and Joe’s Pub.  She did all this in addition to teaching and mentoring theater artists as well as volunteering for the job of executive producer for 13P--a collective of mid-career playwrights who each wrote and directed one play which would get a full-scale production which Maria supervised. Did I mention that while she was at the Public she was also associate producer for Fun Home, Straight White Men and Hamilton?  A first-generation Latina-American, Maria Manuela Goyanes is an ideal fit for Woolly Mammoth which is known for producing new plays that are edgy, challenging, and thought-provoking.  It’s a mid-sized theater with large footprint that nurtures talent and takes chances. It’s adventurous theater—unafraid of making audiences uncomfortable and tackling social issues head-on--challenging both its artists and audiences in ways that are sometimes fun, sometimes difficult but always interesting.  In this podcast, Maria discusses what makes Woolly Woolly, how she brings the fullness to her background to her role as artistic director, and the challenges and opportunities this moment offers theater in general and Woolly in particular. Maria is a born raconteur—smart, engaging and engaged, with wonderful insights about theater.

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