Jenny Gersten Quits NY’s High Line
Returns to First Love the Arts
By: Charles Giuliano - 09/03/2014
Jenny with her father Bernard Gersten a renowned Broadway producer.
Our first interview during the winter of 2011. Giuliano photos.
Presiding over a press conference.
An opening night.
A season ending sit down.
Break a leg Jenny.
Nothing in my statement says I will be returning to theater, I wrote that I hope to return to the arts. And I do not appreciate the "We saw this coming" comment. Please print a correction.
This summer at Williamstown Theatre Festival we only saw emeritus artistic director, Jenny Gersten, during opening night of the first production June Moon.
There was a hug signifying a relationship that evolved from tempestuous to respectful.
There had been growing pains on both ends.
While awesomely gifted with theatre in her genes the three year contract at WTF (extended by this now concluded season) was her first experience as artistic director. Previously she served as WTF assistant producer under Michael Ritchie.
The first season was uneven and critics can be blunt.
To be fair, shows like Ten Cents a Dance directed by John Doyle with the singers also playing musical instruments, were panned by some and praised by others.
There seemed to be a dichotomy between reviews blown up in the lobby and negative reports by bloggers. Including myself.
After what seemed to me a rough start Gersten came back stronger with each season. While not on campus the 2014 program was her most ambitious. Not that everything worked but she was able to bring to Williamstown an astonishing range of super stars.
Opera diva, Renee Fleming, made what could be a career move by starring in a light summer comedy Living on Love playing, what else, an opera diva. It was one of the hot tickets of the Berkshire season.
With a last minute cast change we were astonished that Tony winner (Venus in Furs) Nina Arianda, the most unique emerging artist of her generation, was paired with the explosive Sam Rockwell in Sam Shephard’s Fool for Love. The sizzling combo proved to be the most galvanic production of the Berkshire season.
Gersten made room in her program for a troubled production of The Visit, the last Kander and Ebb musical starring Chita Rivera. The now elderly Rivera, in her first visit to the Berkshires, has been trying to launch the play on Broadway since it opened in Chicago in 2001. Because of 9/11 Broadway producers were unable to fly in and see it.
At WTF the production was given Broadway quality assets from the direction of John Doyle, to a magnificent set, superb pit band, and a co star, Broadway veteran and former WTF artistic director, Roger Reese.
Ultimately it may not have been enough.
But as had been true in the past for WTF, under Gersten, shows went on to New York productions.
Her astonishing Elephant Man which enjoyed a sold out run with Bradley Copper is opening soon on Broadway. The musicals Far from Heaven and Bridges of Madison County had modest New York runs.
Under Gersten experimental and emerging artists were given a shot. This summer The Old Man and the Old Moon revealed aspects of new theatre to a mixed reception.
Jessica Stone made her directorial debut under artistic director Nicholas Martin with the Sondheim hit Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 2011 Stone directed a reading of Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers. During 2012 it starred the always hilarious Brooks Ashmanskas. This season three did not prove to be a charm when Gersten brought Stone back with the disappointing and dated June Moon. In a supporting role, however, Stone's husband Christopher Fitzgerald was brilliantly funny.
Despite a hectic schedule Jenny made time for me. It was much appreciated. There were several extensive interviews in contrast to the two minute speed dates this season following controlled and unproductive press conferences.
This year I didn’t get that season ending sit down with Jenny. She was not around.
She has always been responsive to e mail often getting back with pithy comments in a matter of minutes. Typically, they were insightful and fun exchanges.
In a recent blast I got the response that she was about to terminate her WTF e mail address. While it still worked I asked if I might get an update? That came quickly and there was a fun set of word tennis.
I told her how we had missed her this summer. Then I argued that she would soon return to her first love, theatre.
Now, presto, exactly that has happened.
We much anticipate the next move of what is inevitably a stellar career in theatre.
High Line Press Release
When I joined Friends of the High Line as Executive Director, I was overjoyed to take on new challenges and lead one of the most wondrous places in New York City.
It has been a privilege to work with the smart, dedicated, and passionate staff of Friends of the High Line, as well as its devoted Board of Directors, led with grace and wisdom by Chair Catie Marron.
As much as I have enjoyed this exceptional opportunity and the talented people who make this organization so extraordinary, I have come to the realization that my real desire is to return to full-time work in the arts, focusing on the kind of arts institution and cultural programming which I love most. Consequently, I will be stepping down as Executive Director following the opening of the third section, the High Line at the Rail Yards, at the end of the month. While I will be leaving this position, I will have the great pleasure of staying on as a creative consultant to the organization through the end of the year.
The lessons I take away from this experience are very special to me and I feel honored to have been part of such an inspiring group of individuals. In particular, Joshua David, who has taught me so much about the spirit, strength and determination of Friends of the High Line. The organization is fortunate to have him helping to lead Friends of the High Line as Co-Founder and President as it determines next steps regarding executive leadership.
Just as it was a joy to join the Friends of the High Line, there will be even more joy as we celebrate the opening of High Line at the Rail Yards. I look forward to sharing in this celebration with the City of New York and all of the High Line visitors, supporters, volunteers, and community members as the organization enters this next glorious chapter.
From the Board of Directors
We are writing today to tell you that Jenny Gersten, Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, has informed us of her desire to return to the arts full-time and, as a result, will be stepping down later this month. As you've seen in her letter, she has realized that her heart still lies in the arts, her true passion, with a focus on working with an arts institution.
We will miss Jenny, and we thank her for her hard work and dedication. As Executive Director, Jenny has guided Friends of the High Line through a variety of new experiences, beginning with the move to our new headquarters in January. She has added new programming and has used her prodigious creative talents to orchestrate the opening later this month of our third section, the High Line at the Rail Yards. We are very grateful for all her contributions to Friends of the High Line during her tenure.
Jenny will work with us through the High Line at the Rail Yards opening and has agreed to be available as a creative consultant through the end of the year. This will be a thrilling time for Friends of the High Line, and one to celebrate in full force. Josh David, our Co-Founder and President, will assume oversight of the organization and work with the executive committee of the Board of Directors as we consider the next steps concerning Friends of the High Line’s leadership. We are confident that all operations, ongoing projects, and planning will continue uninterrupted.
Friends of the High Line has a very exciting time ahead. We look forward to celebrating with Jenny, Josh, and the dedicated and wonderful staff, as we open the third section. Many of you have seen it, all have come away awestruck by its scope and beauty.
We hope to see you in September as we celebrate the next chapter in the High Line's extraordinary history.