Playwrights’ Center is thrilled to announce that renowned director, educator, and arts leader Nicole A. Watson has agreed to join the Center as Producing Artistic Director. Watson will step into the role on April 1, taking over from outgoing Director Jeremy B. Cohen, who has held the position for the past 14 years. Cohen has moved on to helm the Ojai Playwrights’ Conference, but will remain at Playwrights’ Center until June to support the transition.
About Watson, Playwrights’ Center’s Board Chair Harrison David Rivers says, “Given the richness and diversity of her artistic experience, demonstrated passion for new work, and deep commitment to listening and community building, Nicole is absolutely the right leader to guide the Center into its exciting new chapter.”
Watson comes to Playwrights’ Center from Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center, and is already deeply woven into not only the national theater community, but that of the Twin Cities. She lived in Minneapolis and spent time at the Center in 2017–2018, when her husband Tim J. Lord was a Jerome Fellow. She then returned to the Twin Cities to direct Blues for an Alabama Sky at the Guthrie last season.
Watson says, “To talk about Playwrights’ Center is to talk about possibility. The organization has made an unconditional commitment to supporting writers, and that makes the Center a beacon of light in these times. I am ecstatic to lead the Center in this time of growth and transition, to become a member of and advocate for the vibrant artistic community in the Twin Cities, and to support artists and their artistic practice.”
This commitment to elevating both the national theater field and the Twin Cities as a hub for new play development makes Watson the ideal choice to direct Playwrights’ Center through its upcoming expansion.
Alongside Managing Director Robert Chelimsky, she will oversee the completion of the Center’s $19 million comprehensive fundraising campaign, A Campaign for All Narratives, and the construction of the Center’s new home in Saint Paul, Minnesota’s Creative Enterprise Zone.
Chelimsky says, “Jeremy has been a visionary and transformative leader of this organization. It’s been an honor to partner with him to increase the Center’s capacity to serve theatrical storytellers, and to conceive and realize a new home from which to serve them. I couldn’t be more excited to collaborate with Nicole, as we team with our dedicated board, and our incredible staff, to envision how we use that new home.”
McCarter’s Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen echoed the Center’s enthusiasm about Watson’s new role: “I'm thrilled for our entire field that Nicole will be helming Playwrights' Center. I've had the honor of learning from Nicole and working alongside her in various capacities for over a decade. Her wisdom, warmth and integrity are truly inspiring. She will be deeply missed at McCarter, but it's a joy to see colleagues land their dream jobs.”
The Center’s Board of Directors, with support from Cynthia Fuhrman at the Tom O’Connor Consulting Group, worked with a Producing Artistic Director search committee to choose a leader who could maintain focus on the Center’s core mission as it expands its reach. Following the committee’s recommendation, all agreed that Watson’s values and vision harmonize with those the Center has declared and repeatedly reconsecrated over the past 50+ years.
Rivers says, “On behalf of the entire Playwrights’ Center Board, I offer heartfelt thanks to the committee, chaired by Board Vice President Maura Brew, for their tireless work and dedication to this endeavor, and to the artists and staff members, whose avid participation in the search process contributed hugely to this incredible outcome.”
As more women have come to occupy Artistic Director roles in the field, both Watson and Rasmussen nodded to the influence of the HGB BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle, and its generous support towards the advancement of women+ leaders in theater. “It was the BOLD Fellowship that supported my work as the Associate Artistic Director at McCarter, and enhanced the Toni Morrison Commissions. BOLD has been invaluable in nurturing my artistic leadership,” Watson says.
Playwrights’ Center provides sustainable livelihoods for playwrights and theater artists by forming and nurturing strategic partnerships, and helping more emerging voices and new plays find their place on producing theater stages.
Watson adds, “Art is an invitation into community, and to love and support new work and today’s playwrights is to believe in a brighter, bolder, more expansive future for the American theater. Playwrights are bridge builders who, by sharing their imaginations with us, bring us closer to our hearts and into community with one another. This is necessary alchemy as we grapple with telling the stories of our time.”
Today Playwrights’ Center serves more than 2,500 playwright members from over 23 countries, offering a rich palette of support, resources, and opportunities. It now supports over 50 playwrights on fellowship each year, and in 2024 will put over $450,000 directly into the pockets of playwrights through fellowships and developmental opportunities. The Center has broadened into pursuing other means of helping playwrights make a living as well, connecting them with opportunities that include teaching jobs, television and film writing, and new play commissions.
Watson concludes, “To lead Playwrights’ Center is to commit to a relentless hope and belief in the power of art and the relationships that art-making can foster.”
Born in Jamaica and raised in New York, Nicole A. Watson is a freelance director and educator with an interest in new play development and plays that deal with the past. A former history teacher, Nicole started directing in 2008 and works in NYC as well as universities and theaters throughout the US. She is currently the Associate Artistic Director at the McCarter Theatre Center, after holding the same position at Round House Theatre for 2-1/2 years. On behalf of both theaters, she produced the Adrienne Kennedy Festival, a celebration of Kennedy’s work. For the festival, she directed a digital version of Kennedy’s She Brought Her Heart Back in a Box. During her tenure at McCarter she proposed and launched the Toni Morrison Commissions, supporting artists Daniel Alexander Jones, Mame Diara (Samantha) Speis, and Cécile McLorin Salvant as they created new work informed by time spent with Morrison’s archives. She also was a co-curator with Paula Vogel on Bard at the Gate, a digital catalog of new plays by playwrights such as Zakiyyah Alexander, Lloyd Suh, Dipika Guha, Nikki Massoud, Jose Rivera, Laura Shellhardt, Majkin Holmquist, and Joy Harjo.
Nicole is a member of the New Georges Jam and has worked with New Dramatists, the Lark Play Development Center, the Fire this Time Festival, the New Black Fest, the Women's Project Theater, The 52nd Street Project, NYTW, Signature Theatre, and Working Theater. As a new play collaborator, she has worked with playwrights such as Charly Evon Simpson, Anya Pearson, Francisca Da Silveira, Lenelle Moïse, Jacqueline Lawton, Reynaldo Pinella, Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew, Keith Josef Adkins, Lucas Baisch, Grace McLeod, Tim J. Lord, matthew paul olmos, and Kevin R. Free.
Select credits include: Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky (Guthrie), Eisa Davis’ Bulrusher, Dipika Guha’s Passing (McCarter/Bard at the Gate), Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play (Helen Hayes winner Best Ensemble, and Best Supporting Artist); Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society (Asolo Repertory Theatre); and the world premieres of Jacqueline Goldfinger’s A Wind in the Door (The Kennedy Center), Keith Josef Adkins’ The West End (Cincinnati Playhouse), Charly Evon Simpson’s it’s not a trip it’s a journey (Round House), Kevin R. Free’s Night of the Living N-Word (NY Fringe Festival), Kara Lee Corthron’s Welcome to Fear City, Johnna Adams’ World Builders (CATF), and Mark Cambell and Davis Miller’s opera Approaching Ali (Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center).
Since 2020, she has led the Kennedy Center Directing Intensive along with Raymond Caldwell and Kelsey Mesa. Watson has been a guest director at A.C.T's Conservatory, Smith College, North Carolina School of the Arts, NYU, and Long Island University She also adapted and directed Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor for Two River Theater’s Little Shakespeare. She has been a long-time volunteer at the 52nd Street Project where she directed A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Gentlemen of Verona with their teen ensemble. She is a co-founder of the Working Theater Directors Salon which she produced for 5 years working with directors Luke Harlan, Rebecca Martinez, and Dina Vovsi.
Nicole assisted Bill Rauch on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Seattle Rep premiere of The Great Society and was the assistant director on August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at the Signature Theatre directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. In 2013, she served as an assistant director and production associate on the August Wilson Century Cycle for WNYC Radio. She has also had the pleasure to assist Joe Haj, Dominique Serrand, Joanna Settle, Giovanna Sardelli, Kwame Kwei-Armah, and André DeShields.
She was a 2015 Artist in Residence at the Drama League where she developed We Sat in the Death House, a devised movement piece with MJ Kaufman. Nicole is a 2013 Drama League Directing Fellow and the 2011 recipient of the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Josephine Abady Award. Nicole was an invited artist at the 2011 Voice and Visions Retreat where she worked with playwright Dominique Morisseau on Paradise Blue.
Nicole is an alum of both the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and the Women’s Project Directors Lab and a member of the SDC. BA: History, Yale. MA: NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
Nicole lives in New Jersey with her husband, playwright Tim J. Lord and their dog, Henry, and is looking forward to returning to the Twin Cities.