Oscar Winner Tarell Alvin McCraney Joins Geffen Playhouse as Artistic Director

The Geffen Playhouse has a new artistic director: Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Announced Tuesday by the Westwood nonprofit theater’s board of directors, McCraney’s appointment is effective immediately and his first order of business is joining Geffen staff to build a slate for the 2024-2025 season. His duties will include programming “new works along with re-envisioned classics with a focus on innovative storytelling, community engagement and audience experience,” per the Geffen. He’ll also be charged with setting the artistic course for the Geffen’s Gil Cates and Audrey Skirball Kenis theaters and leading the artistic and production teams.

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McCraney replaces Matt Shakman in the role. Shakman, a director of TV, film and theater projects, joined the Geffen as artistic director in 2017. In August 2022, he announced he would be departing come February 2023, and a committee commenced a months-long search for a replacement.

McCraney has history with the Geffen. In 2014, the Westwood-based theater presented his critically acclaimed play Choir Boy at the Gil Cates Theater with a creative team that included director Trip Cullman and star Jeremy Pope. In February 2020, he was part of the new Geffen Playhouse artist residency announced with Cast Iron Entertainment, a cohort of artists also including Sterling K. Brown, Glenn Davis, Brian Tyree Henry, Jon Michael Hill and André Holland.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, which first reported news of McCraney’s new gig, the playwright and screenwriter said he’s had an ambition to become an artistic director “my entire life.” In today’s release, he called it an honor to take on the mantle. “I see my role as continuing a legacy of exceptional artistry, reinvesting in the Geffen’s unique capability to nurture and support artists, build upon collaborative partnerships including with UCLA, and reach audiences that we share a community with across Los Angeles. I am excited to foster intimate innovation in performance, digging deep into our collective need for live connection here at Geffen Playhouse.”

Geffen Playhouse executive director and CEO Gil Cates Jr. noted McCraney’s full-circle moment with the venue. “First and foremost, he is an exceptional artist and storyteller, and a true visionary with extraordinary ideas for where we can go as a theater, as a home for artists and as part of the cultural landscape in Los Angeles.”

Added Adi Greenberg, chair of the board of directors: “As an award-winning writer, producer and educator, he is a force of creativity and uniquely suited to lead our theater’s artistic vision. Together with Gil Cates, Jr., they are a powerhouse team who will embrace the evolution taking place in the industry, make bold, innovative choices and ensure Geffen Playhouse is well-positioned for the future.”

Tarell Alvin McCraney Geffen Playhouse
Tarell Alvin McCraney with Gil Cates Jr. and Adi Greenberg are photographed inside the Geffen.

McCraney, a native of Miami, has also worked as a producer and educator. He’s known for the trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays, and his script In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which he adapted to Oscar-winning results for Barry Jenkins’ best picture winner Moonlight. His other credits including David Makes Man and High Flying Bird.

He is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theatre and a member of Teo Castellanos D-Projects in Miami, along with a graduate of New World School of the Arts, Theatre School at DePaul University and the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick.

He recently served as co-chair of the Playwriting Program at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale, as well as Playwright-in-Residence at Yale Repertory Theatre, where he fostered a workshop program at the David Geffen School of Drama. He is an associate at the Royal Shakespeare Company, London and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Geffen’s upcoming productions include Every Brilliant Thing, The Engagement Party, POTUS, Black Cypress Bayou, Fat Ham, The Hope Theory and Tiny Father.

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