How Lynne Meadow kept the Manhattan Theater Club at the forefront of theater for 46 years

When Lynne Meadow took on the role of artistic director at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1972, it was a choice between leading the newly created theater company – then a small nonprofit located in a three-story space on East 73rd Street – and working in the cheese department at Zabar’s. Fresh out of Yale and one of the few female directors of the moment, she had one ambition: to create theatre. She was also a daring young artist with a taste for making the impossible possible, and at MTC, Meadow saw an opportunity.

Under his leadership, along with longtime MTC executive producer Barry Grove, the theater has become one of the nation’s leading nonprofits, producing on and off Broadway, with 23 Tony Awards and seven Pulitzer Prizes to her name. Daring to dream big has been at the heart of Meadow’s artistic direction, from initiating projects such as the New York theater strategy in its very first year – 23 plays in six weeks by playwrights like Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson – producing Alan Ayckbourn lodge and Gardentwo plays performed simultaneously by the same ensemble in separate theatres.

Throughout her career, Meadow has relied on her instincts. “There are so many choices that are made in the arts,” she says. “To try to maintain equanimity in the face of these choices, I really learned to listen to my instincts. I think it’s a very important part of [this job].” When Meadow read Martyna Majok’s screenplay Cost of life, which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, she didn’t give too much thought to the complicated logistics of directing the story. She only thought about saying yes.

“There have been so many games that if you really thought about the details, you’d just say, ‘That’s impossible,'” Meadow explains. “But I think nothing is impossible. I think if you really want to do something, you find a way.

While it’s true that he loves “a bit of mayhem,” Meadow is ultimately addicted to talent. During her tenure, she encouraged many playwrights who came of age on MTC stages and became household names. The theater’s mission has always been to support writers and has a long tradition of robust development work behind the scenes at its main marquees. Writers like Jocelyn Bioh, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Ayad Akhtar may not have had plays produced in theaters, but were supported by MTC through its reading series.

As the Manhattan Theater Club continues to evolve, Meadow remains committed to her own growth, both as an artist and as a leader. “I’m so lucky. My job feels very important to me,” she says. “It’s alive. I don’t tend to be complacent and always strive to improve myself.