The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Wynn Handman

Wynn Handman

Founder of The American Place Theatre
Born on Friday, May 19, 1922

Interviewed on: Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Location: Wynn Handman Studios
Interviewed by: Billy Lyons
Interview #15
"To hell with profit. We want to do what is significant."
Wynn Handman Highlights
Video Length: 5 Minutes, 46 Seconds
Wynn Handman Interview
Video Length: 2 Hours, 41 Minutes

Wynn Handman was the co-founder and Artistic Director of The American Place Theatre, one of the first non-profit theaters in New York City. The organization began creating plays at St. Clement’s Church Theatre in 1962. The company is credited with playing an important role in the emerging 1960s African-American theatre scene and the growth of The Women’s Project. The American Place Theatre produced many Off-Broadway productions, such as: THE OLD GLORY (1964), HOGAN’S GOAT (1965), THE JOURNEY OF THE FIFTH HORSE (1966), LA TURISTA (1967), PINKVILLE (1971), DRINKING IN AMERICA (1986), MAMBO MOUTH (1990), and STONEWALL JACKSON’S  HOUSE (1997). Handman is also credited as a director for some of its plays, including: DRINKING IN AMERICA (1986), ZORA NEALE HURSTON (1990/1992/1998), FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA (1991), BIBLIOMANIA (1993), FLY (1997), and MANCHILD IN THE PROMISED LAND (1999). Handman received a Village Voice OBIE grant and citation in 1982 for The American Place Theatre’s “uncompromising commitment to unconventional and daring plays.” In 1993, he was the recipient of the Lucille Lortel Award for Lifetime Achievement from the League of Off-Broadway Theatres. He was also given the Actors’ Equity Association Rosetta LeNoire Award for his artistic achievements. Finally, in 1999, he was bestowed an OBIE Award for Sustained Achievement.

Handman considers his role in theatre “to seek out, encourage, train, and present new and exciting writing and acting talent and to develop and produce new plays by living American writers.” For the past 50 years, he has been a devoted acting teacher. He trained Michael Douglas, Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Chalfant, Mia Farrow, Denzel Washington, and many more. In 1992, he created an arts education program called Literature to Life. This program presents professional staged verbatim adaptations of important American literary works. It encourages reading, writing, critical thinking, and has served as a catalyst for self expression for over 400,000 students nationwide.

Mentioned in Interview

Sandy Meisner, Robert Lowell, Louis Jouvet, Sidney Lanier, Myrna Loy, Ed Bullins, Woodie King, Jr., Ronald Milner, Lloyd Richards, Charlie L. Russell, Joyce Aaron, Sam Shepard, Kevin O'Connor, Ron Ribman, George Tabori, Julia Miles, May Swenson, Rochelle Owens, Maria Irene Fornes, Joyce Carol Oates, Literature to Life, The American Place Theatre, St. Clement’s Church, The Woman’s Project, Judson Poets Theater THE OLD GLORY, WHO’S GOT HIS OWN?, HOGAN’S GOAT, RED CROSS, LA TURISTA, WORD OF MOUTH, THE BLUEST EYE