PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When Oscar Eustis studied theater at New York University, he was fortunate to live around the corner from The Public Theater.
"The work I saw at The Public changed my life," he recalls. In June, Mr. Eustis leaves his current home at Trinity Repertory Company to take over from George C. Wolfe as artistic director at The Public.
Eustis has notable regional theater credentials, including stints at the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco, and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. More impressive are the director's accomplishments at Trinity Rep. When Eustis came in 1994, the theater was staggering under a $2 million debt. Under his leadership, the theater has retired that debt, and has run its subsequent nine seasons in the black.
As artistic director, Eustis produced a series of highly praised shows, including last season's "Henriad," three separate productions of Shakespeare's Henry V plays. He also developed the Trinity Rep/Brown University Consortium for professional theater training.
The Public Theater is arguably the most influential nonprofit theater in America. Founded by Joseph Papp in 1964, The Public runs six stages including its annual summer season of Shakespeare in Central Park.
The triumphs of Papp and Wolfe - 38 Tony Awards, four Pulitzer Prizes, and 49 shows that transferred to Broadway (including "Hair" and "A Chorus Line") - are hard acts to follow. "How could I not be frightened?" Eustis says. "I'm sure I'll have some bad nights."
He will be returning to NYU as a full professor in the School of the Arts' dramatic writing program and department of arts and public policy, similar to the full professorship he held at Brown.
His personal mission is the development of new plays, an area where his successes include the commissioning of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" and the directing of its world première, as well as the world premières of Paula Vogel's "The Long Christmas Ride Home," and Rinne Groff's "Ruby Sunrise," which he'll bring to The Public next season. Eustis plans to do more producing than directing during his first few years in New York.
"I need to set the tone of opening up the theater to as many diverse voices as possible," he says.