“Taibi likes to joke that she’s an outdoor cat and I’m an indoor cat,” said Tyler Dobrowsky, one-half of the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s new husband-and-wife artistic director team.
His wife Taibi Magar is a freelance theater director, often bouncing from gig to gig at theaters across the country.
“My home is wherever my laptop is,” said Magar.
Dobrowsky tends to be more stationary, having made a career largely as a producer and arts administrator building programs within theater companies.
True to their feline familiars: during a Zoom interview Magar joined from a rehearsal at the American Repertory Theater in Boston where she is directing a revival of Anna Deveare Smith’s “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992,” while Dobrowsky was at home in Providence, Rhode Island, surrounded by cardboard packing boxes preparing for their relocation to Philadelphia.
“We have different but complementary skill sets,” said Dobrowsky. “We’re both directors and we’re both producers and we’re both artistic leaders, but I probably have more of an organizational mind and an institutional mind, whereas Taibi is much more comfortable in the rehearsal room, talking to actors, talking to designers.”
On September 6, they both will start as the new artistic director duo at one of Philadelphia’s oldest theater companies. PTC will be 50 years old in 2024. They are replacing former artistic director Paige Price, who left after five seasons to become an independent theater producer.
Magar has some previous connections to Philadelphia: she has been a senior lecturer at the University of the Arts, and directed “The Underground Railroad Game” with local theater company Lightening Rod Special. Underground premiered at the 2015 Philadelphia Fringe and went on a very successful national tour, winning an Obie Award for its New York run.
“I just had an amazing time in that community,” said Magar about the Philadelphia theater scene. “It’s a community that’s just brimming with fierce, ferocious talent and ideas that really are pushing the art form forward.”
Dobrowsky spent many years at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, where he and Magar met, first running their education programs and advancing to become an associate artistic director.
“When COVID happened Trinity cut their staff a bunch. I started working at the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University,” he said. “We wanted to have an artistic home where we could develop new projects and implement education and community engagement programs. That’s something we did while at Trinity. We wanted to have our own space to do that.”
Located literally in the center of the city, at the Suzanne Roberts Theater on the Avenue of the Arts, the Philadelphia Theater Company has experienced more than its share of turbulence, from a staff union strike in 2015 and coming close to bankruptcy, to being called out publically for a lack of diversity in its season programming.
Like theaters everywhere, PTC suffered during the pandemic. During the forced theater shutdowns across the city, PTC took steps to address perceived shortcomings in terms of diversity in inclusion by participating in discussions about diversity and hiring a resident artist specializing in community outreach.
“PTC is embracing a new leadership model that will take advantage of Taibi and Tyler’s complementary strengths,” said PTC Board Chair Gary Deutsch in a statement. “They share PTC’s commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility and they will advance our goals of expanding PTC’s constituency.”
“Anti-racism is a deep part of who we are. I’m a woman of color, so it’s quite personal,” said Magar, who is Egyptian American. “I devoted pretty much all of my work to anti-racism.”
Dobrowsky said a big part of the new job will occur outside the theater, building relationships with community members and other theaters to cultivate new, underserved audiences and partnerships.
“[The board] wanted someone, or two people perhaps, that could give them not just artistic vision, but also a cultural and civic vision,” he said. “They really were interested in community impact, building up education programs for young people, and developing new work.”
“Tyler and I always talk about how theaters can often feel like country clubs, and they should feel more like community centers,” added Magar. “That’s a big part of the mission at PTC: not just making great art on the stage, which we happen to be very good at, but we’re also really good at cultivating those kinds of relationships.”
The PTC will begin its three-production season for 2022-2033 on October 26, with the new musical The Tattooed Lady by Erin Courtney and Max Vernon. That will be followed in February by a sci-fi comedy Empathitrax by Ana Nogueira, and then in April “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” about one of Billie Holiday’s last performances set in South Philadelphia.
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