The Local WP Theater Celebrates 40 Years of Amplifying Women’s Voices

By Lisa Kava

The WP Theater, located at Broadway and 76th Street, is celebrating its 40th anniversary season as the oldest and largest theater in the country that is devoted to developing, promoting and producing work by women. Previously known as the Women’s Project Theater, the WP Theater moved from 55th Street to 2162 Broadway at 76th Street in October 2015 and is currently in its third season in the new space.

Producer Julia Miles founded the Women’s Project Theater in 1978 after she realized that there was a lack of representation of women in theater: at that time only 6% of the work in theater was being written and/or produced by women. “The WP theater is about supporting women artists and getting their voices heard on stage,” said Lisa McNulty, the Producing Artistic Director.

McNulty’s first job in theater was 20 years ago as the literary manager of the Women’s Project Theater. She spent the last eight seasons as the Artistic Line Producer at the Manhattan Theater Club before rejoining the WP Theater in 2014. “I feel like this place has formed who I am as a person of the theater,” McNulty said. “Particularly right now at this time when there is such social awareness around the importance of supporting women and making space for their voices it feels to me as though this institution is more important than ever.”


Lisa McNulty.

She thinks the WP Theater’s home on the Upper West Side is the perfect fit. “This is a neighborhood where there is an appetite for supporting theater and an appetite for supporting women’s issues as evidenced by the recent women’s march.”

The WP Theater generally has three shows per year during the season, which lasts from September to April. The current season began with a dance theater vaudeville piece about sports called One Night Only. Next was a satire about bias in the workplace called What We’re Up Against. Currently an off beat comedy set in a bar in Bushwick called [Porto], is previewing. Porto which will officially open at the WP Theater on February 6th, is a New York Times Critic’s pick that was just transferred to the WP Theater from Brooklyn’s The Bushwick Starr.

“This is a play with many surprises,” McNulty said.

“Our writing, directing and designing in all of our shows are done by women but the topic of each show can be anything in the world. The work I put on stage mostly has a sense of humor. Women think and write about all kinds of things.” Just 21% of the work in theater is written or produced by women, but 80% of tickets are bought by women, she noted.

McNulty also wants locals to think of the WP as a neighborhood theater. “We are really excited about being people’s neighborhood theater. We want people to know that not only is there an institution that supports women but that there is a producing theater doing Off-Broadway level work right in the neighborhood.” “We are making work right here that is succeeding in the industry, the work we do goes on to be produced across the country. There are artists who got their start here who have won Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards and Golden Globes.”

The theater’s alumni include several prominent actors, including Tony Award winners and nominees Michael Cerveris, Kathleen Chalfant, Colleen Dewhurst, Tammy Grimes, Cherry Jones, Tonya Pinkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Thomas Sadoski, and Frances Sternhagen, Academy Award winners and nominees Linda Hunt, Kim Hunter, and Mary McDonnell, and Emmy Award winners and nominees Ruby Dee, America Ferrera, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jimmy Smits, and John Spencer. Other actors who have performed in WP Theater productions include Adrienne C. Moore, Pedro Pascal, and Tracie Thoms.

Every two years the WP Theater runs a two-year residency program called the Lab, where five playwrights, five producers and five directors are chosen to participate. The program culminates in the spring with the Pipeline Festival which includes five plays performed in five weeks. The plays are written, directed and produced by the members of the Lab.

“In this program we grow the women who go on to run theaters, women who write movies, women who are on Broadway,” McNulty said. “There are very few significant women who have major careers in theater who have not come through this institution at some point.”

Alumni of the Lab include JoAnne Akalaitis, Tea Alagić, Rachel Chavkin, Quíara Alegria Hudes, and Anne Kauffman. Several alumni have served as Artistic Directors at other theater companies, including Akalaitis (New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater), Emily Mann (McCarter Theatre), and Carey Perloff (A.C.T.).

The space on Broadway and 76th Street holds one hundred and eight people and “there isn’t a bad seat in the house.” The theater feels intimate, comfortable and inviting, with the audience in close physical proximity to the performers.

And the theater is hoping to partner with local schools to introduce more children to drama. “I was just talking to my manager today about working with the schools being an important next step for us,” she said. “We had a robust education program when we were on 55th street but now we are putting down new roots.” She told us that they do offer internships for high school students.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the WP Theater is holding a fundraising gala at the Edison Ballroom on June 13th (the night after the Tony Awards.) Past honorees have included Gloria Steinem and Diane Sawyer. The theater will announce this years honoree as the date gets closer and will also announce some “good news,” McNulty added.

McNulty wants the community to know that “the WP Theater has been here all along and doing such important work. I just really want people to get to know us, I am always here. I am often in the lobby when the shows are happening. People should stop by and say hi!”

For more information on the WP Theater, a full performance schedule and to purchase tickets go to www.wptheater.org.

Photo by Lisa Kava.

ART, NEWS | 2 comments | permalink
    1. Sally F says:

      Thanks for this article! I never knew anything about this theater!

    2. TessieN says:

      I’ve been wanting to know about this theater as I walk by it daily. I’ll be seeing Porto.