Braden Abraham, the associate artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre and a staff member there since 2003, has been named acting artistic director of the company.
Abraham replaces artistic head Jerry Manning, who died suddenly on April 30 due to complications after a routine heart operation. The Seattle Rep board has signed Abraham to a two-year contract, which concludes on June 30, 2016.
No major changes of programming are planned for the Rep’s 2014-15 season, which Manning announced just weeks before his death. The season will include an August Wilson work and several new plays, including a two-part drama about the presidential years of Lyndon B. Johnson, penned by Seattle writer Robert Schenkkan.
This will be Abraham’s first time at the helm of an established theater, and at 37 he is the same age as the youngest artistic director in the Rep’s 52-year history, founding artistic director Stuart Vaughan.
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But Abraham has spent nearly his entire career at the theater, and his hiring gives the state’s largest nonprofit regional playhouse artistic and leadership continuity in the wake of the popular Manning’s untimely death at 58.
“Jerry was my mentor and my friend, and we worked together very closely,” commented Abraham, who said he is still “raw” from the unexpected loss.
Soft-spoken and boyish-looking but serious-minded, Abraham praised Manning’s vision (“He had the best artistic taste of anyone in the business”), and pledged to continue his commitment to discovering, mentoring and hiring talent in and beyond the Seattle area.
“There wasn’t a major artistic decision Jerry made for the company that he didn’t consult with me on,” Abraham noted. “We were different people, with some different ideas, but we shared very similar tastes and values.”
The tightknit working relationship began in 2002, when Abraham was a stage director and recent Western Washington University graduate, and secured an internship at the Rep. He worked under Manning, then head of casting and artist relations during artistic director Sharon Ott’s reign.
With Manning’s tutelage and encouragement, Abraham’s role at the Rep gradually expanded. In 2008, when Manning replaced Ott’s successor, David Esbjornson, as artistic leader of the company, Abraham became associate artistic director and the two were a solid artistic team.
Abraham has directed more than a dozen plays for the theater. He recently staged a much-praised version of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and a world-premiere work by Montana author Samuel D. Hunter, “A Great Wilderness.”
A director whose style shifts with the material he is approaching, Abraham has also scored notable Rep successes with the racially charged Bruce Norris comedy, “Clybourne Park”; the controversial one-woman drama “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” about a young Evergreen College student activist who died during a protest in the West Bank; and “Photograph 51,” about influential scientist Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of the double helix of DNA.
Outside the Rep, he has directed shows at Washington Ensemble Theatre, Theater Schmeater, West of Lenin and Illusion Theater in Minneapolis. He has been a guest artist at Stanford University, Gonzaga University, the University of Idaho and Seattle University.
Abraham, like Manning, has been intent on fostering new plays, which he says will remain a priority. He has led the Writers Group, a new Rep program that brings Northwest playwrights under the company’s wing to help foster their writing and careers.
The Writers Group and the Rep’s revived annual New Play Program of staged readings will continue under his watch. During the 2014-15 season, Abraham is set to stage the Rep’s world premiere of “The Comparables,” a new script he helped to develop with playwright Laura Schellhardt, author of “The K of D” (an earlier work Abraham also staged at the Rep).
Born in Corvallis, Ore., Abraham lived a nomadic existence with his “hippie” parents, He spent part of his childhood on Fidalgo Island in the San Juans and attended Anacortes High School, before graduating from Seattle’s Ingraham High School. He is engaged to actress Cheyenne Casebier, and they have a young daughter.
Queried about whether he would eventually apply for the permanent job of artistic director at Seattle Rep, which will also have a new managing director soon (Jeffrey Herrmann), Abraham said, “Ask me that in a year. I can only tell you that I love this theater, and I love this community of artists, which I feel very much a part of.”
Right now he is looking ahead to next season, and to the 2015-16 season, the first he will plan on his own. He has “a long list of ideas” for it, including developing a project of Manning’s, an adaptation of the Kirsten Grind book “The Lost Bank,” about the crash of Washington Mutual.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org