Saheem Ali and Shanta Thake Join The Public Theater as Associate Artistic Directors

Saheem Ali. Photo by Lia Chang

Congrats to Saheem Ali and Shanta Thake who have been named Associate Artistic Directors at The Public Theater as part of an expanded and restructured artistic leadership team. Increased demands for equity and accountability within the theater industry have sparked a long overdue moment of change, and The Public is stepping into this moment and working toward building an anti-racist institution by transforming its artistic leadership and beginning to rebuild existing structures and systems.

Saheem Ali will serve as Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director, Shanta Thake will be Associate Artistic Director and Director of Artistic Programs, and Mandy Hackett continues as Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Theater Productions. Each associate artistic director will have their own areas of focus and responsibilities, as referenced by their secondary titles.

“Saheem, Shanta, and Mandy, in their joint capacity as associate artistic directors, will be core to the artistic leadership team, and alongside me, they will contribute to and create the overall artistic direction of The Public, in all its manifestations,” said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “This restructuring celebrates the growth and strength of our artists, diversifies the artistic decision-making authority at The Public, distributes leadership, and opens up our decision making to more voices. There is much more work to come, and shortly, but I believe this is an important step in the process of The Public becoming a more progressive, just, and anti-racist institution.”

Ali, who will start at The Public effective immediately, most recently directed the four-part radio play of Free Shakespeare on the Radio: RICHARD II. For years, he has also been deeply involved with The Public not only as a director, but also as an active community member and leader dedicated to improving and guiding the institution’s cultural transformation work.

“It is a joy to welcome Saheem Ali onto the staff of The Public, where he has already made a home in the last few years. Saheem is a brilliantly talented and versatile director, a calm and powerful leader, and a man whose values and integrity are a perfect match for The Public. I have grown to cherish and rely on him in the last years, and I eagerly look forward to working with him to craft the future of The Public,” said Eustis. “His duties will involve seeding, creating, developing and directing productions for all the stages of The Public Theater, serving to craft the plays, programs, and policies of The Public at the highest artistic level.”

“I’ve been an ardent admirer of The Public since I first immigrated to this country from Kenya, with the dual dream of becoming an artist and an American citizen. Having worked at The Public as a freelance director, I’m absolutely thrilled to be calling it my new artistic home,” said Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director Saheem Ali. “These are turbulent times for our country and our field. We’ve been reminded that the journey towards racial equality is far from over. As a theater community, we must continue to ask what we can do better and consider the ways in which we have been inadvertently but effectively complicit in the tenets of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. I look forward to working with Oskar, Mandy, Shanta, Patrick, and the extraordinary staff of The Public, as we evolve in these challenging times, and strive to continue the exemplary programming synonymous with social engagement and artistic excellence.”

Thake currently oversees all artistic programs, including Joe’s Pub, Mobile Unit, Under the Radar, Public Shakespeare Initiative, Public Works, and Public Forum. In her new role, she will continue to oversee those programs, while also expanding her responsibilities as associate artistic director.

“Over her 18 years at The Public, Shanta has grown into one of the most accomplished and innovative leaders in our field. She did a masterful job shepherding Joe’s Pub, and for the last two years, she has guided our artistic programs to increasing excellence and prominence,” said Eustis. “Elevating her is a tribute both to the importance of those programs, and to Shanta’s increasing importance as an artistic pillar of The Public.”

“The Public’s breadth of programming and support of multiple voices telling new American narratives has always been a source of deep inspiration and pride for me personally and professionally – I am so honored to work alongside these amazing artists and colleagues in this complicated, revolutionary time to reflect our changing relationships to our world and each other,” said Associate Artistic Director and Director of Artistic Programs Shanta Thake.

Ali and Thake will work alongside Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Productions Mandy Hackett, who will continue to lead The Public’s commercial project efforts from the earliest stage of development and production of shows at The Public through respective Broadway transfers.

“Mandy Hackett has served this theater with skill and passion for 15 years, shepherding both our commercial productions and our relationships with countless artists, from Suzan-Lori Parks to Danai Gurira,” said Eustis. “She will continue to be central to the artistic profile of this theater as she is joined by Shanta and Saheem.”

“I am delighted to work with Shanta and Saheem in this new capacity. Shanta has been a cherished colleague whom I have deeply respected for her commitment to artists, her thoughtful and incisive mind, and innovative spirit. I have also greatly admired Saheem’s work as a director, his work ethic and vision, and look forward to him joining our team,” said Associate Artistic Director and Director of Public Productions Mandy Hackett. “There is much more work ahead for us to do, but I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Saheem and Shanta as we begin this journey together.”

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs. The Lia Chang theater portfolio collection,1989-2011, is in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) collection located in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room and can be accessed here.

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