Mark Plesent, long-time Producing Artistic Director of Working Theater, the only theater in the country dedicated exclusively to telling the stories of working people, passed away on February 19, 2021 after a valiantly fought 4-year battle with cancer. He was 60.
Working Theater was Mark’s artistic home for most of his professional life. Mark led the theater for more than 25 years with compassion, generosity and ingenuity. He arrived first as an intern in 1989 and quickly made himself indispensable, stepping into the role of Managing Director and also assistant directing Let Me Live by OyamO, with an ensemble that included Arthur French and music by Olu Dara. After a brief absence from Working Theater from 1992 to 1996, when he served as Development Director at Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Mark returned to direct A Drop in the Bucket. He was named Producing Director of Working Theater in 1996 and worked alongside artistic leaders Bill Mitchelson, Bill Wise, Bob Arcaro and Connie Grappo. Mark became the sole Producing Artistic Director in 2010. In 2020 he brought on Tamilla Woodard and they served together as Co-Artistic Directors.
Mark founded Working Theater’s signature community arts education program TheaterWorks! which provides classes in writing and performance for working people. He also conceived and instituted a ticket subsidy program to provide low cost tickets to groups of working people. As a producer, director and artistic leader, he produced over 30 plays for the Theater, countless commissions, and launched or supported the careers of many celebrated artists such as André De Shields, OyamO, Theresa Rebeck, Dan Hoyle, Nicole Watson, and more. For 15 years, Mark served on the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, an organization serving over 400 member theater companies.
André De Shields recently performed excerpts of Frederick Douglass: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory at Flushing Town Hall for Black History Month and dedicated the performance to the memory of Mark, who produced a workshop production in 2010 at Abingdon Theater.
The plays Mark produced at the Working Theater addressed subjects and themes ranging from the working conditions of television production crews (Rob Ackerman’s Tabletop) to the plight of the uninsured in America (Michael Milligan’s Mercy Killers) to the struggles of women working in poultry plants (Lisa Ramirez’s To the Bone) to the shared journey of undocumented immigrants crossing the United States border, staged inside an actual 18-wheeler: Ed Cardona, Jr.’s La Ruta traveled to all five boroughs and was the genesis of Mark’s most ambitious initiative, Five Boroughs One City.
The program was founded as a collaborative, community-based theater producing project aimed at fostering dialogue about pressing social justice issues within and between the diverse working class communities of New York’s Five Boroughs. Since its inception in 2015, this initiative has produced and toured four of the original commissioned projects in dynamic co-partnership with community organizations and arts groups across the city including CASA, Riseboro, Snug Harbor, IBEW Local 3 and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Under Mark’s leadership, Working Theater has been honored with 6 Drama Desk Award nominations, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble for Tabletop, and 3 Audelco Awards.
Mark was born on March 24, 1960 in New York to Gloria and Stanley Plesent. He received a degree in theater from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1983. Mark is preceded in death by his brother John. He is survived by his loving husband Rodger Belknap, his parents, his sisters Nora Plesent and Leslie Fox, and many loving nieces, nephews and cousins. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Mark Plesent Commission Fund, established to honor Mark’s legacy and commitment to Working Theater’s mission by supporting the annual commission of new plays by working people.
A celebration of his life will be held on Monday, March 8th, 2021 at 7pm ET online via Zoom. For details about the celebration or to contribute to the Mark Plesent Commission Fund please visit www.theworkingtheater.org. Click here to join the Zoom.
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.
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