Mark Plesent, Producing Artistic Director of Working Theater Dies at 60; A Celebration of His Life Set for March 8

Mark Plesent. Photo by Roger Belknap

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 Plesent, producing director, The Working Theater, André De Shields, Mercedes Ellington, and director Alfred Preisser at the opening night party of Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: From Douglass to Deliverance, at the Houndstooth Pub on February 4, 2010 in New York. © Lia Chang
Ching Valdes-Aran and Mark Plesent in rehearsal for THREE SISTERS. Photo by Lia Chang

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 in Working Theater’s workshop production of FREDERICK DOUGLASS: MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY (2010).. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: From Douglass to Deliverance Opening Night Photos: André De Shields, Mercedes Ellington and Alfred Preisser

Michael Milligan in Mercy Killers (2014). Photo by Lia Chang

Working Theater and the Harold Clurman Lab Theater Present Michael Milligan’s Mercy Killers Off-Broadway 

Mark Plesent. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Annie Henk, Bobby Plasencia, Gerardo Rodriguez and Zoë Sophia Garcia in Ed Cardona, Jr.’s LA RUTA (2013). Photo by Lia Chang

Working Theater’s World Premiere of Ed Cardona, Jr.’s La Ruta

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.

Neal Hemphill, Gerardo Rodriguez and Andrés Munar in Working Theater’s First Stage Production of Ed Cardona Jr’s ‘American Jornalero’, directed by Victor Maog (2010). Photo © Lia Chang
Director Victor Maog, Actors Jeff Biehl, Mat Hostetler, Andrés Munar and Neal Hemphill, Playwright Ed Cardona, Jr., Actors Gerardo Rodriguez and Josè Joaquin Perez and Working Theater Producing Director Mark Plesent. Working Theater’s First Stage Production of Ed Cardona Jr’s ‘American Jornalero’, directed by Victor Maog, March 4 – 14, 2010. Photo © Lia Chang

Ed Cardona, Jr.’s American Jornalero at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre

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.

Edoardo Ballerini in Stefanie Zadravec’s HONEY BROWN EYES (2011). Photo by Lia Chang

Working Theater’s HONEY BROWN EYES by Stefanie Zadravec at The Clurman

Brian Dykstra and Matthew Boston in Rob Ackerman’s CALL ME WALDO (2012). Photo by Lia Chang

Working Theater’s Production of Rob Ackerman’s CALL ME WALDO at Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex

Mark Plesent. Photo by Lia Chang

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 Click here to join the Zoom.

Rehearsal room for Three Sisters. Photo by Lia Chang
Lia Chang
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.

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