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WBGO: Meet Two River Theater's new Artistic Director Justin Waldman

by Doug Doyle

As a theatrical producer and director who has brought more than 250 productions to life during his 20-year career, Justin Waldman is excited his new position as Artistic Director at Two River Theater in Red Bank. Waldman returns to the East Coast from San Diego after an eleven-year career at the Old Globe Theatre.

Waldman recently spoke with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about his plans for Two River Theater. The Tufts University graduate says his love of theater began at an early age.

“When we would have family gatherings, I would gather all our cousins and we would do a little play on the fireplace mantel. I had a very patient family. They indulged my creative endeavors. They were really able to allow that to flourish by taking me to a lot of plays. I had the privilege to go to a lot of shows in Boston and in New York with my mother and her mother. They really tried to instill a love of the arts and theater in me as a young person. My grandmother took me to see the original production of Angels in America when I was 15. It blew my mind. I didn’t know that theater could be that expansive and open up your world view to so much more than what a small town boy in New Hampshire knew. It really was a special thing for me to see a world I didn’t know.”

Those early influences have helped Waldman possess the magic touch in the theater business. During his tenure at the Old Globe in San Diego, he transferred six productions to Broadway, including A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Tony Award for Best Musical), Bright Star (Tony Nomination for Best Musical) and the upcoming Almost Famous.

“I’ve been very lucky to be associated with some amazing artists. I think that’s the important thing. You put your faith in the right people to build something amazing and you empower them to do their best work.”

Waldman stresses, in his new role, he wants to carry on the wonderful legacy of the theater in Red Bank, shepherd the beautiful vision of Robert and Joan Rechnitz, while building on the work of John Dias and Michael Hurst. One of his main objectives is to expand Two River’s impact beyond its stages in order to reach a larger, even more inclusive audience.

“You’re trying to make theater for the audience in which you’re speaking to. Wherever you are, it’s really important to take into consideration what the people around you want to see, what they like, what they don’t like, what they need to have their visions expanded by, and then the things that are going to make them feel like they want to get off the couch and go to the theater. For me and what is next? I think it’s an acknowledgement that these institutions, as great as they are, as beautiful as this building is, there’s been structural inequities throughout the country for decades, if not hundreds of years, that excluded specific people from coming into these edifices. We have structurally excluded different communities from seeing themselves represented on these stages or represented by the people that are welcoming them into the building. Our job is to start to break down those barriers and build pathways and bridges to communities that would feel like that art can help them in their lives. You don’t have to physically come here (the theater) to do that. We can come to you and make it easier for you to engage with what we are doing.”

You can SEE the entire interview with Justin Waldman here.