ITHACA, NY -- The Kitchen Theatre has seen some changes in two of its most influential offices since the last season. Namely, Rebecca Bradshaw and Cary Bland Simpson have joined the Kitchen as the producing artistic director and managing director, respectively.
Bradshaw comes to Ithaca from the Boston area, where she spent the past decade working at the Huntington Theatre Company.
“I did a lot of producing and building new plays, as well as casting and being on the artistic team,” she said. “I was inside a very large company and had been wanting a smaller company that is more nimble and can do a lot of cool work.”
Bradshaw said when she came across the job listing for the producing artistic director at the Kitchen she was excited because its past programming was full of shows she loved.
“The plays on my list were already on my producer or director bucket lists, so I knew our aesthetics matched,” she said. “The first day in the space I remember walking around and thinking, oh I can do a lot of great art here.”
Prior to applying to and accepting the position at the Kitchen, Bradshaw wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about Ithaca. She said she knew of the colleges here because she had looked at Ithaca College when she was in high school, but wasn’t too familiar otherwise.
“I did know the previous artistic director, so I had heard great things from her,” Bradshaw said.
However, she said this transition gives her the chance to go back to what she’s been missing.
“I love woods and nature and wanted a bit more of a small-town feel to my life,” she said. “This is such a beautiful match between where I want my personal life and where I want my theatrical life to be.”
Bradshaw added that one of the things she’s excited about in particular is the passion for arts that people have in Ithaca.
“It’s a really surprising gem of a place, there are so many arts here and it’s so different,” she said. “It feels like the level of artistic enthusiasm you see in a metro area but in a small city. And it’s really exciting to already feel that having talked to many people. It definitely feels like people are really engaged in the arts here, they want to be here. I’m excited to hear that part of the job is easy.”
As the producing artistic director, Bradshaw said she feels that one of her strongest values is putting people first.
“I think about the people ahead of the product,” she said. She added that she doesn’t want people to dread coming to work every day, she wants artists to feel supported so they can do the best job they can do on stage.
“It’s important they feel comfortable because when they walk in the space they can do their best work,” she said. “I hope I can extend that level of support to creative artists both local and from out of town, and also to our staff. I want to make sure it’s a humane and supportive place to work.”
Simpson is also new to town. Originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, she moved to Ithaca from New York City. There she was working at Only Make Believe, a service organization that brings theater to children with illness and disabilities. Prior to that she worked in “a bunch of regional theaters.”
She had also never been to Ithaca prior to finding out about the open managing director position, but one of her best friends had gone to Ithaca College and another friend worked as a costume director at the Hangar Theatre, so she had heard plenty about it.
“I was told by both of them that it was the part of upstate that feels the most like North Carolina, rural and beautiful but the people are lovely and the food is excellent,” she said. “There’s always something to do but time moves slowly. It has a mythic quality to it.”
Simpson visited this summer while the Kitchen’s show “Shape” was running at Washington Park and said she fell in love with the theater, specifically the versatility that comes with a 98-person space. She added that she felt like taking this role was meant to be, because after she had seen the job posting, three other people sent it to her saying it would be a perfect fit.
“It’s kind of fun to be on an adventure in this new place that kind of reminds me of where I grew up,” she said. Though, she did note the house she moved into here was built in 1860 and has a (seemingly harmless) ghost named Sarah.
As she takes the reins as managing director, Simpson said her main focus at first is to update systems and streamline the operations. And then rehearsals start.
“I’ve been out of the producing theater world so I’m just excited for rehearsals to start back up and artists to be back in the space,” she said.
Similarly to Bradshaw, Simpson said creating a human-centric art space is important to her as she gets to work.
“I am formally trained in managing director systems and how to lead an arts organization with humanity and people-centric work,” she said. “I’m excited to bring a heart to this role. Mental health is very important to me, work-life balance is very important to me, making art in a safe, human way is very important to me. I’m getting to support and uplift what has been done here while updating systems and bringing that 2021 ethos.”
Simpson said she thinks she and Bradshaw will make a good team and is thrilled to be working with her.
“We hit it off right away, we’re similar in our leadership styles and management styles,” she said. “Her vision artistically is beautiful and full of heart and hope, but she also has a great civic mind and is aware of what’s going on around her.”
Bradshaw said she feels the same.
“I feel like we’re going to be a really great team, and I’m excited to lift up this theater with her by my side,” Bradshaw said. “I have really good vibes moving forward working with her, and I think it’s going to be a really cool duo.”
The Kitchen’s new season began Sept. 14 with “A Boy and his Soul,” which runs through Oct. 3. Visit https://www.kitchentheatre.org/ for more information.