The White Heron Theatre Company of Nantucket has announced the appointment of Drew Kowalkowski as the nonprofit’s first permanent managing director. Kowalkowski will lead the 11-year-old nonprofit theater’s financial, marketing, fundraising, and administrative efforts.
Kowalkowski comes to White Heron from New York City, where he has spent the last three years as chief operating officer of Thompson Turner Productions, a company that manages Broadway and national touring productions, including “The Book of Mormon,” “Mean Girls,” “Leopoldstadt,” and the recent revivals of “Company” and “Death of a Salesman.” He will leverage his Broadway experience behind the scenes to support the onstage work of the theater.
Prior to his work on Broadway, Kowalkowski served as operations manager of The Westside Theatre, a major off-Broadway venue in Midtown Manhattan, currently housing the revival of “Little Shop of Horrors.” He previously held the same position at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass. and brings experience in operations, production management, marketing, sales, and fundraising at a variety of arts organizations in New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado, including one summer working at The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Mass.
Though his most recent experience has been on large commercial Broadway productions, Kowalkowski is no stranger to running a small nonprofit theater in a remote area. In 2008, he founded Wheatland Theatre Co., the only nonprofit arts organization in Lincoln County, Wash.
“The county had a population of under 10,000 in an area twice the size of Rhode Island, and it was a five-hour drive from the nearest professional theaters in Seattle,” he explained. Kowalkowski created a unique guest artist program that brought professional theater artists from around the country to the community to work alongside and mentor local volunteers. Over a decade, he turned the community theater into the only theater in Eastern Washington to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, regularly drawing audiences from hundreds of miles away.
Kowalkowski is in the final stages of completing his Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Management and Producing at Columbia University and currently serves on the adjunct faculty of Gonzaga University, where he teaches students about navigating careers in the American professional theater.
Kowalkowski joins Artistic Director Lynne Bolton and Producing Director/Co-Artistic Director Michael Kopko, who have led the theater for the past decade, producing plays in a tent for two years before breaking ground on a permanent facility in downtown Nantucket, and bringing performers to the island each year.
“Lynne and Michael have created such an incredible theater here on the island,” Kowalkowski shared about first impressions of White Heron. “It’s a beautiful facility, and they bring first-class artists to Nantucket every summer. I’m looking forward to helping them take it to the next level, bringing more people through the doors, creating deeper connections with communities on the island, and achieving greater financial sustainability, which is a tough task when you’re on an island and can only sell 120 tickets a night. The amount of potential I see here is really energizing, and the island has a real theatergoing culture. Every Nantucketer I’ve met so far seems to have a story to tell about their most memorable theater experiences, and I can’t wait to help bring them even more!”
“Drew comes to White Heron with a deep knowledge of for-profit and nonprofit theater. As we continue to develop new work, his experience with Broadway theater will be immensely helpful. But more importantly, he has a love of non-profit theater and will work to make White Heron profitable and sustainable for years to come,” said Lynne Bolton, White Heron’s founder and artistic director. “In addition to new work, our goal is to produce fun, family-friendly entertainment for summer audiences on Nantucket and develop educational experiences based on that work. Drew will be a key to success here as he brings ideas and resources to the company and a strategic vision for sustainability.”
Also new to White Heron’s leadership is Board Chair James Malone III, who was elected to the post in December, after having served as the board’s secretary since 2019. A Nantucket summer resident since 1982, Malone and his wife Alice (who met in 1975 as she was auditioning for a role in the musical the Pajama Game and have been ardent theater supporters throughout their marriage) have owned a home in Siasconset since 1989. A former member of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre board, Malone describes his theater experience as “spending years perfecting his dramatic skills in the courtrooms across the country, in the classroom at the University of Virginia Law School,” where he teaches, “ and playing lots of golf.”
Describing his goals for the organization, Malone says, “We want White Heron to serve all the island 365 days a year. We want Islanders and Off-Islanders to come to our productions and revel in Shakespeare's line from The Tempest - 'We are such things as dreams are made on.' Like Nantucket, theater is an escape from the world beyond its shores - meant to be experienced and loved."
Rounding out White Heron’s leadership team is Director of Education and Training McCaela Donovan and Resident Director Mark Shanahan.
Donovan is a Boston-area stage veteran who joined the White Heron staff last year and brings extensive experience as a theater educator, including eight years as assistant director of the Boston University School of Theatre.
Shanahan, an New York-based director, writer and actor a was appointed resident director in 2022 after having collaborated with the company since 2017, as director of “Dial M for Murder”, “See Monsters of the Deep”, “Private Lives”, and “Hound of the Baskervilles”, performing onstage in “The Weir,” and penning White Heron’s perennial favorite, “A Nantucket Christmas Carol”.
Shanahan will helm one of three plays in White Heron’s 2023 season, which will be announced later in April and will include two classic comedies, a new play, the return of White Heron Comedy Club, and a slate of smaller performances.