Company member Mary Elizabeth Scallen sat down with Zak Berkman and Katherine McNabb to ask them about their leadership roles at People's Light. Read on to get to know Producing Artistic Director Zak Berkman, and click HERE to meet Katherine McNabb, our Board President. 

What was your first encounter with People’s Light?
When I served as co-founder and Director of Artistic Programming with New York’s Epic Theatre Ensemble, I worked closely with artists who were People’s Light veterans. They urged me to meet Abbey Adams since we share kindred perspectives about the role of theatre in civic life. Abbey and I collaborated on two projects, which set the stage for my joining People’s Light as Associate Artistic Director in 2011.

What particular skill sets do you bring to your new position?
I have 30 years of experience working on Broadway, Off-Broadway, way off-off Broadway, at regional theatres, and in educational environments as a producer, director, writer, dramaturg, and teacher. I can’t believe it’s been that long, but it’s true. In fact, thanks to my father, an esteemed professor and dramaturg, I’ve been involved in the professional theatre since infancy. I’ve made theatre in varying spaces with differing budgets for diverse constituents. I’m familiar with and appreciate diverse viewpoints into the creative process. I’ve learned how to construct dynamic collaborative environments, and how to inspire community stakeholders to support and engage in a wide range of work. In all these settings, I’ve had the privilege to work side-by-side with extraordinary people with a passion to widen the tent, to assure that people of different backgrounds and generations can find connection and purpose, joy and growth through the live arts. I’ve been in the sandbox with some of the most remarkable theatre-makers in our field, whose trust I cherish. This includes my time at People’s Light, where I have felt deeply inspired by past and present leadership, staff, artists, and community partners.

What fires you up about working at People’s Light?
“Fires up” is the phrase! I love thinking of People’s Light as “the perfect campfire.” Given our unique location and environment, we can bring together communities who might not otherwise exchange ideas or discover commonalities to enter a shared space for something mythic or magical, to laugh together, to sing together. Producing theatre here is unlike producing anywhere else in the country: our audiences are distinctive and diverse; the region boasts a remarkably rich history and identity, as does our theatre; and we possess a Company of Artists dedicated to long-term collaborations and ongoing mentorship. This dazzling mix of place and people inspires me every day. 

On what aspect of the Theatre will you focus in the immediate future?
People’s Light turns 50 next year. I’m excited to work with our team to celebrate our past as we position ourselves for the future, to create programs that excite our longtime audiences and donors as we cultivate a new generation of stakeholders. We have a plan to expand and diversify our programming on campus, in nearby communities, and in digital spaces that serves as my North Star for the years ahead.

What growth do you hope to effect at People’s Light over the next five years?
As our region grows and discovers itself in new ways, so must People’s Light. We have an opportunity to not just rebuild from the impact of the pandemic but become a more vital cultural and civic powerhouse for the broad range of populations now in our midst; to be a place of communal discovery, nourishment, and connection, which is all essential for a healthy society and species. Someone may come here to create art, attend a concert, eat a delicious meal, or vote; they may come here to encounter something new—a person, an idea, or a story—or see themselves in a new way. In every case, we want them to embrace People’s Light as their “Third Place”, the spot between home and work where they can be their most curious, celebratory, compassionate selves, and be part of something that lights up our planet just a little bit more.

(He/him) Zak Berkman joined People’s Light as Associate Artistic Director in 2011, became Producing Director in 2013, and was promoted to Producing Artistic Director in 2022. He is a multifaceted artist—writer, composer, director, and dramaturg —with nearly 30 years of experience producing theatre and developing new plays and musicals, including the World and U.S. Premieres of Mud Row by Dominique Morisseau, Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole by Colman Domingo and Patricia McGregor, Project Dawn by Karen Hartman, Barcelona by Bess Wohl, No Child... by Nilaja Sun, Palace of The End by Judith Thompson, and Hannah and Martin by Kate Fodor, as well as the highly acclaimed New York Premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play. Prior to People’s Light, Zak was Associate to Broadway producer Margo Lion, and the Founding Executive Director of Artistic Programming with Epic Theatre Ensemble, a multi-award winning Off-Broadway theatre company. Zak’s plays include The Harassment of Iris MalloyBeauty on the Vine, and A Breath Short of Breathing. He was the adaptor/composer for a new music-filled version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that People’s Light premiered in 2021, as well as the co-author/composer of Such Things As Vampires, which received a Barrymore Award for original music. A former soap writer for NBC’s Days of Our Lives, Zak also wrote two episodes of People’s Light’s Covid-era digital series America 2am. Zak has published articles on and spoken at numerous conferences about the New Play Frontiers Residency & Commission Program at People’s Light as well as other subjects. He is married to Teri Lamm. They have two sons, Eliot and Theo.