Wynn Handman, acclaimed acting teacher and theatre director, was born 101 years ago today
Wynn Handman, co-founder of the American Place Theatre and longtime acting teacher in New York City, was born 101 years old today.
Handman’s role in the theatre was to seek out, encourage, train and present new and exciting writing and acting talent and to develop and produce new plays by living American writers.
When I came to New York City 28 years ago — armed with a recommendation from John Houseman — I visited Handman at his Carnegie Hall Studio and was admitted to his class as a director. For for more than three years, I worked with some great actors, learned more than I ever thought possible and had a thrilling ride through New York theatre.
Handman’s student roster over 50 years is impressive. In his first class, was Joanne Woodward, who I would later meet. Both of us are from South Carolina.
To follow through the years would be Alec Baldwin, James Caan, Kathleen Chalfant, Chris Cooper, Michael Douglas, Sandy Duncan, Christopher George, Richard Gere, Joel Grey, Allison Janney, Raul Julia, Frank Langella, John Leguizamo, Susan Lucci, Donna Mills, Burt Reynolds, Tony Roberts, Anna Deveare Smith, Mira Sorvino, Christopher Walken, Denzel Washington and Lauren Graham.
Handman, who was close friends with Tennessee Williams, has been instrumental in bringing to the stage the early work of many of America’s finest playwrights, including William Alfred, Ed Bullins, Phillip Hayes Dean, Werner Liepolt, Maria Irene Fornes, Ron Milner, Jonathan Reynolds, Ronald Ribman, Sam Shepard and Steve Tesich.
He introduced plays by writers from other areas, such as Donald Barthelme, Robert Lowell, George Tabori, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Robert Penn Warren.
Important writer/performers received early recognition through their work at The American Place Theatre, including Eric Bogosian for Drinking in America, John Leguizamo for Mambo Mouth, Aasif Mandvi for Sakina’s Restaurant, Dael Orlandersmith for Beauty’s Daughter and Bill Irwin for The Regard of Flight, which was later aired on television in 1983.
Handman was a recipient of the 1999 Obie for Sustained Achievement; the Lucille Lortel Award for Lifetime Achievement presented by the League of Off-Broadway Theatres in 1993 and the Rosetta LeNoire Award in 1994 from the Actors' Equity Association in recognition of his artistic achievements and contribution to the “universality of the human experience in American theatre.”
He also received two Audelco for Excellence in Black Theatre Awards, as Best Director for Zora Neale Hurston, in 1990, and Fly in 1998; the Carnegie Mellon Drama Commitment to Playwriting Award in 1996; the Working Theatre’s Sanford Meisner Service Award for “his leadership in disseminating the arts to working people,” and was honored by The New Federal Theatre in 2001.
Plays Handman directed at The American Place Theatre include: Manchild in the Promised Land which he adapted from the novel by Claude Brown; I Stand Before You Naked by Joyce Carol Oates; Words, No Music by Calvin Trillin; Drinking in America by Eric Bogosian and A Girl’s Guide to Chaos by Cynthia Heimel.
He also directed Free Speech in America and Bibliomania by Roger Rosenblatt, with Ron Silver; Coming Through also adapted by Handman; Spokesman written and performed by John Hockenberry; Fly by Joseph Edward and Dreaming in Cuban and Other Works: Rhythm, Rum, Café con Leche and Nuestros Abuelos by Cristina Garcia and Michael Garcés.
A book on Handman, titled Wynn Place Show by Jeremy Gerald, was published in 2013.
Handman died on April 11, 2020 during the pandemic due to complications brought on by COVID-19.
Here’s a video on Wynn’s work