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CATF director exits stage

By Staff | Dec 5, 2014

The Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University (CATF) has announced that its managing director, James McNeel, has accepted the same position at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

McNeel, who has been in this role for the last four seasons, will officially close his tenure on Dec. 12. The Theater Festival is currently in the process of hiring his replacement.

“James McNeel is a remarkable man and an extraordinary Managing Director. He has played a vital role in our success and growth,” stated Producing Director Ed Herendeen. “It has been a joy to collaborate with James on creating the future of American theater and his service to CATF and the professional theater field speaks for itself. I am proud to know James and proud to see him continue to serve and lead our industry in his new position at City Theatre.”

McNeel, a native West Virginian (Pocahontas County) and a graduate of Shepherd University, began his professional career in the arts as an intern at the Theater Festival in 1998, working in stage management for the Richard Dresser world premiere Gun-Shy (which featured Boardwalk Empire star Paul Sparks). He later went on to assist Mr. Herendeen and managing directors Chris Kuser and Catherine Irwin in various arts administration capacities, as well as run the summer season box office, before graduating from Shepherd in 2001. He studied Arts Management at American University in Washington, D.C. and worked for over four years as a Literature Specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2005, he moved to New York City where he served as an arts consultant with The Center for Creative Resources (a position which included the opening and operations of The Times Center, owned by The New York Times, amongst many other projects) and later as the director of development and marketing for Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village.

In September 2010, Herendeen invited him back to Shepherdstown upon the retirement of Ms. Irwin. During his time at the festival, McNeel has been responsible for all administrative operations including fundraising, marketing and publicity, budgeting and finances, personnel and general management. Since his arrival, the festival has seen attendance increase by 22 percent (to over 14,000 in 2014), resulting in box office growth of over 30%; additional grant income from institutional funders; and an overall expansion of the organizational budget of nearly 20 percent. During this time, CATF has raised its artist fees paid to playwrights, directors, designers, and actors; expanded seasonal staffing; and bolstered the production and development resources for its five-play repertory. He has assisted with the

production of 20 new American plays, including 10 world premieres and four commissions, as well as CATF’s first ever production transfer this past fall to Off-Broadway with Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons at 59E59 Theaters.

He has represented the Festival on the boards of the National New Play Network, Shepherdstown Visitors Center, and Jefferson County Convention & Visitors Bureau; appeared on numerous panels; lead countless Festival programs and events (including co-hosting with associate producing director Peggy McKowen a popular Late-Night Salon Saturdays during the season); and coordinated for CATF the 2013 conference of the American Theatre Critics Association, held in Shepherdstown. He was recently featured in a 30 minute interview on the new podcast series, Offscript, produced by American Theatre magazine*.

“The Theater Festival pulses through my veins and it has been the greatest honor and joy of my life to work with Ed, Peggy, the CATF board, our staff and our extraordinary artists,” said McNeel. “The opportunity to return to my alma mater, to my beloved West Virginia, and to the festival will resonate with me forever. I deeply believe in the mission and artistry of this organization and I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished. My heart will always remain with CATF and it has been a privilege to spend these last four years at my artistic and literal home,” he continued. “And while I am incredibly excited about my next chapter at City and honored to join its team, I’m going to miss it here. I cannot wait to see what Ed has in store for the Theater Festival next summer.”

City Theatre Company, which co-commissioned the CATF world premiere play Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher in 1999, has a 40 year history of producing new plays from its home on the South Side of Pittsburgh. Its artistic director is Tracy Brigden, who directed at CATF in 2005 (American Tet) and again in 2012 (The Exceptionals).

McNeel begins is new position on Jan. 5.

The Contemporary American Theater Festival will celebrate its 25th Anniversary season July 10 Aug. 2, 2015, with its five-play repertory announced in February. The festival plans to have a new Managing Director in place by early January.