LOWELL — The Merrimack Repertory Theatre opens a new act in 2020 with two women at the helm, making it one of the few professional theaters in its category where both the executive director and the artistic director are female.
Courtney Sale joins MRT in March as the first Nancy L. Donahue artistic director. The position was renamed for an MRT founder and patron of the arts during the theater’s recently completed 40th anniversary season.
MRT Executive Director Bonnie Butkas said she is excited for Sale’s arrival.
“I can’t wait for her to get here, she’ll be an incredible partner,” Butkas said. “She has a great vision for theater.”
Currently, Sale is artistic director of the Seattle Children’s Theatre and previously was associate artistic director of Indiana Repertory Theatre.
She will replace Sean Daniels who left MRT at the end of the 2018-19 season to raise his family near relatives in Arizona.
MRT’s commitment to producing “new works and new stories” attracted Sale to the Lowell theater.
“This particular theater is one of very few in the nation dedicated entirely to new work — because of that reason the theater had been on my radar for awhile. What drew me to MRT initially was beautifully reinforced in every interaction during the interview process,” she said.
According to Butkas, Sale aced her interviews — the first conducted by video from Seattle — with her understanding of “multigenerational theater and strong history of community partnerships.”
Sale said she is looking forward to working with young people.
“Mentoring young people and engaging the next generation of theater makers is part of how I am wired,” she said. “Young people are seeing theater when they are the most permeable. They are primed to be changed. I have seen firsthand the power of theater to transform young people. It’s energizing! So yes, it’s something I’m very looking forward to continuing and strengthening at MRT.”
Sale’s approach to community partnerships is one of mutual benefit and support, according to Butkas. Butkas said she feels fortunate that the new artistic director will focus on artistry “while building authentic community relationships. As a skilled administrator, Courtney understands the need for MRT to be a financially stable organization as well.”
The new MRT artistic director said, “This community cares about the stories on stage and I feel a tremendous hunger to deepen its position as a civic space for the common good. Theater provides this sacred space to examine a fractured world. I wanted to have those conversations with this community.”
As Sales wraps up her tenure in Seattle, she has her eye on Lowell. She’s already working on what the 2020-21 season will look like, staying in contact with theater staff here and “stockpiling winter clothes.”
When she arrives in March, she said, “I will start a big curious listening time with staff, board, artists and community. I will dive into preparations for next season (which we’ve started collaborating on from afar now). I will plug right into the current season. I will take some long walking meetings in Lowell. I will start to explore the neighboring communities.”
In a Seattle Times story about her arrival in that city, she was noted for her creativity, innovation and heart. She said, “I go to the theater because I want to feel more alive. And so when I am making work, I always ask myself and creative teams, ‘what do we want to do that we haven’t done before? What part of our ‘aliveness’ have we not explored?’ ”
“I live my life in a growth narrative,” she said. “Part of what brings me to MRT is feeling that my innovation, my creativity and my heart will grow well here. “