Bernard Gersten, Producer of Lincoln Center Theater and More, Dies at 97

Gersten’s career spanned more than 50 years.

Bernard Gersten
Bernard Gersten
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Bernard Gersten, a beloved theatrical producer who helped shape the American theater as we know it, has died at the age of 97.

Gersten was the executive producer of Lincoln Center Theater from its reestablishment in 1985 through his retirement in 2013. He led the organization in partnership with artistic directors Gregory Mosher (through 1991) and André Bishop (1991-present), producing 155 productions over 28 years. That list includes acclaimed revivals of South Pacific, Anything Goes, and The House of Blue Leaves, as well as the premieres of Six Degrees of Separation, The Sisters Rosensweig, A Delicate Balance, Speed-the-Plow, and The Coast of Utopia, among many others.

Before his tenure at Lincoln Center, Gersten served as the associate producer of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival for 18 years, during which time they transformed the old library on Astor Place into the Public Theater. Together, Gersten and Papp championed dramatists like David Rabe, Sam Shepard, and Elizabeth Swados, as well as young actors like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and James Earl Jones. Gersten's hands were on multiple projects that have now become legendary titles, including A Chorus Line, Hair, and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

His chief innovation while at the New York Shakespeare Festival was the realization that nonprofit theaters could figure out successful ways to produce commercial theater by underwriting the productions, as opposed to depending on commercial producers. This approach changed the way nonprofit theaters in New York and across the country presented theater.

Gersten served as executive vice president of Creative Affairs at Zoetrope Studios, and also served as vice president of Radio City Music Hall. In addition to receiving a lifetime achievement Tony Award in 2013, he received 15 Tonys for his various productions.

Gersten is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Cora Cahan, as well as their daughters, Jenny Gersten and Jillian Gersten.