Mark Plesent, Longtime Producing Artistic Director of Off-Broadway's Working Theatre, Dies at 60

Plesent joined the company in 1989.

Mark Plesent
Mark Plesent
(© Roger Belknap)

Mark Plesent, the longtime producing artistic director of off-Broadway's Working Theatre, died February 19 following a four-year battle with cancer. He was 60.

Born in New York, and a graduate of Brown University, Plesent joined Working Theatre as an intern in 1989 and climbing up the ladder, quickly becoming managing director. He served as development director of Lar Lubovitch Dance Company from 1992-96 before returning to Working Theatre as producing director, working alongside artistic leaders Bill Mitchelson, Bill Wise, Bob Arcaro, and Connie Grappo. He became the sole producing artistic director in 2010, and brought on Tamilla Woodard in 2020 to serve as co-artistic directors.

Under Plesent's leadership, Working Theater, the only theater in the country dedicated exclusively to telling the stories of working people, has been honored with six Drama Desk Award nominations, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble for Tabletop, and three Audelco Awards. He founded the company's community arts education program TheaterWorks, which provides classes in writing and performance for working people.

He also conceived and instituted a ticket subsidy program to provide low cost tickets to groups of working people. He has helped nurture productions about the working conditions of TV production crews (Rob Ackerman's Tabletop), the plight of the uninsured in America (Michael Killigan's Mercy Killers), and the struggles of women working in poultry plants (Lisa Ramirez's To the Bone).

Plesent's most ambitious initiative, Five Boroughs One City, was founded as a collaborative, community-based theater producing project aimed at fostering dialogue about pressing social justice issues within and between the diverse working class communities of New York City. Since its inception in 2015, this initiative has produced and toured four of the original commissioned projects in dynamic co-partnership with community organizations and arts groups across the city including CASA, Riseboro, Snug Harbor, IBEW Local 3, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

He is survived by his husband, Roger Belknap, parents Gloria and Stanley Plesent, sisters Nora Plesent and Leslie Fox, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. A celebration of his life will be held on Monday, March 8 via Zoom.