Wynn Handman, co-founder of American Place Theatre, the Off Broadway non-profit company that championed a young playwright named Sam Shepard and cast such actors as Dustin Hoffman, Rául Juliá, Faye Dunaway, John Leguizamo and Robert de Niro early in their careers, died of complications from the coronavirus Saturday, April 11, at his home in New York. He was 97.
His death was announced by daughter Laura Handman.
Handman co-founded APT in 1963 with Michael Tolan and Sidney Lanier, and the theater would quickly become a vital player on the New York theater scene. In 1964, the theater staged its first full production: the Obie-winning The Old Glory by Robert Lowell, directed by Jonathan Miller (Beyond the Fringe) and starring Frank Langella, Lester Rawlins and Roscoe Lee Browne.
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APT soon built a reputation as a theatrical launching pad for writers (Shepard, Steve Tesich, Emily Mann, Richard Nelson, Frank Chin), writer-performers (Leguizamo, Aasif Mandvi, Eric Bogosian) and a remarkable assemblage of actors (Hoffman, Juliá, Dunaway, de Niro, Morgan Freeman, Richard Gere, James Caan, Joel Grey, Michael Douglas and Olympia Dukakis, among many others).
Handman’s impact as an acting teacher was equally impactful, with students including Alec Baldwin, Mia Farrow, Allison Janney, Christopher Walken, Denzel Washington, Susan Lucci and Burt Reynolds, as just a sampling.
A director of many APT productions, Handman told biographer Jeremy Gerard (Wynn Place Show) about his motivations for starting the theater. “I wanted to direct,” Handman said. “I became acutely aware that if a play wasn’t commercial — that is, for Broadway — there was no place for it.”
Until 2002, APT was located on W. 46th Street, the venue then taken over by the Roundabout Theatre Company and renamed the Laura Pels Theatre. Handman continued teaching, on a limited basis, until falling ill in early March. Director Billy Lyons’ documentary on Handman, It Takes A Lunatic, premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is airing on Netflix.
Handman is survived by daughters Laura Handman and Liza Handman, and their families. A life celebration will be planned when public gatherings are safe.
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