1985-1994: Growth and Innovation

The Second Ten Seasons


The 1985 season opened with the Hangar Theatre’s 50th Mainstage production, Agnes of God by John Pielmeier. Over the next ten years the Hangar produced 51 Mainstage shows, and as many or more KIDDSTUFF and North Stage (later the Wedge) shows. Mainstage productions included EvitaOnce Upon a Mattress, The Miracle Worker, The Normal Heart, A Doll’s House, Othello, Gypsy, and Anything Goes, as well as revivals of Man of La Mancha and Damn Yankees. In 1986 construction began on the Hangar’s set and costume shop, thanks to a grant from the New York State Natural Heritage Trust. The shop is where Hangar production staff build sets and create props and costumes for our productions.

Artistic Director Bob Moss would give a speech to everyone on day one of the season—administrative and production staff, board members, actors, directors—everybody got the same speech. Bob would speak about being a Mensch—a Yiddish word that means being a person of integrity. Bob told the company that everyone had a responsibility—we are going to work together to produce all of this theatre in three months; so everyone has to behave, everyone has to collaborate. As Bob said, we all know what a Mensch is: somebody who takes responsibility, somebody who listens well, somebody who shows up on time. No matter a person’s role in the Hangar company, they took this seriously, resulting in an attitude of, let’s take a leap of faith and see what we can create together.

During this time, Saturdays were fierce—often six-show days with two KIDDSTUFF productions, two Mainstage productions, and two North Stage (later Wedge) productions. Our volunteer ushers, members of PROPS, would host cast suppers and cooked incredible meals. Members of the Mainstage Company, the Lab Company, kids working on the show, and our volunteers would all sit down together. Many people wanted to join PROPS and usher so that they could dine with the actors. Then and now our volunteers are a vital part of the Hangar community.

By the early 1990s, the Hangar started bringing professionals into local schools as artists in residence.  One of the first was Rachel Lampert, (yes, that Rachel Lampert—the Kitchen Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director).  Lampert was hired through the education program to be a professional dancer in residence with her dance troupe. Additionally, in 1994 she choreographed two Mainstage productions and directed the Hangar’s 100th production: Falsettos, a musical by William Finn and James Lapine that explores gender roles and the impact of AIDS on family dynamics.


A Conversation with Bob Moss and Lisa Bushlow


What began as a one-year contract turned into a 15-year stint as the Hangar Theatre’s Artistic Director for Bob Moss. In 1989, Lisa Bushlow started out as an intern at the Hangar while still in college. She would go on to become Education Coordinator in 1991, the Hangar’s first Education Director in 1994, and then Executive Director in 2000. In total, she worked at the Hangar for 25 years.  Below is an excerpt from a conversation between Bob, Lisa, and Hangar Theatre Management Associate Bethany Schiller.

Bethany: Of the shows you directed at the Hangar during this time, which one was your favorite? What made it stand out from the others?

Bob: In 1988 I really wanted to direct The Normal Heart, it’s a play about AIDS and people’s indifference to it. I thought we should do it—that we had a responsibility to do it. However, several board members on the artistic committee were against it. Finally, one person said to me, “Bob, no one in Ithaca wants to see The Normal Heart!” and I snapped back “supposing they don’t have to!” In the moment, I didn’t really know what I meant by that, but I had been thinking a lot about The Waves. Now, The Waves had been done by the Lab Company in a previous season. One of our Lab Company directors, Lisa Peterson, adapted The Waves by Virginia Woolf, and then David Bucknam—this real musical genius—set it to music.

It’s a Virginia Woolf song cycle. So I thought, supposing we do The Normal Heart and The Waves in rotating rep every other night, for two weeks, same time slot. So that’s what we did. We did a gorgeous production of The Normal Heart, and we sold out both shows. One night after the show, this guy came up to me in the lobby and said, “Last night, I watched Jesse Jackson on television at the Democratic convention in Atlanta, and he was talking about ‘the other,’ but I didn’t know what he was talking about. And tonight I know.” My jaw dropped; I couldn’t believe it. So that was really exciting and powerful—the audience doesn’t always tell you that a play means something.


Bethany: During that period from 1985 to 1994, what were some of the biggest changes that took place?

Lisa: One of the changes was the rapid growth of the education program, which was one of a kind because you didn’t have the silos of “this is the professional program” and “this is the educational program.” It was one company, and really talented people who would work on the Mainstage would then teach a Next Generation class, or kids who volunteered to move scenery would sit in on Mainstage rehearsals. When I say we started the education program, there were so many programs. There was the Next Stage Playwriting Competition; there was a Future Visions program about working with incarcerated youth; there was a program where we did playwriting in the MacCormick Secure Center; there was bringing professional artists into residence. That was all before or through ‘94. And all of that was because Bob and Andrea [Clardy] convinced me to come back to start the education program here, instead of working at the Kennedy Center in DC. The premise of the program was how do you use the arts to impact someone’s development, someone’s education?—which I had the great fortune of studying at Cornell.


Bethany: How would you sum up that generation, or decade, of the Hangar Theatre?

Bob: In my last season at the Playwrights Unit in NYC, at the end of that season I had to lock up and bring the keys to the office. The producer of the theatre said to me, “Bob, you’ll never know the lives you touch.” I thought what did you mean by that? Eventually I realized, whatever he meant by it, I knew what it meant to me. And it didn’t mean any single group of people, it meant the lives you touch. So it became a kind of “mantra” in a way, a kind of sense of responsibility that took over my life at that point . . . the Hangar may have been a summer theatre, but we didn’t act like a summer theatre.

Lisa: What Bob is saying, that became his mantra, [and] without it being said outright, [it] became very much the ethos of that generation of the Hanger—that you never know whose life you’re going to touch. Whether it’s through the education program, whether it’s through the KIDDSTUFF program, whether it was the choice of the material, you have no idea the impact you’re going to have and so, no show was done just to be done.


Bethany: Can you talk about Bob’s impact on the Hangar?

Lisa: The Hangar would have been just any other summer company if Bob didn’t come along. He brought a real sense of New York theater excitement to Ithaca in a way that was originally envisioned by the founders . . . but different in that it wasn’t going to be this large festival theatre—it was going to be, “let’s create something out of nothing” . . . in a kind of edgy New York way.


KIDDSTUFF and the Lab Company


1985 saw the launch of the Hangar Theatre’s KIDDSTUFF programming—plays and musicals for young audiences. These shows were produced by the Second Company, which became the Lab Company in 1990. Lab Company artists were typically college theatre students, who at the time received college credits by completing the Lab program.

Eventually, the Lab became affiliated with the Playwrights Horizons studio at NYU—a program being led by the Hangar’s Artistic Director, Bob Moss. You may be surprised to learn that the Hangar’s current Producing Artistic Director, Shirley Serotsky, made her first appearance at the Hangar in 1994 as a member of the Lab Company. She had just finished her first year as a musical theatre major at the University of Michigan and sought a summer program that allowed a greater focus on acting training and experiences—the Hangar program seemed like a great fit.

Serotsky remembers the experience as being very intense. At that time, Lab Company members performed in four productions during an eight week period. Her rotation included a KIDDSTUFF show by Judith Martin titled Everybody, Everybody; Christopher Durang’s Naomi in the Living Room; a musical revue exploring gender roles in the American musical theatre; and an original piece titled Teenage Macbeth that was adapted from an excerpt of a Kathy Acker novel. When asked about her time in the Lab Company, Shirley recalls it being “wildly diverse, challenging, exhausting, impossible, and wonderful. At the time, the idea was to really push yourself to your limits. Today, we’ve shifted away from that in the interest of mental and physical health.” But this was also a time of incredible learning – Serotsky’s experiences in the Lab Company would lead to the realization that she wanted to study a greater range of approaches to making and conceiving theatre, and ultimately shift from performing to directing.

In 2022 the Hangar officially transformed the Lab Company into the Hangar Lab Performance Fellowship, making the formerly tuition-based program a compensated fellowship. This change increased accessibility and removed barriers to participation, increasing the diversity and range of artists engaging with the program.


Did you know…

PROPS is the name of the Hangar’s fabulous volunteer community.

The meaning behind this name is threefold:

-a theater prop
-a plane propeller
-we will prop you up

Our PROPS volunteers are vital to the success of the Hangar!