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Originally published May 1, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Page modified May 5, 2014 at 8:25 AM

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Jerry Manning, Seattle Rep artistic head, dies at 58

Jerry Manning was appointed artistic director at Seattle Rep in May 2010, and had worked there since 2001. His extensive, respected career also included long stints at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and New York Theatre Workshop.


Seattle Times theater critic

Jerry Manning, artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre since 2010, died at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle on Wednesday night due to complications after surgery for a congenital heart defect. Mr. Manning was 58.

“Seattle Repertory Theatre, and the greater theater community, suffered an enormous loss with the passing of artistic director Jerry Manning last night,” said Seattle Rep managing director Benjamin Moore in a statement issued Thursday. “Complications arose after Jerry underwent a routine procedure in March. As you can imagine, our staff and those close to us are in a state of shock as we wrap our heads around this news.”

“Jerry was a force to be reckoned with at the Rep, equal parts collaborator and fearless leader,” Moore went on. “His biting sense of humor, irascible spirit, and sharp mind will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”

The death came as a shock to Mr. Manning’s wide circle of friends and colleagues in Seattle and beyond. Recently he told the Times he expected to recover fully from the operation, and he announced a lineup of plays for the 2014-15 season he was enthusiastic about producing.

Mr. Manning was hired at Seattle Rep in 2000 as associate artistic director, overseeing casting and artist relations. With then-artistic director Sharon Ott, he carried out the Rep’s new agenda of casting more Seattle-area actors for the theater’s productions.

Mr. Manning continued at the Rep after Ott left in 2005, and was succeeded by David Esbjornson, who was at the artistic helm until 2008. After Esbjornson’s departure, Mr. Manning was appointed interim producing artistic director and later, artistic director.

When named to the top post in May 2010, Mr. Manning said he was delighted to stay at the Rep, and in Seattle. “This is where I’m supposed to be,” he told The Times. “I love this community.” He was widely credited with seeing the theater through a serious financial slump during the recession, increasing ticket sales and boosting the company’s national profile and critical standing.

For the past several years, Mr. Manning was also focused on reviving Seattle Rep’s new plays program. He produced such world premiere plays as “An Iliad” by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, “A Great Wilderness” by Samuel Hunter, and “Pullman Porter Blues” by Cheryl L. West. He also instituted a residency program at the Rep for Pacific Northwest writers, and commissioned 13 new scripts, including the Robert Schenkkan play, “The Great Society,” a sequel to Schenkkan’s Tony-nominated “All the Way.”

“Jerry was a friend and a colleague, a gentleman, and a true man of the theater,” commented Schenkkan. “He will be sorely missed.”

Mr. Manning was born June 15, 1955, in New Brunswick, NJ to Edward and Margaret Manning. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1977. He also served in the Navy as a midshipman for two years in the mid-70s.

Mr. Manning came to the Seattle Rep with substantial experience at major East Coast theaters. He began his career with an 11-year stint as a staffer at Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and from 1995 through 2000 was a key artistic associate at the prominent Off Broadway company, New York Theatre Workshop.

He also did casting work for films such as “Forrest Gump,” “The Pelican Brief” and many others. He was also a director, and staged several Rep shows, including “Of Mice and Men” and “I Am My Own Wife,” as well as other productions at New Dramatists, New York Theatre Workshop, the Kennedy Center, Signature Theatre and elsewhere.

Mr. Manning was a gregarious, accessible administrator who kept tabs on what theaters around Seattle were doing and often offered his support.

Mike Daisey, who performed several one-man shows at Seattle Rep and was in conversations with the theater about future projects, was among the many associates who were stunned by the news of Mr. Manning’s death.

“Jerry was a real leader — not through loudness and brashness, but with quiet wisdom,” said Daisey, who began his career in Seattle and is now based in New York. “He never expected to be the artistic director of a regional theater, and his ability to remain connected with artists in his community was why he mattered immensely. In a time when boards often hire for flash and sizzle, Jerry was a true artist who nurtured the city he had adopted.”

David Tucker, a former staffer at the Rep, recalled how Mr. Manning encouraged him to write a play about his military experience during the Iraq war, “Another Day in Baghdad.” Mr. Manning directed the script’s world premiere, at North Seattle College.

“I feel so indebted to Jerry,” said Tucker. “He was there for me, when I came back from the war, and helped me deal with how to talk and write about it. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”

Mr. Manning was passionate about theater, but also about comic books, said his friend and former Rep board member David Quinn. He collected “golden age” comic books, according to Quinn, “and got so much pleasure out that.”

Plans are under way for a celebration at Seattle Rep of Manning’s life. In lieu of flowers, the Manning family encourages donations to the Seattle Repertory Theatre, to help sustain the theater’s arts initiatives.

He is survived by a sister, Lory, of Arlington, Va.; two brothers, Mark and wife Kate of Menomonie, Wis. and Timothy and wife Bernadette of Leesburg, Va.; and 10 nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents and a brother, Edward.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com



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