Barry Grove has been the executive producer of Manhattan Theatre Club for 48 years, overseeing the creation of over 450 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. In his time, the theatre has also won four Tony Awards for its plays. When Grove entered the world of theatrical management and production, he was still a teenager, attending college at Dartmouth.
“I was involved in the National Theatre Institute. They sent out a bus and truck of us to all the different colleges, and I ended up being a company manager.” Grove, a natural storyteller, remembers the next moment vividly, down to the snow dusting the ground. “When I got back home for winter break, the phone rang and they said, ‘Hey, would you like to go to Broadway and assist on a Broadway show?’ I was 19.”
The son of an outdoorsman and an arts-loving mother, Grove was the frequent theatre-going partner of his mother, traveling throughout Connecticut with her to see productions in New Haven and Stratford—all the while balancing the Boy Scouts and his academics with his father. His first Broadway play, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, starred Julie Harris and Estelle Parsons. Grove was offered a full-time job following its closure, but he declined.
“I had to go back to school!” Grove chuckles. While at Dartmouth, Grove got a fellowship at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then upon graduation, he was hired at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center as a general manager. ’“Two years later, the President of the O’Neill, who was on the board at the Manhattan Theatre Club, called to tell me there was this lady, named Lynne Meadow in New York, who was looking for a partner. June 23, 1975. I started working at the Manhattan Theatre Club at 23, and I’ve stayed until 71.”
Grove is well aware of how lucky he has been in his career (“The gods are good to me”). While his father had never finished high school, having to leave in search of work during the Great Depression, he instilled a fierce work ethic in his son. When paired with his mother's listening ear, it made for a killer combination. Add in Grove’s partner in creation, Lynne Meadow, and they couldn’t lose.
“Lynne was the first woman admitted to the Yale Drama School directing program, and she was the first woman director to the O'Neill Center's National Playwrights Conference,” Grove talks about Meadow at length, his excitement for her side of their partnership untempered by time. “She had a penchant for new work, from the beginning, and gave birth to a lot of new plays, but is also a real nose for talent.” When asked to describe what he looks for in a piece as a producer, his answer is immediate. “I look for a piece Lynne Meadow believes in!”
Under Grove’s guidance (and Meadow’s artistic sensibilities) the Manhattan Theatre Club has grown from a modest Off-Off-Broadway venture to one of the leading non-profit theatres in the country, with a Broadway home at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, and two Off-Broadway venues at New York City Center. As an executive producer, Grove oversees the business side of operating the non-profit theatre company, with responsibilities ranging from raising capital to participating in the day-to-day decision making.
This season, MTC had three productions on Broadway (The Collaboration, Summer, 1976, and Cost of Living). Cost of Living by Martyna Majok is nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play, putting MTC in contention for a Tony once again.
As Grove faces an eventful final month at MTC (his last day is June 30), he is hopeful for the future. “When I started, I thought I’d be here for two or three years and then move on. And yet it's been 48 years.” He admitted the pandemic delayed his retirement, but he wanted to leave his longtime home on stable footing before he departed. “As a Boy Scout, I was trained to leave a clean campsite. Now as I'm approaching 72, it's time for the next generation. I've been a teacher for a long time. As I step down, I look forward to seeing what the next generation has to teach me.”