John McCormack, a nurturing theater producer, dies at 61

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John McCormack, a nurturing theater producer, dies at 61
A photo provided by Harriet Leve shows the theater producer John McCormack. McCormack, who lifted the careers of Off Broadway actors, playwrights and directors, even as he remained elusive, was found dead in his Queens apartment on May 20, 2020, after suffering heart failure apparently associated with COVID-19. He was 61. Harriet Leve via The New York Times.

by John Leland

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- One thing people agree on about theater producer John McCormack: He stopped at nothing to create opportunities for young actors. Also older actors. And young playwrights. And established playwrights who needed a recharge. And Latino playwrights, directors and actors.

When 80 or so mostly theater people came together on Zoom to memorialize McCormack last month, nearly everyone told the same story: He lifted my career. Beyond that, his life was something of a mystery, even to relatives — how he managed financially, his personal world.

“Everyone told the same story,” said Chris Messina, who in the mid-1990s knocked on the door of the Naked Angels theater company, where McCormack was artistic director, and announced himself as “one of the best actors in New York that you never heard of, and so is my girlfriend.”

“And he smiled and looked at me and let me in,” said Messina, who is now an established television actor.

Playwrights John Augustine, Jacquelyn Reingold and Warren Leight, whose Tony-winning play “Side Man” began with a basement reading arranged by McCormack after numerous theater companies had turned it down, all told the same story.

Leight gave a typical exchange with McCormack: “I want to do this,” an actor would say, “And he said, ‘OK, you’re going to do it.’ He’d figure out a way. And he did this for so many of us.”

McCormack was a spotlight-averse facilitator of the off-Broadway world, who lived modestly and skipped the customary after-show revels because, as Reingold said, “He stayed behind and cleaned the bathrooms.”

McCormack was found dead in his Queens apartment May 20, after suffering heart failure apparently associated with COVID-19, his brother Paul said. He was 61.

John Michael McCormack was born April 13, 1959, in Manhattan, the fourth of six children. His father, Dr. James McCormack, was director of the New York Academy of Medicine; his mother, Ann, had her hands full raising the children in their home in Tenafly, New Jersey.

After graduating from Hamilton College in 1981 with a degree in theater, McCormack joined the Ensemble Studio Theater, where he became producing director, and later moved on to Naked Angels. He helped start the Zipper Theater and Summer Shorts festival, and founded his own company, All Seasons Theater, before becoming executive director of INTAR, or International Arts Relations, which produces works by Latino playwrights.

“When dealing with John, he always made it about you and how he could help you,” said José Rivera, who wrote two plays that McCormack produced. “That was his way of being the midwife, not being the center.”

At one point, McCormack sublet an apartment from Leight, and after six months, “There was no trace that he was ever there,” Leight said. “It gets mystical. Who was this guy?”

The answer, perhaps, was in plain sight: in the work and the artists he helped survive and thrive — until the pandemic closed theaters in New York. His next production for INTAR, “Yalit,” by Michael John Garcés, was scheduled to open Friday.

He is survived by two brothers and two sisters.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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