The most important factor when Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning producer Dasha Amsterdam Epstein considers a theatrical work is how it will make people feel. If there is an emotional impact, she says, chances are that audiences will come. When asked about her “most successful” work, her thoughts go not to plays with the biggest financial returns but to Children of a Lesser God, Mark Medoff’s critically acclaimed drama about the relationship between a deaf woman and her former teacher.
Epstein first came to theatre after her Barnard advisor, Professor of English Howard Teichmann, introduced her to writer Lillian Hellman. Epstein says she became Hellman’s assistant—or as she likes to say, “gofer”—running up and down the long hall at the office Hellman shared with theatrical producer Lester Osterman. After focusing on family life for two decades, Epstein became a theatrical producer associated with plays on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in London’s West End, including Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Same Time, Next Year.
In recent years, she has brought her theatrical insights to Barnard, establishing the Dasha Amsterdam Epstein Fellowship in Playwriting and the Dasha Epstein Theatre Lab/Green Room in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre on campus. The latter gives students a chance to go through the process of analysis and revision that professionally produced plays receive.
“I wanted to leave an imprint that gave Barnard a place with all of the equipment where the creative people can watch, record, and change a play if it needs changing,” says Epstein. “It is there for students to develop their plays. The director or the writer can make notes, speak, and make changes as the play is being worked. After, they can view the video and discuss it.”
She has also brought readings of new plays to Barnard’s campus on Monday nights. These readings, which include works by established writers, are open to the public. Plays that show promise are then put into development with New York Stage & Film Company’s Powerhouse Training Program, a five-week training program for student actors, directors, and writers held each summer at Vassar College.
“The playwright is there, and there is a discussion afterward where students can ask questions,” Epstein says of the readings at Barnard. “Those questions are taken into consideration when the play is rewritten. This is the development I’m passionate about in the theatre.”