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Nathan Gwartney

Portrait of Ernie Nolan sitting in dark gray theatre seats.

Ernie Nolan Chosen as Next Artistic Director of Unicorn Theatre

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KANSAS CITY, MO – July 1, 2024 – Unicorn Theatre is thrilled to announce that Ernie Nolan has been chosen as its next Artistic Director. With a distinguished career spanning over two decades, Nolan brings a wealth of experience, creativity, and a profound passion for innovative and inclusive storytelling to Kansas City. He will officially assume the role on July 1, 2024, given the upcoming retirement of Producing Artistic Director, Cynthia Levin, who has led Unicorn Theatre for an impressive 45 years.

Nolan will be transitioning from his position as Executive Artistic Director of Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT) over the next several weeks.

Background and Achievements:

Ernie Nolan is an award-winning playwright, director, and choreographer, and has made significant contributions to the world of theatre for young audiences and beyond. He has been recognized for his excellence in theatre, receiving the Illinois Theatre Association’s 2014 award for Excellence in Theatre for Young Audiences. Nolan’s extensive experience includes his tenure as Artistic Director of Emerald City Theatre, where he pioneered The Little Theatre, the nation’s first performance space dedicated to interactive and immersive theatrical experiences for early theatre goers ages five and under.

Nolan’s impressive resume includes directing and choreographing world premieres by Tony-nominated artists and adapting beloved storybook favorites into captivating theatrical productions. His work has been showcased both nationally and internationally. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre Performance from the University of Michigan and a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University. During his time in Chicago, he directed several diverse works, including Love and Human Remains which won New City’s Best Play of the Year Award. Nolan also served on the faculty of The Theatre School at DePaul University and helped develop new work at Chicago Dramatists.

In his recent role at NCT, Nolan demonstrated his ability to lead and transform theatre organizations. Under his leadership, NCT produced 19 world premieres and fostered relationships with artistic and community organizations, significantly increasing the representation of BIPOC artists and board members. His efforts in promoting diversity, inclusion, and financial stability make him well poised to lead Unicorn Theatre into an exciting new chapter.

Connection to Kansas City:

Nolan’s connection to the Kansas City theatre community is deep-rooted. He has directed multiple productions at The Coterie Theatre and choreographed Unicorn’s 2007 production of La Cage Aux Folles, which is one of Unicorn Theatre’s most successful productions and remains one of his favorite projects. Nolan’s familiarity with Unicorn Theatre and its commitment to producing bold, thought-provoking plays aligns perfectly with his vision and passion for theatre that inspires and challenges audiences.

“I can’t wait to join Kansas City’s vibrant and thriving artistic community,” Nolan said. “Like Unicorn, my career has been about developing new stories or remixing familiar stories for contemporary audiences. For me, it’s about creating mirrors and windows – opportunities where audiences either see themselves on stage or experience something they never knew existed. I can’t wait to continue that work at my new artistic home.” He continued, “For decades, Kansas City artists have created magical, moving work on Unicorn stages. I am honored and excited to now contribute to that.”

Vision for Unicorn Theatre:

Unicorn Theatre, known for its commitment to “Bold New Plays” and regional and world premieres, is excited to welcome Nolan’s visionary leadership. His extensive experience in developing and producing high-quality theatre, coupled with his adventurous artistic approach, will further elevate Unicorn’s influence in Kansas City and the greater theatre field.

As the new Artistic Director, Nolan will work closely with Managing Director Jason Kralicek, staff, and board to continue Unicorn’s mission of enriching the Kansas City community through thought-provoking and socially relevant plays. He aims to deepen Unicorn’s relationship with the local community and extend its reach to new audiences.

“I am thrilled with the outcome of our nationwide search for a new Artistic Director, culminating in the hiring of Ernie Nolan!” said Sally Everhart, President of the Board of Directors. “Ernie’s artistic vision perfectly aligns with Unicorn Theatre’s, and his leadership style, coupled with his warm personality, will ensure the theatre remains a hub of artistic collaboration and growth in Kansas City.”

Nolan’s appointment marks a new and exciting era for Unicorn Theatre as it continues to be a preeminent home for new plays and a vital cultural resource for Kansas City.