SHEPHERDSTOWN – After graduating from the University of Texas film school, Jeff Griffin began working in television, film and radio, with productions such as independent films, MTV and “Will and Grace.” However, after completing his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati, he moved to New York and began to focus his work on the managerial side of acting.
But recently, the Morgantown native’s career path has taken a turn.
In early June, the Contemporary American Theater Festival announced that Griffin had been hired as its first general manager. Griffin will fill the second of three positions in the festival’s new triadic leadership model, joining Production Artistic Director Peggy McKowen.
“Peggy and I have a lot in common so she was definitely a draw [to this position]. And she really has great taste, I think, “ Griffin said, mentioning that they were both University of Texas alumni and that McKowen lived in Morgantown when she attended WVU.
As the two will work closely together as CATF’s new leaders, following the retirement of founder Ed Herendeen last September, Griffin said he was grateful they shared similar visions for the future of the festival. .
“I attended the festival for many years, starting in 2007 or 2008,” said Griffin. “I hadn’t heard that there was a theater festival in my home country! I had lived in New York for years and was brought in by a friend, who was from the DC area and knew about it.
“It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve been back to West Virginia, so I was thrilled to be back in the state!” said Griffin. “The job was interesting because I knew some of the writers and actors in New York, which was great, but I was also very interested in the area – Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown.
“I came to New York to make new pieces. Although I worked in a classical theater company for 10 years, we did new works there,” Griffin said, mentioning that he had worked in a number of Broadway and off-Broadway productions over the past 25 years. “I’m really interested in new contemporary theatre, and CATF does that with world-class artists and with great writers. You see it there before you see it elsewhere!
“I’m really interested in developing new work for the stage, so that was probably the biggest attraction. [to this job]”, said Griffin. “Every job I have, I go where the work is really interesting – that’s where I want to follow!”
According to Griffin, he will be moving from New York to Jefferson County in time for the start of this year’s festival in July.
“I’m still back in New York trying to close some things here, but it will be boots on the ground as soon as the festival opens,” said Griffin.
“The great thing about working in New York is that there’s so much theater that you’ve encountered a lot of challenges and issues that you might have faced before, and you’ve developed a good network of places to ask, ‘Oh, how did you solve this problem?’ It’s a big part of the job, being a rolodex when challenges and problems come up,” Griffin spoke about his new position. “It’s a leadership role, but it’s also very player-coaching. We’re all in development, we’re all in marketing, we’re all in ticket sales, we’re all part of the front, we’re all part of production and setting up the show.
“It’s the best thing about theater — it’s such a collaborative environment! Everyone wears a lot of hats all the time,” said Griffin. “I will, of course, focus on financial management, fundraising and working with Peggy to make sure we get the right artists for the right projects and that we support all the work in the best way possible. But, again, I think that’s the role of all the staff.