Human Race Theatre Company selects new leader

Emily N. Wells will be fourth artistic director in company’s 35-year history

The Human Race Theatre Company has chosen Emily N. Wells of Houston, Texas as its next artistic director.

The organization’s search committee, consisting of artists and community leaders along with Human Race board members and staff, voted unanimously to appoint Wells after a nationwide search that began last summer.

“Emily is an extraordinary artist, an advocate for inclusiveness and community engagement, and has a strong vision for the Human Race’s future while embracing the success of the past,” said Jaresha Moore Smith, Human Race board chair, in a release. “We are excited to see the innovation, the artistry and excellence she will bring to the Human Race both on stage and off.”



Wells is an award-winning director, creative producer and educator with over 25 years of experience, including an emphasis on new plays and musicals. In fact, while a senior producer for Houston Grand Opera (HGO), she focused on community building through new work development of pieces with significance to the third-largest Metro in the U.S.

Her role at HGO included producing a wide variety of works, including the Telly Award-winning “Starcross’d” opera web series. She will direct the 2023 HGO world premiere of “Another City,” a new opera spotlighting the true stories of un-housed Houstonians and those who aid them. She also served as guest director and adjunct faculty at Houston’s Rice University and led several fundraising efforts for congenital heart disease.

“Honestly, one of the things that excites me the most about the company is right in its name – Human Race,” Wells said. “We’re all connected. There are stories that can connect us all. There is power in those stories, there is community in those stories, and I think that’s a really exciting mission for a company to have. And for me as an artist, that’s what I connect to the most. As a stage director, I love exploring the idea of home and community and what that means not only for my background but for that of others. Theater has been struggling to connect with audiences that maybe are not the typical donor base or ticket-buyer base. What are the ways we can open their eyes as well as invite in others that maybe haven’t felt included in the past? I’m excited to help open the door for some of those other artists, some of those other stories, and continue the legacy of telling contemporary, modern stories that relate to an audience of all types.”

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Prior to living in Houston, Wells’ directing credits include Gulfshore Playhouse, Circuit Playhouse and Theatreworks/USA among others. She holds an M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Memphis and a B.A. in Theatre from Washington University in St. Louis. She has also staged managed on and off Broadway, regionally and on national tours, including a week for the Human Race’s production of “Green Gables” while in development in East Hampton during the summer of 2004.



A fan of the thought-provoking plays of Wendy Wasserstein (“Third”) and Dominique Morrisseau (“Blood at the Root,” “The Detroit Projects”) as well as the contemporary storytelling of such musicals as “Come From Away,” Wells says one of her primary goals in her new role is to demystify the theatrical process. In turn, audiences can anticipate the launch of Community Conversations centered on new works.

“We have to know what about a new work excites us as a theater company while also finding ways to get audiences excited about a new work before they even walk in the door so that they’re ready and understand what they’re going to see,” she said. “I also want to continue the legacy of Human Race in producing new commissions. New plays and new musicals are always going to be a part of the Human Race fabric, and I hope during my time at the Human Race we will be able to expand new works, tapping into local talent and Ohio-based writers. Expect new initiatives that expand the audience’s access to a new work before it even arrives on stage.”

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Wells will be the fourth artistic director in the company’s 35 years, following founding artistic director Suzy Bassani in 1986, who passed the torch to founding member Marsha Hanna in 1993. After Hanna’s death in 2011, founding executive director Kevin Moore became artistic director. Moore is retiring at the end of this season, particularly leaving the company in June.

Wells will join the Human Race staff remotely this month while she finishes some projects. She plans to be full-time by the beginning of March, when she and Moore will spend time coordinating a transition into the “next act” while finalizing the Human Race’s 2022-2023 season.

After spending the last five-and-a-half years in Houston, she looks forward to moving to Dayton with her husband and 5-year-old daughter.

“We’re very excited to leave a giant metropolitan like Houston and live in a smaller city that still has so much to offer for the community and in the arts,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to contributing to the city and the fabric of what makes it great.”



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