LEWISBORO, N.Y. – Lewisboro’s Bernard Gersten will receive the American Theater Wing’s Lifetime Achievement Award at Sunday night’s Tony gala. Ninety-year-old Gersten has been Executive Producer of the Lincoln Center Theater for nearly 30 years. In addition, he spent 18 years as Associate Producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival and, by the way, has already won 14 Tony Awards for Best Play/Musical/Revival.
Gersten’s show biz career started in third grade, when he played a doctor in the school play and wore his grandpa’s glasses for authenticity. His sixth grade performance as the Mad Hatter was a highlight of his elementary school days. In high school he founded the Drama Club and was voted “Best Actor” in his graduating class.
Like most boys finishing their schooling in the early 1940s, Gersten was soon a G. I. He was assigned to the Army’s Special Services Division in the Hawaiian Islands, where he produced the “G. I. Hamlet,” an interpretation by British actor, Maurice Evans. It was geared to the armed forces and a little more down-to-earth than Shakespeare’s original. The play was so successful that producer Mike Todd brought it to Broadway in 1945. Gersten got his first professional theater job as the production’s Assistant Stage Manager.
The following years brought experience in staging, acting, various aspects of producing and even lighting design. He still has his IATSE (International Alliance of Theater and Stage Employees) card.
Gersten told The Daily Voice that trying to pinpoint his favorite show “is like naming your favorite child. It can’t be done.” He takes pride in all of them, but especially “the shows that have remained on the landscape,” like “A Chorus Line,” “South Pacific” and “Hair,” to name just a few.
In 1971 the Gerstens were living in Manhattan and began to consider a move to the gentler, neater suburbs. “We wanted something within 50 miles, so we could commute,” he explained.
“We had two babies at that time and the city was hot and ugly. I remember finding mouse droppings in the sandboxes,” said Gersten’s wife, Cora. “We were driving around Westchester, looking for a place and we needed some milk for the baby. We went looking for an open delicatessen and somehow we ended up in Lewisboro. We found the milk and we found a house we loved.”
“It was an unpaved road at that time, and there were cows grazing in the fields along Route 35,” she recalled. “I still imagine them there when I drive past.”
The Gerstens still live in the converted barn they bought in 1971, though it is much renovated. The old paddocks brim with luxurious plants and trees. The children are grown and on their own. The parents agree that they were lucky to have happened upon Lewisboro by accident.
Gersten also agrees that he was fortunate to find his passion in life, and the opportunity to pursue it, at a young age. Is there a way he can define his love of theater? “Yes – I would say, it has a reality that transcends its fictional nature.”
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