Artistic Director / Founder
Michael Lessac started his career in theatre after having received a Ph.D. in developmental and perceptual psychology, and was given a two year Ford Foundation Grant to work at the National Theatres of England, Italy, France, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. He also developed his interest in music and was signed to Columbia Records in 1968 to record an album, Sleep Faster, We Need the Pillow, produced by John Hammond.
Over a period of ten years (1974–1984), as founder and artistic director of the Colonnades Theatre Lab in New York City, Lessac produced and directed over thirty productions and maintained and trained a company of eighteen actors, three playwrights, four composers, and a lighting, sound, set design/construction team. The theatre received numerous awards for its work over this period, most notably for its premiere productions of international theatre including original adaptations of the novels of Bulgakov (Molière in Spite of Himself) and Frank O’Connor (“Guests of the Nation” later seen on public television in the US). The Colonnades production of Shakespeare’s Cabaret, transferred to Broadway where it was nominated for several musical Tony Awards.
The New York Times called The Colonnades the “Wave of Repertory Future” (Clive Barnes), “A Magnificent, Magical and Powerful Theatre Experience – All the Elements perfect in every detail” (Richard Eder) and the Daily News (Doug Watts), “Small Miracle on Lafayette street.” The theatre itself was hailed as “the most elegant little theatre in New York City.” Its free space allowed for the development of an unusual flowing cinematic style, which became the hallmark of the company’s work and for which it received Drama Desk and new Drama Forum awards. The Colonnades was also an official Ford Foundation “challenge grant” theatre; an annual recipient of grant awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Council on the Arts; the Axe-Houghton Foundation; the Xerox Corporation and many other sponsorships and philanthropies. Interspersed with his work at the Colonnades, Lessac directed at the National Theatre of Yugoslavia (Dubrovnik, Zagreb); The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis; The Denver Theatre Center; The Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and The Public Theatre in New York City.
Lessac then wrote and directed House of Cards starring Tommy Lee Jones and Kathleen Turner, which was produced by A&M and Penta Films, distributed by Miramax (1993). He has directed over 200 television shows and sixteen pilots including Taxi, Newhart, Grace Under Fire, The Drew Carey Show, The Naked Truth, Just Shoot Me, Everyone Loves Raymond, George & Leo, Titus, and Lucky among others. He also directed Kathleen Turner in the one-woman show Tallulah, based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead.
Lessac is the creator and director of the international theatre piece Truth in Translation, which he co-produced with South Africa’s Market Theatre. Truth in Translation traveled to 26 cities in 11 countries and led to his founding of the Global Arts Corps. GAC is a US 501c3 non-profit theatre and education foundation dedicated to using professional theatre to support reconciliation initiatives in countries emerging from conflict and which celebrates and fosters the possibility of perceptual change. GAC currently has projects in various stages in Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Kosovo and is in discussion with representatives from Canada for a project on their recent Truth Commission. The recently completed GAC documentary film, directed by Michael Lessac, A Snake Gives Birth to a Snake, premiered at the Durban International film festival in July 2014. It had its U.S. premiere in October at the Woodstock Film Festival in New York where it received two awards: Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Film and Honorable Mention for Best Editing. It has been shown as a ‘work-in-progress screening’ in Afghanistan, Germany, Kosovo, South Africa, France, Bosnia, Ireland, Canada and the US. In 2011, GAC initiated a Perceptual Change Institute, which is an interdisciplinary thought laboratory exploring concepts and ideas around conflict resolution including perception, identity and memory.