Don Toner, Austin Playhouse Founder & Co-Producing Artistic Director Will Retire
Updated: Mar 29
After a 60+ year career Toner will step down this Summer
Dear Austin Playhouse family,
After 60+ years of producing theatre in Austin and beyond, Founder and Co-Producing Artistic Director Don Toner will step down from his role as Co-Producing Artistic Director. Current Co-Producing Artistic Director Lara Toner Haddock will continue alongside recent additions to the leadership team, Associate Artistic Directors Ben Wolfe and Sarah Fleming Walker.
Currently directing the Austin Playhouse production of The Catastrophist by Lauren Gunderson running March 25 - April 9, the play will be Toner’s last under the title Co-Producing Artistic Director. He will continue to serve on the Board of Directors and the Capital Campaign Committee.
On this new journey, Toner said, “This transition has been long-time in the making. Lara has led our operations during the pandemic and with the new additions to the team, Austin Playhouse is in a wonderful position to continue and grow for many seasons. I look forward to just directing what I really want, plays like The Catastrophist that really move me. And I’ll be focusing on our capital campaign to finally fulfill our dream of a permanent home for Austin Playhouse.”
Toner founded Austin Playhouse in 2000 after previously working at Austin's Live Oak/State Theatre Company (Producing Artistic Director), Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (Associate Producer/Director), Los Angeles Theatre Center (Associate Producer), Bucks County Playhouse (Production Stage Manager/Director), New Stage Theatre (Artistic Director), and founding the Theatre Center of Mississippi - the State’s first Equity theatre.
“The word ‘retire’ isn’t really in my dad’s vocabulary,” stated Lara Toner Haddock. “During the pandemic he built an addition to his house and a small cottage in Florida. He’s never going to just sit idly and watch the world go by. But now he’ll be able to focus on projects he’s really passionate about, instead of steering the whole ship. And he’s more than earned that.”
Prior to founding Austin Playhouse, Toner served as Producing Artistic Director of Austin's Live Oak/State Theatre Company for thirteen years. During his tenure there he made his mark on the Austin arts scene by elevating the presence of Actors’ Equity, the professional stage actors’ union, and collaborating with Texas artists like Larry L. King (The Dead Presidents Club, The Night Hank WIlliams Died) and Steven Fromholz (Bosque County, Texas).
Under Don’s leadership, Austin Playhouse saw audience growth of over 900% from its first season. The company’s year-round programming now includes new play development, theatre for youth, and a subscription season highlighting contemporary plays and regional premieres.
As many Austin artists reflect on his impact on the community, Toner is often credited with establishing professional theatre in Austin, keeping the dream of a permanent home for the veteran theatre company alive, and with creating a resident home for professional actors in Austin.
Longtime Acting Company member, Barry Miller, currently stage managing The Catastrophist said, “In what I believe is lovely symmetry, I get to be by Don's theatrical side in his last production prior to announcing his quasi-retirement just as I was cast by him as the Producing Artistic Director in his inaugural Live Oak Theater production of JB thirty-five years ago, a production which included a very precocious eleven-year-old Lara Toner. Like many of our core company members, I have been a part of each production company and venue iteration…and will be once more with whatever follows.”
Acting Company member Marc Pouhé described Don’s impact on the community. “Don's leadership in Austin for the past 35 years, first at the State Theatre and Live Oak Theatre and most recently at Austin Playhouse, has shaped Austin theatre as much as if not more than any other individual. Austin Playhouse's brand and quality exists because of his leadership and wisdom in nurturing other artists and leaders.”
Austin Playhouse Board member and local playwright Lisa B. Thompson added, “He is someone who has shown me how to build an institution and to create with joy. He's shown me how to make family, friends and community central to your craft. That's a lesson I'll never forget.”
Throughout his time in Austin, Toner built and renovated several performance venues. He served as project manager on the State Theatre Company’s renovation in 1999 and led the renovation of a Penn Field warehouse and a Highland mall storefront into temporary facilities. Austin Playhouse currently owns land on the Highway 183 frontage road with plans to build a permanent facility.
Toner’s career began in 1957 as an apprentice in Peterborough, New Hampshire for the Peterborough Players earning the Outstanding Apprentice of the Year award. After two years apprenticing, he opened a scene shop in New York, building sets for off-Broadway productions including a memorable season where 13 shows carried the “Don Toner Associates” credit. He worked as a stage manager as well as a producer and director at New Stage Theatre, Theatre Midland, and Theatre Four in New York City.
Toner first visited Austin in 1985 and fell in love with the city. When the opportunity came to take over as Producing Artistic Director of Live Oak Theatre in 1988, he jumped at it. “You could feel its great potential, how it embraced the artistic community,” recalls Toner.
In 2006 he was awarded the Lucy Jordan Humanitarian Award from Actors’ Equity Association recognizing his extraordinary and exemplary commitment to the theatre community. He was also nominated by Texas State Representative Donna Howard for the Texas Medal of the Arts.
For Austin Playhouse he has directed over sixty plays including the Texas premieres of Steven Dietz’ This Random World and Bloomsday and acclaimed productions of The Immigrant, Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing, Disgraced, The Mountaintop, Man of La Mancha, Noises Off, Other Desert Cities, The Lion in Winter, The Trip to Bountiful, The 39 Steps, Frost/Nixon, Dancing at Lughnasa, Stones in His Pockets, Steel Magnolias, The Night Hank Williams Died, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Dead Presidents’ Club, Copenhagen, and Arcadia.
To read more words on Don’s impact and legacy please visit HERE.