The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Jerry Zaks

Jerry Zaks

Director, Actor
Born on Saturday, September 7, 1946

Interviewed on: Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Location: Primary Stages Offices
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #68
"I love hearing an audience laugh, I love it! Because I always believed that the sound of an audience laughing is the sound of an audience falling in love."
Jerry Zaks Highlights
Video Length: 5 Minutes, 55 Seconds
Jerry Zaks Interview Part One
Video Length: 1 Hour, 39 Minutes
Jerry Zaks Interview Part Two
Video Length: 54 Minutes, 22 Seconds

Jerry Zaks, director, began his theatre career as an actor. He performed in the original productions of Grease (1971) and Tintypes (1980). Born in Stuttgart to Holocaust survivors, his future was doubly important to his parents. While touring in Fiddler on the Roof, Zero Mostel told Zaks’ parents he would be “more than alright,” securing approval for his chosen career.

In New York, Zaks joined former teacher Curt Dempster to build what became Ensemble Studio Theatre, where Zaks directed his first play, E.S.T. member Neil Cuthbert’s THE SOFT TOUCH (1977). Zaks went on to direct the play of another E.S.T. member, Christopher Durang’s SISTER MARY IGNATIUS EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU (1979), and history was made. Zaks directed many shows at The Public and Lincoln Center Theater (as Resident Director from 1986-1990), including: Durang’s THE MARRIAGE OF BETTE AND BOO (1973), Larry Shue’s THE FOREIGNER (1983) at the Astor Place Theater, John Guare’s THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES (1986) and SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (1990), THE FRONT PAGE (1986), and Sondheim’s ASSASSINS (1990) at Playwrights Horizons. On Broadway, his directing credits include: Anything Goes (1987) and Guys and Dolls (1992). Zaks has won numerous OBIE, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Tony Awards as a director. He has directed and acted in both television and film. In 1994, he received the George Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre and, in 2013, was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. 

Mentioned in Interview

Zero Mostel, Christopher Durang, John Guare, Curt Dempster, Tony Walton, Elizabeth Franz, Joseph Papp, Nancy Marchand, Larry Shue, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Cubiculo, NYSF/The Public, Phoenix Theater, St. Peter’s Church, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons, DREAM OF A BLACKLISTED ACTOR, MARCO POLO, THE BABY WITH THE BATHWATER, THE MARRIAGE OF BETTE AND BOO, THE FOREIGNER, WENCESLAS SQUARE, HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, THE FRONT PAGE, ASSASSINS