Zack Winokur Leads an Arts Reboot at Little Island

Zack Winokur Leads an Arts Reboot at Little Island

What really sets the theater apart, though, is its programming of world premiere after world premiere by top-shelf artists. Behind that is Winokur, 35, a Juilliard-trained dancer-turned-director who was a founder of the essential, increasingly visible collective American Modern Opera Company, or AMOC. Now, with Little Island, he is at the vanguard of his generation’s artistic leaders, with a New York stage to call his own.

The financial support that Diller has pledged to Little Island’s programming, millions of dollars with no end in sight, is the kind that most artistic leaders only dream of. Winokur does not have to spend his days courting fund-raisers or securing residencies; instead, he can provide money and space, like a producer.

“I’m thinking of this being a service and utility to artists,” he said.

He is a relative latecomer to Little Island’s staff, though he did, with members of AMOC, present music by Julius Eastman there in 2021. Diller, who paid for the development and construction of the park, had always wanted it to include a performing arts program, but despite the advice of his friend Scott Rudin, the producing titan of Broadway and film (who retreated from the spotlight after accusations of bullying three years ago), he didn’t hire an artistic director immediately.

“Retrospectively, I think Barry was more right than I was,” said Rudin, who, since Little Island’s conception a decade ago, has advised on its programming. “I was on the bandwagon of doing it all at once, and he said, ‘No, we need to be a park.’”

That changed last year, when Winokur was hired. Diller heard about him from Rudin, who took notice of Winokur when a show he directed, an adaptation of Langston Hughes’s poem “The Black Clown,” came to New York in 2019. (It starred the bass-baritone Davóne Tines, who will collaborate with Winokur again on “Robeson” at Little Island later this month.)

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