JOURNAL FALL 2013
REELING IN A “BIG FISH”
SUSAN STROMAN MAKING A NEW WORLD AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH HAJ
EXPLORING OUR CRAFT
DIRECTING IN HIGHER EDUCATION
WHY I CAST THAT ACTOR
KATHLEEN MARSHALL IN RESIDENCE
BLAKE ROBISON FROM THE ARCHIVES
GILBERT CATES, CURT COLUMBUS, JEFFREY HOROWITZ, SUSIE MEDAK, MADELINE PUZO + JULIE TAYMOR AND MORE FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
JAMES HOUGHTON Richard Rodgers Director of the Drama Division
85% of all actors receive scholarship support
Lila Acheson Wallace American
MFA in Acting
Playwrights Program Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman, Co-Directors
BFA in Acting
A Postgraduate Artist Diploma program providing tuition-free fellowships and stipends
Apply by December 1 Auditions in New York, Chicago, San Francisco
Apply by December 15
| FALL 2013
Photo by Jessica Katz
providing full tuition and stipend in the 4th and final year
27 IN TRANSITION
Working from Her Best Self
PATRICIA MCGREGOR’s transition from freelance to grad school to freelance.
16 Come Create It Here The Drama League’s new home for creative exploration.
18 Exploring Our Craft:
Directing in Higher Education
Five directors explore the unique challenges + benefits of directing in academia + the ways it influences their professional work.
Volume 2 | No. 2
Susan Stroman REELING IN A “BIG FISH”
A conversation on the process of bringing Big Fish from screen to stage.
INTERVIEW BY HOWARD
31 Making a New World
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH HAJ
Ted Sod talks with Joseph Haj about his career + mission to create theatre that engages a community.
INTERVIEW BY TED
Fortune Pluck Persistence: Forging a Path
A look at mentorship.
41 Capturing Creativity Director/Choreographer JEFF WHITING + Stage Write, the app he created to simplify the lives of theatre professionals.
RETTOUN FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
SDC EXECUTIVE BOARD
Karen Azenberg PRESIDENT
Doug Hughes EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Leigh Silverman VICE PRESIDENT
Oz Scott SECRETARY
Ethan McSweeny TREASURER
HONORARY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Pamela Berlin Melvin Bernhardt Julianne Boyd Danny Daniels Marshall W. Mason Ted Pappas Gene Saks COUNSEL
Ronald H. Shechtman EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
MEMBERS OF BOARD
Julie Arenal Rob Ashford Christopher Ashley Walter Bobbie Joe Calarco Larry Carpenter Marcia Milgrom Dodge Sheldon Epps Michael John Garcés Christopher Gattelli Liza Gennaro Wendy C. Goldberg Linda Hartzell Moisés Kaufman Dan Knechtges Mark Lamos Paul Lazarus Rick Lombardo Tom Moore Amy Morton Robert Moss Sharon Ott Lisa Peterson Lonny Price John Rando Susan H. Schulman Seret Scott Bartlett Sher Chay Yew
Published by SDC | Fall 2013 | Volume 2 | No. 2 FEATURES EDITOR
MFA BFA BA
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, CINCINNATI PLAYHOUSE IN THE PARK
Seret Scott DIRECTOR
Howard Sherman ARTS CONSULTANT + WRITER
SDC JOURNAL is published quarterly by Stage Directors and Choreographers Society located at 1501 Broadway, STE 1701, NYC 10036. SDC JOURNAL is a registered trademark of SDC. SUBSCRIPTIONS + ADVERTISEMENTS Call 212.391.1070 or visit www.SDCweb.org. Annual SDC Membership dues include a $5 allocation for a 1-year subscription to SDC JOURNAL. Non-Members may purchase an annual subscription for $24 (domestic), $48 (foreign); single copies cost $7 each (domestic), $14 (foreign). Also available at the Drama Book Shop in NY, NY. POSTMASTER Send address changes to SDC JOURNAL, SDC, 1501 Broadway, STE 1701, NY, NY 10036. PRINTED BY Bayard Printing Group
| FALL 2013
Union bug here
FROM THE PRESIDENT
FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
IN YOUR WORDS
OUR MEMBERS IN PRINT
AMNON KABATCHNIK Blood on the Stage, 1975-2000: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery and Detection
+ 11 JACK O’BRIEN
Two Questions for Director/Choreographer Dan Knechtges CURATED BY SERET SCOTT
Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director BY ALYSSA DVORAK
Why I Cast That Actor
KATHLEEN MARSHALL on casting Colin Donnell in Anything Goes
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park: An Artistic Home for Directors BY BLAKE ROBISON
Joey Parnes, Producer
What’s in Your Queue? Our Members Respond
22 FROM THE ARCHIVES TCG ’11 Panel: Advancing Career + Craft
A discussion with GILBERT CATES,
CURT COLUMBUS, JEFFREY HOROWITZ, SUSIE MEDAK, MADELINE PUZO + JULIE TAYMOR
Spotlight on the Guest Artist Initiative
THE SOCIETY PAGES DirectorsLabChicago, Broadway
Salutes, National Black Theatre Festival, BC/EFA Flea Market + SDC’s Hanya Holm
| Susan Stroman with Jason Lee Garrett + Bryn Dowling in rehearsal for Big Fish PHOTO © Paul Kolnik Chay Yew inspiring directors at DirectorsLabChicago 2013 PHOTO Anita Evans PREVIOUS | 1 Patricia McGregor experimenting with prop master Seren Helday’s snake during Spunk rehearsals at California Shakespeare Theater PHOTO L. Peter Callender | 2 Sharon Ott + students in rehearsal PHOTO c/o SCAD 3 Susan Stroman with Kate Baldwin in rehearsal for Big Fish PHOTO © Paul Kolnik 4 Joseph Haj + stage manager Gwen Turos PHOTO T. Charles Erickson COVER
2 1 4
FALL FALL2013 2013| |SDC SDCJOURNAL JOURNAL
FROM THE PRESIDENT
MY LAST LETTER AS SDC’S EXECUTIVE BOARD PRESIDENT Change is good. Change is coming. This is my last letter as SDC President; my term ends in November, and I am happy to pass the torch. Although I have known that my time in this position was coming to a close, and that I would be writing a final missive to you all, I was unprepared for the challenge in determining what exactly to say.
“It is with
immeasurable pride that I have represented you during my tenure as a Board Member and as the President.”
We work in an industry that thrives on change, from new shows to new collaborators to new jobs. It is part of our lives as directors and choreographers to embrace change. Yet stepping away from SDC leadership has made me nostalgic. So much has changed—or, more accurately, evolved—over the past six years. SDC has a new Executive Director and a new “brand.” It seems like ages ago when we were SSDC, but really it has been only five years. We have grown in numbers and in jurisdictions; we’ve implemented a new Shakespeare Contract that is being used across the country; and fight choreographers and assistants are starting to get coverage under several SDC Agreements. We’ve made notable progress getting developmental work covered, especially in the LORT and ANTC arenas, and we continue a promising dialogue with our friends at the Dramatists Guild to foster a stronger understanding of all our contributions to the development of new plays and musicals. The growth of the SDC Foundation has been equally amazing with new awards (Zelda Fichandler Award) and fellowships (George C. Wolfe, Chuck Abbot) as well as the continued growth of already established programming. Our presence nationally has changed dramatically through regional meetings and representatives, through conferences and festivals, through Members seeking out Members to network and support the work that we all do. And we have this incredible new publication, SDC Journal, yet another way for us to all keep in touch. All this growth and evolution is exciting, exhausting, and invigorating, and it comes from you, our Membership. Your voices have been heard, and your involvement has been critical. I hope that does not change; we are a vital and influential organization because of our Members, and it is with immeasurable pride that I have represented you during my tenure as a Board Member and as the President. I cannot thank everyone who has ever answered a phone call from me and stepped forward to serve on a committee or panel, or those of you who have written with a question or concern; but you know who you are and I will always be grateful for the information, advice, time, effort, criticism, and support. I want to recognize the extraordinary past and present Members of the SDC Board, who have been my colleagues, confidants, and collaborators. They are a supremely dedicated and generous bunch; it has been an honor to serve with them, and I will truly miss the collegial company of our monthly Board meetings. Finally, I want to thank Laura Penn, fearless Executive Director of SDC. We are so, so, so very lucky to have her guidance, leadership, expertise, and passion at the helm of SDC. She is the glue that binds us together. I look forward to the invigorating new ideas and energy that the incoming leadership of the Board will bring to the organization. I know that SDC will continue to be the gold standard among the theatrical unions and will maintain its noteworthy advocacy for ALL of its Membership, no matter what contract they are working under. I also look forward to increased job opportunities for ALL of our Members, regardless of their race, age, or gender. And finally, I wish you all much success in your endeavors. If you should find yourself in Salt Lake City, stop by Pioneer Theatre, say “hello,” and see a show. With solidarity,
2012 Executive Board + staff
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Karen Azenberg Executive Board President KAREN AZENBERG has been a Member since 1989
“Every morning, I am a beginner.” HANYA HOLM
FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
On April 17, 1959, Hanya Holm sat with Shepard Traube and Agnes de Mille to witness the signing of the articles of incorporation for SDC (most likely she was in pre-production for Orpheus and Eurydice). Her career featured one landmark event after another. She was as well respected as an educator as she was as a choreographer—and she was a brilliant choreographer. Ms. Holm is widely known in theatrical circles for her groundbreaking work in Kiss Me, Kate; My Fair Lady; Camelot; and many more. She was a leader in preservation and property rights, as well as a pioneer in modern dance with a deep social conscience. And still, she said, “Every morning, I am a beginner.”
KAREN AZENBERG since 1989 | SHELLEY BUTLER since 2008 | GILBERT CATES d.2011 AGNES DE MILLE d.1993 | THOMAS HAAS d.1991 | JOSEPH HAJ since 2004 | HANYA HOLM d.1992 | PATRICIA MCGREGOR since 2012 | JACK O’BRIEN since 1969 SHARON OTT since 1980 | BLAKE ROBINSON since 2012 | SUSAN STROMAN since 1987 | SHEPARD TRAUBE d.1983 GARLAND WRIGHT d.1998
It seems to me that many, if not most, directors and choreographers live within a tight space between confidence and terror—a high-wire act that often fuels brilliance. It appears that when the right combination of determination and humility collides with opportunity and access, an artist breaks through. At SDC and SDC Foundation, we are committed to supporting directors’ and choreographers’ careers in whatever place and form they take. With each path being so singular, we look for the moments that seem to transcend any one individual’s career—best practices, if you will. Directing and choreography will likely always be apprentice trades; it is a slow road to mastery for most. In this issue we find a thread that explores the many and varied ways in which our Members attain mastery and help others do the same. Joseph Haj talks about how often he reflects on his early career as an actor, how all the hours he spent in the rehearsal room with master directors directly contribute to his craft today. Patricia McGregor’s seemingly quick rise from graduate school to the main stages of theatres across the country may appear easy. But if you look closely, from stage managing to assisting, it is clear that Patricia put in her hours with the intention to become as successful as she has. When we talk of mentorship we often begin to spin into the snowflake-like experiences of our Members. In this issue Shelley Butler uses the backdrop of the long-heralded Resident Director Program of Garland Wright’s Guthrie Theater to ask us to focus on tales of mentorship. What can we draw from these two distinctive experiences to shape other programs today? Blake Robison, who recently became the Artistic Director at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, has already committed to a new kind of residency program, and three talented SDC Members are happy to be part of its first cycle. From a different direction, Sharon Ott talks with a number of well-established directors who are sharing their craft and expertise with acting students today. In “From the Archives” we have condensed a conversation from the TCG conference in LA in 2011. What a glorious, gnarly conversation it was. You can almost hear the loving timbre of the late Gil Cates’
voice as you read. Five extraordinary panelists wrestled with the question of how directors develop, what might be done—or not—to support current efforts, and the possibility of creating new opportunities. What if theatres were able to support a director’s or choreographer’s dream project? Could we imagine a commissioning program for experienced, established directors and choreographers that offers the opportunity to break through barriers, take risks, and develop new skills? We will always work to better support the development of directors and choreographers. But sometimes we simply want to stand in awe of one of our masters. In this issue we spend time with Susan Stroman as she talks about her process on Big Fish. And if you haven’t read Jack O’Brien’s Jack Be Nimble yet, you really should. It is an honest, humorous, and poignant look at what it takes to make it—and a darn good history of contemporary American theatre. In New York, with fall in the air and the leaves beginning to fall, we approach our Annual Membership Meeting and the change that it brings. When Karen Azenberg joined SDC, she was choreographing Guys and Dolls with the late Thomas Haas at Indiana Repertory Theatre. I wonder if she could have imagined where her Membership would lead. In 1998, Karen began her tenure as an Executive Board Member of SDC. This fall, after two terms as Executive Board President, Karen joins the illustrious ranks of past presidents. Karen’s presidency will be marked most clearly by her passion and devotion to the full range of this Union’s Membership. The prism through which she evaluated issues, determined priorities, and set goals was always Member-centric. Karen innately understands and respects the interrelationship and synergy that exist between the influential Membership that resides within a 12-block radius of Midtown and the individuals who make their work and build their lives across all 50 states. That commitment to every Member has driven Karen to ensure that SDC is positioned to rise to the challenges and opportunities ahead. We are proud, strong, and national. In November a new slate of Executive Board Members and officers will engage in working to empower, protect, and unite directors and choreographers across the country. And while we will miss Karen wielding the gavel as she calls us to order, her legacy is already embedded in our future. SDC will forever be enhanced because of her leadership. Thanks again, Karen! Remember—there is always committee work.
Laura Penn Executive Director
FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
IN YOUR WORDS Two Questions Why I Cast That Actor Our Members In Print In Residence Backstage We Asked Our Members...
TWO QUESTIONS CURATED BY SERET
When did you know you were a choreographer? What did the moment look like? Feel like?
CONTRIBUTE If you wish to contribute to IN YOUR WORDS, would like to respond to any of the articles, opinions, or views expressed in SDC Journal, or have an idea for an article, please email Letters@SDCweb.org. Include your full name, city + state.
The first time I choreographed I think was maybe when I was 10, and I choreographed my sister and her best friend and myself in a pas de trois in the basement. It was so natural; it was the most natural thing to do—it wasn’t choreography per se. The time when I knew that it’s what I wanted to do was probably my first summer stock job choreographing nine shows in one summer. I had such pleasure doing it: it was hard work, but there was an ease creatively about it, and the figuring out of the creative puzzle of it. I enjoyed that so much that I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I always knew that creatively my expression was more intellectual, which I find to be choreography and direction rather than this role, which sometimes is more the dancer’s expression.
We regret that we are unable to respond to every letter.
If a mentor of yours were to see your work, where would they find themselves?
NOTED | SUMMER 2013
Kevin Moriarty is a director I’ve done a bunch of shows with who really formed my ideas about storytelling and humor and helped to mature my thought process in the development of new work. He, even in revivals, is a strict dramaturge and views them all as new pieces, and I think that is a hallmark of my work in terms of mentorship.
SDC Journal misattributed Anna Maria D’Antonio’s quotes in the Summer 2013 article Meet Me at the Muny: A Theatre Like No Other. In the accompanying sidebar, “Your First Instinct,” D’Antonio stated, “Having to work that quickly and that fast, you have to rely a little bit more on your instincts and what comes naturally first.” In the sidebar, “You Can Take It with You,” D’Antonio stated, “I learned so much having the opportunity to work that fast. I love that challenge of being fast and furious.” In the Summer 2013 Issue, at the bottom of FROM THE PRESIDENT, President Karen Azenberg’s signature should have read: “Executive Board President.”
for DAN KNECHTGES
| FALL 2013
James Lapine explores every angle—annoyingly so, he’ll even say—but you go down every avenue, and I tend to like that. My storytelling skills are definitely Kevin Moriarty but also James Lapine, and my humor is James Lapine influenced. I think my composition skills are from my mentor from college. She taught me you should always know exactly where to look on stage: as an audience member it shouldn’t be difficult to find the focus. I think that’s a great hallmark of my work that she would be able to see. DAN KNECHTGES Lysistrata Jones (direction/ choreography), Xanadu (dir. by Christopher Ashley, Tony nom., Drama Desk nom.), Sondheim on Sondheim (dir. by James Lapine), 110 in the Shade (starring Audra McDonald) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (dir. by James Lapine). Dan also choreographed the Off-Broadway incarnation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Second Stage, which earned him a Lucille Lortel Award nomination. Off-Broadway credits include directing the play Tail! Spin! for the 2012 Fringe Festival, Merrily We Roll Along for Encores! at City Center (dir. by James Lapine), Vanities at Second Stage, and directing and choreographing Lysistrata Jones for the Transport Group. Dan’s choreography can be seen in the Todd Solondz movies Palindromes and Dark Horse, as well as in the TV show White Collar on the USA Network, The 2011 TV Land Awards with Liza Minnelli, and Fatboy Slim’s music video for “It’s a Wonderful Night,” which reached number one in the U.K. www.danknechtges.com.
CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY since 1988 | DAN KNECHTGES since 2001 | JAMES LAPINE since 1988 | KEVIN MORIARTY since 1998 | SERET SCOTT since 1989
Colin Donnell + Sutton Foster Joan Marcus c/o Roundabout Theatre
WHY I CAST THAT ACTOR
KATHLEEN MARSHALL On casting COLIN DONNELL in Anything Goes at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York, NY It’s great when you sort of discover people. When we were casting Anything Goes, we knew we had Sutton Foster on board, we knew we had Joel Grey, and we were looking for our Billy Crocker. We were just at the beginning of the process when Colin Donnell came in to audition. Afterward, I thought, he’s really kind of special. I think he’s kind of good. Actually, he’s really good, isn’t he? He’s really good. Then during another set of auditions, the team agreed to bring Colin back. We brought in another half dozen guys or so at the same time as well. At that point, Todd Haimes, Artistic Director of the Roundabout Theatre Company, was there with John Weidman, Tim Crouse, Rob Fisher, Jim Carnahan, and me. Colin came in, and once again he was really great. He sang and read beautifully, but more than that he understood the style of the production—he felt and looked as though he had walked right out of a Warner Brothers movie from the 1930s. I asked him to wait out in the hall for a bit, and he did, and we saw another couple of guys. Then I just looked around the table and I said, “Am I crazy? Colin’s it, right? He’s our guy, right? Isn’t he fantastic? We’ve seen these other terrific guys, but I think he’s the one.” And everybody said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s the one.” And I looked at Todd Haimes, and I asked, “Can we tell him?” You never get that moment as a director, to tell somebody face to face that they are being offered the part, but I did. Colin came back in, and he had that eager look, like, “What do you need? What do you want?” And I said, “Colin…we’d like you to play Billy Crocker in Anything Goes.” And he kind of stepped back. I thought he was going to fall on the floor, and then, thankfully, he said yes.
KATHLEEN MARSHALL since 1994
FALL FALL SUSAN 2013 2013 BOOTH | |SDC SDCJOURNAL JOURNAL since 1998
OUR MEMBERS IN PRINT BY ALYSSA
AMNON KABATCHNIK Blood on the Stage, 1975-2000: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection Suspense, drama, murder, and espionage have been common story lines throughout the long history of American and European theatre. “The motives never change—motives of revenge, jealousy, greed, and so forth. They’re still the same human frailties and human weaknesses we all have,” says Amnon Kabatchnik, a well-known author, director, and professor. In the latest book from his Blood on the Stage series, Kabatchnik “highlights those works of enduring importance, pioneering contributions, and outstanding success by prolific playwrights in this genre,” according to publicist Maryglenn McCombs. From a young age, Kabatchnik was captivated by the thrilling story lines and enticing plot twists. “These stories have strong plots, and the dilemmas are always dilemmas of life and death,” he says. Kabatchnik became a “bona fide collector” as his personal collection grew immensely over time. “At some point it hit me that I can combine my two loves: my love for this type of literature and my profession, directing theatre. The combination led to Blood on the Stage.” At first, the idea was developed “as a way to create a checklist of plays in the genre,” he says. However, after endless hours of research, the full-scale book was formed. “I spent long hours, eight hours a day, at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts going over files, making notes, and reading scripts that are not allowed to be taken out,” Kabatchnik tells SDC. He also took full advantage of the libraries at Cornell and Elmira along with the Academy of Motion Pictures Library. “Those libraries with my own advanced collection helped me to write the four books that cover hundreds of plays.”
“These stories have strong plots, and the dilemmas are always dilemmas of life and death.”
After Blood on the Stage, 1975–2000 was released in October 2012, Kabatchnik received a Silver Medal in the Benjamin Franklin Awards™ Competition. The Benjamin Franklin Award™ “recognizes excellence in independent publishing,” according to McCombs. The Blood on the Stage series is published by Scarecrow Press; the most recent book covers the last quarter of the 20th century, “a time period that for sheer adventure, excitement, and heart-pounding thrills, may be the genre’s most intriguing era,” said McCombs. Kabatchnik informed SDC that Scarecrow Press has already contracted him for the next Blood on the Stage, which will cover the time frame of 480 BC to 2000. “In other words, I’m going back to all those blood-spattered Greek phases,” he says. Kabatchnik has maintained his strong love of the genre since soft cover books from New York and London arrived in his hometown of Tel Aviv, Israel when he was quite young. “Those wonderful pictorial covers and exciting books literally caught me,” he says. As Kabatchnik remains caught in his love of the genre, he concedes he has “a very long way to go” before he completes reading more than 250 plays that are set to be featured in his upcoming continuation of the Blood on the Stage series.
Since graduating from Boston University with a degree in theatre and journalism, Amnon Kabatchnik has directed numerous comedies, musicals, dramas, and thrillers in the U.S., Israel, and Canada. He was a member of the Director’s Unit in New York’s Actors Studio and has taught at five universities across the country. With his journalism background, Kabatchnik has written for various news publications such as the Tallahassee Democrat and the Star-Gazette of Elmira, N.Y. His first book, Sherlock Holmes on the Stage, and his series Blood on the Stage “are the culmination of Kabatchnik’s lifelong work in the theatre,” according to his website.
| FALL 2013
AMNON KABATCHNIK Assc. since 2010
JACK O’BRIEN Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unitentional Director
“If I’m an unintentional director, I’m an unintentional writer as well,” said Tony Awardwinning director Jack O’Brien as he sat down with SDC Journal at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre in August. Among a hectic schedule of rehearsals and auditions for his upcoming production of Macbeth, O’Brien managed to fit in a short interview to discuss the release of a rather different project: his memoir. Jack Be Nimble: The Accidental Education of an Unintentional Director was released on June 18th. While his new book is a biography, it only covers a key period of time within an extensive and quite impressive career.
years, O’Brien was able to bring vivid memories of the company into the book, including details such as the type of fabric used for the costumes and the whispered conversations held backstage. “I could describe what people were wearing, I remember conversations…I was clearly paying attention,” O’Brien said. This level of detail is a testament to the respect O’Brien held, and still holds, for these artists. “They were all treating me with great respect and affection and a sense of welcoming. So I responded in kind by simply concentrating on them.”
“I realized when the necessity, or the opportunity, or both of them, came up to do this book, that I had to find the tone. Because I didn’t want to write a historical treatise,” O’Brien said. “I wanted to write about the liveliness of theatre and how it impacts people’s lives,” he continued.
The book captivates readers with its level of detail. “It’s gripping, which was the last thing one would expect it to be,” O’Brien said. The structural design contributes greatly to the book’s compelling nature. O’Brien writes himself into the book as a shiny little ball traveling through a game of pinball. Within this main metaphor, the book is broken down into four parts: Newton’s three laws, and the classic: “Don’t Wear White After Labor Day.”
Therefore O’Brien chose a time period he felt was influential not only for himself but also for the history of American theatre. O’Brien became involved with APA (Association of Producing Artists) while a graduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Brought in by Artistic Director Ellis Rabb, O’Brien spent most of his early career working with the organization in both creative and organizational aspects. O’Brien journeyed with APA as it performed across the country, merged with The Phoenix Theatre in 1964, and worked with many of theatre’s greatest performers. Recent New York Times articles “lamented the fact that there were no great companies, that America had never done that,” O’Brien told SDC. These articles sparked frustration in those who had worked in theatre companies like APA Phoenix. Esteemed actress Rosemary Harris even wrote to the New York Times, asking, “Has everybody forgotten this?”
“The interesting thing about this work is that it’s almost inseparable from the life that’s being lived.” courtesy Stephen Weil @ Farrar, Straus and Giroux | HEADSHOT Ari Mintz COVER
These frustrated artists, many of whom are O’Brien’s personal friends, felt that the world needed reminding of APA Phoenix and all it had done. “Everybody felt there’s a story that’s been missing,” O’Brien said, including theatre artists such as Nicholas Martin, Patricia Connolly, and Richard Easton. Therefore, the initial concepts for Jack Be Nimble “came from the friends basically around the dinner table up at my house in Connecticut.” “Because I was his [Ellis Rabb’s] amanuensis, everyone assumed I would write it,” O’Brien explained. Having worked for Rabb for over ten
“I was trying to find a departure point, and the departure point basically seemed to come from the fact that none of this was intentional. That actually I had a different path that I thought I should be pursuing, if I wasn’t actually pursuing it, and I kept bumping into people!” O’Brien initially planned to be a lyricist alongside fellow Michigan alumnus Bob James. However, the powerful influence of Ellis Rabb and the APA members O’Brien had “bumped into” greatly altered his path. O’Brien wanted the book to focus more on the influence that Rabb and APA had on him personally and professionally than on his own career. “Those people were so extraordinary; they were all larger than life. And I’ve never felt that about myself.” He was aware from the beginning of his time with Rabb and APA that he had stumbled into an outstanding experience. “I knew without knowing exactly that I’d fallen into something extraordinary. These are people no kid from Michigan ever gets to meet.” From performing to writing to directing, O’Brien has always recognized the power of theatre. “The interesting thing about this work is that it’s almost inseparable from the life that’s being lived,” he said. In Jack Be Nimble, readers can see how true that statement is by learning of the accidental education of this unintentional director.
Jack O’Brien served as the Artistic Director of The Old Globe from 1982 through 2007. He most recently directed Nathan Lane in Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance on Broadway and is currently directing Macbeth starring Ethan Hawke at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Broadway credits also include: The Coast of Utopia (Tony Award), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Tony nomination), Henry IV (Tony Award), Hairspray (Tony Award), The Invention of Love (Tony nomination, Drama Desk Award), The Full Monty (Tony nomination), Two Shakespearean Actors (Tony nomination), and Porgy and Bess (Tony Award). London: Love Never Dies and Hairspray (Olivier nomination). Awards include: 2008 Theatre Hall of Fame Inductee and Honorary Doctorate, University of Michigan.
AARON FRANKEL NICHOLAS MARTIN since since 1959 1993 | JACK O’BRIEN since 1969 | ELLIS RABB d.1998
FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
The artistic home is hot again. Playwright residencies, endowed chairs at nonprofit theatres, and a slew of new grants have given a small but deserving group of artists a steady paycheck and a home away from home. This is a positive development, to be sure, though it must be said that playwrights and actors have enjoyed the lion’s share of these arrangements. What about directors?
AN ARTISTIC HOME FOR DIRECTORS BY BLAKE
This is the question I asked myself last summer, when I became Artistic Director of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park—a storied institution with the resources and infrastructure to make a difference. I’ve been fascinated by structure for a long time. Some theatres have ADs who direct; some do not (or do so once every few seasons). Either way, the regional theatre thrives on the work of the freelance director—that intrepid artist who is still willing to parachute into a community for four to five weeks at a time, usually once per season, if they’re lucky. How does one develop any sense of belonging with such limited exposure to a theatre’s audience, staff, board, or community? Clearly, more time on site is essential. Most people I know think that the classic Associate Artistic Director position is the best job in the theatre. Direct one or two productions with time off to freelance. You’ve got your own office, a seat at the table, and the ear of the Artistic Director without the burden of finance committee meetings and rotary speeches. Nice gig. This arrangement creates a strong sense of home for that one artist, and it carries with it a sense of presumed tenure: you’re around as long as the AD keeps his or her job. Many theatres have embraced this model to great effect. It’s always interesting to see whether the AD picks someone in his or her own image or someone markedly different. Either way, the theatre spends most of its artistic time with the chief and deputy. Everyone else comes and goes as a freelancer. Other theatres have embraced a team approach by cultivating a small cadre of directorial associates who direct every season, or perhaps every other season, but return with regularity. This, too, is a great deal for all involved and creates a kind of artistic home. And yet, my observation is that directors tend to get pigeonholed in this arrangement. You’re the new play guy, or the multicultural gal, or you cover that other thing (musical, devised piece, new play, experimental concept) that the AD needs to include in the season but doesn’t want to do personally. I find this model intriguing, because audiences benefit from the diversity of aesthetics on stage. And yet, the directors don’t work with enough frequency to stretch their muscles in new directions. Primarily, they’re filling a programming slot. It’s a home, but the walls are narrow and you have to stay in your own room most of the time.
Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates
| FALL 2013
So where did that leave me in Cincinnati? Faced with the opportunity to reshape the Playhouse in my early years, I’ve opted for something new. We’ve replaced the traditional model with a trio of associate artists who have a broad range of responsibilities for a defined period of time. Over the next two seasons, my colleagues Timothy Douglas, Michael Evan Haney, and KJ Sanchez will build a body of work at the Playhouse on stage and in our community. They will have two intense seasons to play and explore and spread their wings, and then we’ll change it up and appoint a new group of associates. Here’s how it works: each artist will direct two productions per season and conduct an additional activity that benefits the community and institution in some way. Next season, for example, one will curate a reading series of new work by Cincinnati-associated playwrights, one will direct an outreach tour to schools and community arts centers, and one will produce the NYC showcase for our acting interns. Douglas is slated to direct the Tony Award– winning play Clybourne Park (January 2013) and Rajiv Joseph’s psychological drama The North Pool (May 2014); Haney will direct the holiday favorite A Christmas Carol (November– December 2013) and Anna Ziegler’s A Delicate Ship (March 2014); and Sanchez will direct Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun (September 2013) and the seductive Venus in Fur (April 2014). All in all, each associate will spend about 15 weeks in residence—overlapping often with his/her peers. Our audiences, staff, and board will get to know these directors and their work intimately over the next two seasons. The theatre benefits from their experience, diversity, and ongoing commitment to our community. The associates get an artistic home with significant employment for two full seasons. And then something unusual happens. We move on. We appoint a new group of associates and see where that takes us. It’s not unusual to hear an Artistic Director liken institutional change to turning around an aircraft carrier in the open sea. True, in many ways. And yet, it’s my great hope that our new model will allow us to remain nimble, adventurous, and thoughtful. We can change with the times, cultivate new relationships, and welcome emerging directors into the fold when the time is right. For the directors, it’s an opportunity to work deeply with a single institution without moving to a new city or passing on other career opportunities. Moreover, they can develop a body of work. Our audiences will see a variety of genres and styles from each director. Over time, I think we’ll benefit from a model that embraces periodic change. And we’ll cultivate a network of directors who continue to think of us as a home beyond their residency period.
TIMOTHY DOUGLAS since 1997 | MICHAEL EVAN HANEY since 1992 | BLAKE ROBISON since 2012 | KJ SANCHEZ since 2008
How do you begin collaboration with directors and choreographers? My approach is to get to know them, to understand what their eventual needs will be, and to create a relationship where there’s a sense of trust and understanding so that, together, we can make the show the best it can possibly be. I look to the director as being my partner in creating a worthy production that will ultimately be a success. Is there ever a moment that you know a show will be a success?
JOEY PARNES What is your favorite aspect of producing, and what is the most difficult part of your job? I like working on shows that have meaning, that change the way audiences think or feel about something as a result of experiencing that show. I like participating in the creation of that experience. I also like the idea that each creative team is its own community with the shared goal of using our own individual strengths to create one production that others will enjoy. I think that’s ultimately what I like best about my job. Sometimes raising money for a show can be the most difficult element. You believe in something. You see it. You know that people will want to see it, but you have to convince others that it’s as good as you think it is. The most difficult part of producing is managing the volume of detail that a producer is required to deal with. Because I also manage any show I produce, I’m involved in nittygritty aspects as well as big-picture elements. Juggling all of those elements at once while maintaining my own equilibrium and also ensuring that everyone is given the support they need to do their job—that can certainly be a challenge.
It depends on your definition of success. I’ve been involved in shows where, from the very first preview, I knew they were an artistic success. But then, for whatever reason, audiences didn’t agree with me in large enough numbers. You get to opening night and you like what you see—and maybe the critics agree with you. That’s a type of success. However, the audiences always have the final say as to whether a production is successful. I’ve been involved with shows that I thought were phenomenal that received amazing reviews from The New York Times, and then the audiences just decided that they weren’t going to come. You basically have to rely on your own judgment as to whether the production is a success in that it has achieved the potential you originally saw in it. You’ve been in this industry for a long time. What has changed? I’m certain that the economic stakes are way different now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. It costs a lot more to put a show on. The economic model has had to evolve in order to adjust to rising costs. I think perhaps the relationship between the producer and the director has changed. Directors have grown in their stature, in their ability to marshal resources and drive the success of a production. In the days of David Merrick, the producer was perceived as having more of the drive. I believe that balance has shifted to some degree. Technology has also made a huge impact on creative team expectations and audience expectations. The perceived need for lots of bells and whistles and scenic and lighting and sound and projection techniques have definitely evolved over time.
The level of expectation has increased along with it, both on the part of audiences but also on the part of the creative team. Everybody wants to avail themselves of whatever the latest technology is. In addition to talent, what attributes contribute to directors’ and choreographers’ success? Are they the same in commercial and nonprofit theatre? Most important is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively with everyone who is connected to making the show happen. I think the most successful directors are the ones who are obviously the captains of the ship, where everyone feels comfortable with their leadership, and their leadership is rooted in communication. It’s rooted in understanding what each department’s issues might be, what each creative team member’s concerns are, and then figuring out ways to collaboratively solve whatever problems are presented. The ideal director is one who everyone feels is in charge and in control of any given situation and is able to communicate easily and clearly. There are many directors who are wonderful at that. Theatre is a collaborative process, and it works best when the channels of communication are left wide open. When the producer and director share a common vision and a style of collaborative communication— both with each other and with everyone else involved in the show—I think that is ideal. What advice would you offer young SDC Members? I think the best advice is to try to attach yourself to a director or choreographer with experience and whose style seems to match your own. Learning on the job is often the best way to absorb how a successful director or Choreographer works on a production. Attach yourself to someone you respect and admire, especially if you truly feel they are worthy of that respect and admiration. Give yourself the benefit of the time that it takes to achieve the level of excellence you aspire to. And don’t beat yourself up saying, “I haven’t had my first success, and I’m already 30.” Life is long.
With over 30 years’ experience, Joey Parnes is a Tony Award-winning Producer and Manager of plays and musicals for Broadway and the road. Joey Parnes Productions also provides executive producer and general management services for a wide range of theatrical ventures, including nonprofit theater, consulting, and working with nonprofits on Broadway transfers. Joey is represented on Broadway this season with the Tony Award-winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and next season with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Past credits include End of the Rainbow; The Merchant of Venice (directed by Daniel Sullivan); Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Equus (directed by Thea Sharrock); HAIR; Passing Strange; Butley; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (directed by Anthony Page); The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?; Copenhagen; The Tempest (directed by George C. Wolfe); Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk; Grand Hotel; Passion; Legs Diamond; Rags; The Floating Light Bulb; Camelot, and the original production of Dreamgirls. Parnes was the Executive Producer of The Public Theater from 1994 through 1996 and then returned in 2011 to serve as its Interim Executive Director. He also served as the Coordinating Producer of the Tony Awards from 2001 to 2008 and produced the Drama Desk Awards in 2012 and 2013. ANTHONY PAGE since 1981 | THEA SHARROCK since 2008 | DANIEL SULLIVAN since 1971 | GEORGE C. WOLFE since 1984
FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
PATRICIA MCGREGOR WORKING FROM HER BEST SELF BY ELANA
Patricia McGregor rehearsing Spunk at California Shakespeare Theater with music director + performer Tru Peterson PHOTO L. Peter Callender
| FALL 2013
New York-based director Patricia McGregor won’t be told no. “Very rarely can someone tell me, ‘You’re going to hit a wall,’” she laughs. “It takes me actually hitting the wall to believe in the wall, and even then I’ll find another way to climb over it.” This eagerness to surmount challenges, along with years of hard work, has eased McGregor’s transition back into the professional theatre community after graduating with an MFA in directing from Yale in 2009. Before going to grad school, McGregor began laying the groundwork for her career by following advice given by her mentor August Wilson: make yourself undeniable. “I was just out of undergrad,” she explains, “and I went to the O’Neill, where [Wilson] became a mentor. He said, ‘If what you really want to do is lead rooms, particularly as a woman of color, you need to do everything possible to make yourself undeniably the most qualified candidate in the room.’ That was before I was thinking of grad school, but it planted the seeds.” It also informed the next seven years of her life. “I got to spend some time learning how shows are put together on a professional level,” she notes. One formative experience was stage managing Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw’s Medea, which she considers her “first graduate school.” “You don’t get much more of an immersive education in acting and directing than being a part of putting something up with Deborah and Fiona. I learned an incredible amount from them.” After years building a career in New York, she says, “I got to a point where work was accumulating and I felt like if I didn’t go to grad school now, I would never go. I was self-producing a lot, and so much time and energy was going into self-producing. I was spending maybe 70 percent of my energy securing resources to put up the play, then 20 percent of my energy actually putting up the play, and the other 10 percent hustling to pay my bills. I was ready for an Olympic training camp in directing.” The final impetus for McGregor to attend Yale was seeing The Brothers Size by Tarrell McCraney, who was in the Yale MFA playwriting program at the time. “I wept like a baby,” McGregor recalls. “When I heard his voice, I said, ‘I think this is one of our major playwrights.’ Even if it’s to be in the company of that artist for a year, you know, that kind of artist comes around once a decade, if that. That was the icing on the cake. If there was any question of whether this was the time and the place to commit to going back to school, when I saw that production, I knew undeniably that I wanted to go to Yale.” “At Yale, I became a better artist,” continues McGregor. “It expanded me. I left having directed 15 plays in three years. I learned how to work with speed on a variety of material, on a variety of budget levels. I was clearer about my own voice, having done so much of my own work. I am also much better at filtering critique now and realizing what’s useful to me and what’s about somebody else’s vision but not mine.” In addition to artistic growth, Yale helped legitimize McGregor professionally. “For my first big shows out of grad school, I know one of the things they did was call the folks at Yale. It was a very strong stamp of approval.” PATRICIA MCGREGOR since 2012 | DEBORAH WARNER since 2003
McGregor was strategic about how she returned to the “real world.” “Before I went to graduate school, I knew the places I loved and wanted to work with,” she explains. “My first year out of grad school, I assisted twice and was an Associate Director at the Public. That was a way to transition back in. Having spent all that time pounding the pavement in NY before really paid off.” McGregor refers to the domino effect: “It’s like working out—at a certain point, if you put the time in, if you do the repetitions, that moment comes where things fall into place. In some ways, it seems to happen magically, and in other ways, it’s an accumulation of all that work that’s been laid before.” The tipping point for McGregor stemmed appropriately from her connection to McCraney. “He introduced me to Katori Hall. I did a workshop of her piece Pussy Valley, and then she asked me to do Hurt Village at the Signature. James Houghton [Founding Artistic Director of Signature Theatre Company] had been the head of the O’Neill when I was an intern there. I also did a solo show that he saw, so when Katori said ‘Hey, here’s this young director—she’s the one I want to do my play,’ I wasn’t an unknown quantity. Producers get worried. They wanted to make sure a young person could get the play where it needed to be.” The dominos were in place for McGregor. “After that, it seemed like there was no door that if I knocked, it wouldn’t open. That legitimized me. Not only were people calling me to talk about opportunities, but for anyone I contacted, that became my calling card. Most people knew what doing a show on that level meant.” Indeed, McGregor recently finished developing a new musical with Marcus Gardley for Williamstown Theatre Festival, and will be heading west to direct two shows this year.
WE ASKED OUR MEMBERS AROUND THE COUNTRY:
What’s in your queue?
Today’s television—which often features the directorial work of SDC Members—rivals the crafts of film and theatre, hooking audiences for seasons at a time. We’d like to know what you are most looking forward to watching this fall. Is it catching up on the finales of Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, or The Office? Or diving into the next installment of How I Met Your Mother, The Walking Dead, or Scandal?
Modern Downton Homeland Abbey Family. DAVID GLENN ARMSTRONG since 2004 | New York, NY
Always hungry for new challenges, McGregor will also shadow a television show to discern if she’d like to delve into the world of film. “I am interested in both television and film as a way of communicating to a large audience. I did a show in Beijing and one evening I went through a hutong (a little side street), and there were these really young kids, maybe eight or ten years old, looking at a little flip computer, watching Half Nelson. They were speaking Mandarin to each other, and I thought ‘Wow. These two kids are having a conversation with an independent filmmaker about a story across the world and that is somehow affecting the dialogue they’re having in a language I don’t understand.’ That was one of my ‘aha’ moments.” The challenges that McGregor faces now are primarily ones of balance. “I have one foot in DIY and one foot in big professional budgeted pieces. I’m learning how to shift gears between those. Also, I’m learning to say ‘No.’ My appetite is so big,” she jokes, “and I fall in love with my collaborators, I fall in love with stories. It’s hard to turn down that ‘date.’ I want to make sure that the integrity of my work and the integrity of my life are sustainable. Which means clearing out some thinking time between projects. Right now I’m working back-to-back and inevitably there are some things that fall through the cracks…like my sanity!” Ultimately, McGregor’s career is characterized by constant transition. Not only did she begin working in theatre as an actor and a writer, but she also thrives on variety within her directing work. From her ultimate dream of directing the Olympics opening ceremony to her dedication to Angela’s Pulse, the politically engaged theatre and dance collective that she founded with her choreographer sister, the common thread in McGregor’s work seems to be a passion for challenging herself. “Any time I feel like I’ve figured something out,” she says, “I want to do something more.” This hunger for challenge has led to an interest in artistic directing, which she discovered as the leader of the Yale Cabaret in her final year of grad school. “I have a very strong appetite for curating and artistic leadership beyond directing. I hope to look back on a long career and say that I worked nationally and internationally on work that is meaningful and vibrant on small and large scales, and I’d like to be a person who opens doors and supports the work of artists and collaborators whose stories need to be told.” The undeniable Ms. McGregor now has some additions to August Wilson’s advice: “Risk bravely,” she says. “Go towards the terror. Go towards the terror and the joy. Particularly in your early career, go big and fail graciously if you fail. Save your contact sheets. Maintain relationships with people that you can call upon later. Invite people to things all the time, even if you know they can’t come. If nothing else, they’ll know that you’re working. Be good to your collaborators. You’ll have a long career and you’re going to be in rooms with the same people often. If you’re lucky, those will be people you like and respect and you’ll continue to get each other work and make each other better. Push hard and with rigor, but also push with kindness. Write your personal mission statement. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I as an artist? What is my mission? What steps am I taking towards fulfilling this mission?’ My goal in theatre is to be as present as I can in each room that I’m in…define success for yourself, then work from your best self.”
House of Cards. A wonderfully overthe-top satire of Washington politics that Ben Johnson might have penned. The show’s Congress gets more done in one episode than the real Congress does in a year. Although it sometimes strains credibility, this snarky show bears the mark of playwriting craft (Rick Cleveland, Beau Willimon and Sarah Treem); and wouldn’t we all love to see Kevin Spacey as Volpone? MICHAEL BLOOM since 1986 | Cleveland, OH
I’m looking forward to Brooklyn NineNine, a terrific blend of reality show and cop show spoofs. Writing on the pilot and cast are both superb. Also, The Michael J. Fox Show for both its writing and all the local talent. PETER FLYNN since 2000 | New York, NY
I am looking forward to new episodes of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, and The Walking Dead by AMC. EDWARD TORRES since 2010 | Chicago, IL
What show made you fall in love with theatre? Write to SDCJournal@SDCweb.org for a chance to have your answer published in the Winter Issue.
JAMES HOUGHTON since 1999
FALL 2013 | |SDC SDCJOURNAL JOURNAL
Come Create It Here BY WEST
hen you walk into the lobby of the Drama League at 32 Avenue of the Americas, the first thing you’ll notice is the large and modern rehearsal studio with moveable lighting, a projector, an audio system, and impressive soundproofing. Around the corner you’ll find a small kitchen, a conference room, and a set of computer workstations available to former and current members of the Directors Project. Hidden behind all this creative real estate, in an apt metaphor for their behind-the-scenes work promoting directors, are the offices of Roger Danforth and Gabriel Shanks, the Artistic and Executive Directors of Drama League Directors Project. The Directors Project, a leading career development program for early career directors, has acquired its own new studio space, and as the physical footprint has enlarged, so has the programming. In 1982 the Drama League Board created the Directors Project to address a lack of patronage available to emerging directors. Their response was to create the annual “Directing Fellowship,” which provides young directors with a season of income, assistantships, classes, and networking events culminating in an Off-Broadway production of a one-act. Over the past 30 years, the Directing Fellowship has had unparalleled success in identifying and nurturing promising young talent, and some of the most distinguished directors of our era are among the alumni, including this year’s Tony Award winners Pam MacKinnon and Diane Paulus.
The Drama League
The Directors Project expanded over the years, adding a summer fellowship at Hangar Theatre, a classical fellowship for directors of color, and a musical theatre directing program. As alumni of all these programs progressed into the professional world, they met new and unexpected challenges, and the Drama League realized their work wasn’t finished. “What directors needed even 10 years ago is drastically different from what they need today. Their economic reality is different. The opportunities are different. It’s taking longer to develop a career. The artists who in previous decades would have retired, haven’t. They’re staying the artistic directors. They’re staying the major directors. The opportunities are fewer for midcareer directors. So we started to really look at how we can create an environment of lifetime support, committing to a director at the beginning of their career and saying ‘we are with you till you die,’” says Shanks.
| FALL 2013
ROGER DANFORTH since 1981 | WEST HYLER since 2009 | PAM MACKINNON since 2001 | DIANE PAULUS since 2001
It’s an inspiring and noble statement, but the question is, what do mid-career directors need? Once you have made all professional contacts and are steadily getting work, what more can an institution provide? One answer, Danforth discovered, was space to create. “Once you get to the point where you’re getting hired, more and more you want to create your own work and develop your own projects. There’s no director worth his salt who isn’t thinking, ‘This idea really came to me, and I want to pursue it.’” The challenge in pursuing such great ideas is that they take time and space to develop and rehearsal studios have grown unmanageably expensive in the last several years. There are even some new productions spending more on rehearsal space than on renting the actual theatre. As we explore devised work and play with new technologies like interactive sound and video design, it can take months to thoughtfully develop a piece, an insurmountable obstacle when resources are only affordable for a few weeks. Shanks says, “Renting space was becoming the major untalked-about issue of our time. We thought that space, especially in New York City, was the conversation that artists and the community were not having that needed to be had.” Fast forward to the Drama League’s new rehearsal studio and the slate of new programming with which they’re filling it. The newly minted “Drama League Artist Residency Program” is categorized into four separate residency types: Rough Draft, a monthly series of one-day residencies designed cabaret-style for quick artistic exploration; Developmental Residency, a short-term residency for projects in the earliest stages with emphasis on the discovery and/or writing process; Workshop Residency, a weeklong concentrated rehearsal and dramaturgy process with resources including a production stipend, a production mentor, and space available for presentation; and the Creative Residency, a multi-week program for advanced projects well under way in their development and headed to production. The program can support 10 to 12 different projects a year from both alumni as well as directors new to the Drama League Directors Project. Says Danforth, “There’s always some really talented people that don’t get in because we just don’t have that many places. I always feel bad when I meet somebody who may have interviewed that didn’t get in. I wish I could help more people.” The new programming will let Danforth do exactly that, for although alumni will be given preference in applications, artists with no prior history with the Drama League are also encouraged to apply. If you submit an application, make sure it’s for development and not production. The studio has enough bells and whistles that it could easily be transformed into a production space, but Shanks was clear that the high-tech performance room is intended as a workspace only. “A producer is creating a product, and we don’t think we’re part of that final artistic product. I think it’s really important that somebody is out there without a financial interest in the product. When a play is commissioned at a regional theatre, when a commercial producer options a project, there’s a certain direction that that play or project must take. I think for us it is really important to say, ‘We don’t have a dog in this fight.’” Danforth echoed the sentiment. “It’s a lab space. It isn’t a theatre. We don’t want to produce theatre. We want to create projects at all levels, something you can take to a theatre and say, ‘Look at this great project that is ready to go.’ And at earlier stages say, ‘I’ve got a great idea. We need help getting it ready.’” In between programming, the space will be available to Directors Project alumni at an extremely competitive rate, not only for rehearsals and backers auditions, but also for earning income by offering classes in specialized skill sets. It’s an attempt at a different kind of patronage, a chance for artists to keep their “day job” inside the world of theatre. Shanks says, “We don’t want directors waiting tables. We don’t want you to go work on Wall Street. We don’t want you to go work in a restaurant. We don’t want you to do something outside of the field. We want you to keep your life inside the theatre.” In the midst of all this new programming, the original Directing Fellowship will still exist in much the same form it has for three decades, continuing to change the careers of young directors and propel them into the professional world. The only difference now is that it isn’t just for a season that the Drama League will give them a home, but for an entire career. Danforth summed it up with these words: “If we’re going to tout our alumni as something great, which I think they are, they deserve more than just posters on our wall. They deserve some ownership. Both Tony winners this year were Directors Project alums. This new programming of the new space is a way of giving back to them. This is their home. We want them to use it. Yes, it’s great to win awards, and who doesn’t like to be honored, but let’s face it, that’s not why you do this. It isn’t why you go into this business. You go into it to work, to address that creative urge. So we want this to be your home for creating. Let us help you. If you’re going to create something, come create it here.”
Professional Training Career OPPORTUNITIES for emerging and mid-career stage directors
2014 Resident Artists Development Projects Applications Open Now
Production Program Applications Open November 1
residency Program Applications Open November 1
Musical Directing Program
Applications Open November 1
Classical Fellowship for Directors of Color
Applications Open November 1
stage Directors exchange Letter of Inquiry Required
Professional Study Classes and intensives Beginning Winter 2014
Private Rehearsal Deluxe facilities Available For Rental
For more information and application details, please visit
DraMaLEagUE.Org Drama league TheaTer CenTer 32 avenue of The ameriCas new York, new York 10013 (212) 244-9494 roger T. Danforth, artistic Director gabriel shanks, executive Director Chantal Pavageaux, artistic associate
FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
n the spring of 2006, my husband, my son, and I found ourselves in Atlanta, Georgia. I was doing a guest directing stint at the Alliance Theater, my husband was the composer/sound designer, and our son was on spring break. Once the show closed, we thought we would take a little mini-vacation to visit Savannah. We were immediately enchanted by the city and its beautifully restored historic buildings. As we wandered around town, we discovered that the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) had almost singlehandedly been responsible for the renovation and preservation of Savannah’s beautiful historic district. We immediately thought, “Do they need anyone to teach directing and sound design?” Well, as fate would have it, after we returned to our home in Seattle, we learned that the school was, in fact, seeking two professors: one to teach directing and one to teach sound design. We had a disastrous first phone conversation with an unknown HR representative who woke us up at 6 a.m. (not realizing the time difference) and wondered about our lack of
“terminal degrees.” I have always found that term particularly ominous-sounding. We both thought that was the end of that, but our résumés somehow made it through to various department chairs, and after a couple of visits, we got the jobs. I had no idea if I would like teaching and absolutely no idea if I could tolerate becoming an “academic.” Apart from some guest lecture slots here and there, I had never written a syllabus before, much less taught four classes a semester, which was my initial assignment. Now, seven years later, I can say that I have mastered the art of syllabus writing and, along with two of my colleagues, have rewritten both the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. I have found I learn as much from my students about the art of theatre as they learn from me. I am constantly challenged to reexamine the things I know, and to see the art form through fresh, eager eyes. Furthermore, as the artistic director of the department, I get to plan a season for an audience mostly under the age of 28 and work on projects that would be difficult to produce for commercial theatres.
A few years ago, I decided to produce an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. As a way to capture Bradbury’s mediasaturated world and, at the same time, to illuminate his critique of the media, I decided to utilize various departments of the school, such as film, motion media, and animation (relying on the talents of over 250 students) to create a multimedia production. The result was a project that I could never have tackled at either of the two LORT theatres where I was artistic director; it took too much time to develop and it would have been far beyond the budgets of either theatre. It truly challenged me as an artist. Since many SDC Members and Associates work in academic theatre [see sidebar with results from the recent academic survey], and many more will probably find themselves doing so over the course of their careers, I reached out to a few of my colleagues working in higher education to discuss the unique challenges of directing in an academic setting, both the difficulties and the rewards of working with students, and how ultimately it has furthered our work as artists.
exploring our craft DIRECTING IN HIGHER EDUCATION BY SHARON
SHELDON EPPS since 1981 | VINCENT PATERSON since 1992 | CAREY PERLOFF since 1995 BRIAN SDC JOURNAL ISAAC PHILLIPS | FALLsince 20132010 | DIANE RODRIGUEZ since 2002
SHARON OTT since 1980
Nayna Ramey PHOTO
RISA BRAININ is the Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is the Artistic Director of LAUNCH PAD, an artist residency and performance program for new plays.
KATE BUCKLEY is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, where she also directs at the Clarence Brown Theatre, the LORT theatre associated with the university. She has previously been an adjunct professor at DePaul and Northwestern Universities.
JOHN DILLON served as the director of the theatre program at Sarah Lawrence College from 2004 to 2010 and regularly serves as a guest artist at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts.
GREG LEAMING is the Associate Artistic Director of Asolo Repertory Theatre, where he is a faculty member of the Florida State University/Asolo Repertory Conservatory acting training program. He previously served as the head of the directing program at Southern Methodist University.
MARK WINGDAVEY is the Chair of Graduate Acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He previously taught for 15 years at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and from 1988–1990 served as the Artistic Director of the Acting Course.
Sharon | How do you approach rehearsals as a director while also balancing the educational needs of your students? Greg | In rehearsal, my job is absolutely twofold: on top of the standard responsibilities of a director, I must work in a teaching capacity at the same time. Kate | When I see an opportunity for a lesson during scene work, I halt rehearsal to have a “Teaching Moment.” Students gather and we discuss something relevant to their work in the classroom and then we go back to rehearsal as usual. Sharon | What sorts of things do you teach during rehearsals? Greg | I find myself teaching rehearsal etiquette almost as much as I am directing. At FSU, the second year of training is where we explore what is expected of an actor in the professional rehearsal room and the actor’s relationship with the director. I am the one who helps them differentiate an acting teacher from a director—what they need to do in terms of technique on their own time so they don’t take up rehearsal time. That might be one of the most important lessons they can learn. Sharon | How else do you instill a sense of professionalism in student actors? Risa | My theory is if you treat students like professionals, they will act like professionals. I intentionally don’t work any differently with students than I do with professionals. I have high expectations for everyone involved in a production and my sense is that the students appreciate being held to a professional standard. Kate | I want my students to have an experience like the ones they will encounter in the real world. I treat student-based productions the same way I treat professional productions. The difference is when I’m working with students, I spend more time preparing, I’m more patient, and I try to be very clear at all times. Risa | If there are any differences, I would say that I can be harder and a bit more honest with them because we are in it for the long haul and they are dedicated to training. Mark | I guess I would say that I treat the professionals as if they were students and the students as if they were professionals. Kate | I’m also very aware of their academic responsibilities. So I try to be efficient and attempt to release them earlier than the allotted time. Between their production and academic work, our students are working, on average, a 15-hour day, six days a week.
Sharon | In a university you are often rehearsing for three to four hours a day over six to eight weeks or more, instead of the typically shorter, more concentrated schedule for professional productions. Does this influence the way you work? John | I relish the longer rehearsal period because it gives me lots of time to brood over the show. If, two or three weeks into the process, I want to change the approach or the way I’m using rehearsals, there still may be time. And since there’s little at stake at the box office, that change isn’t met with widespread panic. I also try to be extremely flexible in rehearsal. You’d think these young folks would have lots of stamina, but in my experience, they get sick a lot. So that means I always need a backup plan if a student is out without much warning—it also means I keep a small bottle of Purell® in my pocket too, so I can do a bit of inconspicuous de-germing! Sharon | Are there any specific ways in which you try to build ensembles with student actors? Mark | In any production I direct, I’m always most interested in the group work, the work of the cohort, so to speak. I always start—and this doesn’t change whether I’m working with student actors or professionals—with exercises to help the cast develop a group sense of the world they will create, what I call the “emotional gymnastics” that I find in the world of each play. I emphasize the work, or the craft, regardless of who I’m working with. John | This spring, I was directing the premiere of Amlin Gray’s brilliant adaptation of Evgeny Shvarts’ Soviet-era satire The Dragon at North Carolina School of the Arts. I wanted the students to feel more viscerally what it was like to live in a society where propaganda and the cult of personality was such a significant part of life—and I didn’t want to send them on a field trip to North Korea! So, I broke the cast of 27 down into four groups, choosing the groups based on relationships within the play. Each collective was assigned the task of creating a unique celebration of our “Beloved Leader,” who was being played by the new Dean of the School of Drama, Carl Forsman. He judged the proceedings, choosing a winning and losing group—the losing group was exiled to a gulag of my creation. They worked when they weren’t in scenes, but they had to struggle with one more obstacle: I told them that one student among the 27 was a spy. The spy would pretend to be a loyal member of one group but was actually sharing all their secret plans with another group. This created a taste of the paranoia that Shvarts chronicled in his play and things got pretty intense when everyone was polled on who the spy was. Actually, there was no spy; they created a spy in their heads from the paranoia of the system I’d set up for them.
RISA BRAININ since 1997 | KATE BUCKLEY since 2002 | JOHN DILLON since 1974 CARL FORSMAN since 2001 | GREG LEAMING since 1992 | MARK WING-DAVEY since 1992
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Sharon | Are there any particular challenges you’ve faced in working with student actors? What do you do to overcome them?
while it’s certainly true that I’ve seen many academic productions where students really got off on the wrong track, I have to say I’ve seen two or three student productions that are better by far than any professional production I’ve seen of the same play.
John | Roles that require accents or age can block a student creatively. It becomes solely about trying to meet the technical skill needed to master the dialect or to Sharon | Do you feel you have more pretend to be older than they are. It can freedom in the work that you do in an be horrifying to this old geezer when a academic setting? young thespian wonders if they should use a cane or maybe a walker to act Greg | I’ve been able to work on material 60. So, I try to avoid as many technical that might have less commercial appeal requirements as much as possible. I try but offers the students—and me—a to keep the connection between an actor chance to deal with brilliant, complex and their character as work. I’ve done Schiller’s simple and as clear as The Robbers, which I can’t possible. “I am the one imagine many theatres in America taking a stab at. who helps them We did The Duchess of Malfi, Greg | Students often have to be pushed to finding a contemporary differentiate collaborate, to bring approach for young actors, their own ideas and an acting teacher which was truly a great identity to the work. challenge. One rarely gets They are often not quite from a director.” the chance to engage with capable of personalizing such big, messy, complex GREG LEAMING on a deep level, which is plays in a commercial something I push them environment these days. to do in the academic room as well. They need to bring their John | I’m much more likely to be entire personality and history into the asked what I want to stage by a school work. They are sometimes too eager to than I am by a professional theatre. I please the director and put that ahead of persuaded both North Carolina School their own acting work. They need to chart of the Arts and UNC Chapel Hill to the path rather than rely on someone to jointly commission Anthony Clarvoe to show them the path. write an adaptation of The Ramayana, a Hindu myth that I’ve had a longtime Mark | In my work now with graduate fascination with. Clarvoe greatly enjoyed students at NYU, sometimes they are writing a piece for the large cast we had incredibly pure, but at other times they available—and at the end of the process can have this strange “eye on the prize” he was able to restructure the piece syndrome. Especially in their final year, for a smaller ensemble, making it more sometimes they won’t put the stakes of suitable for professional theatres. the play absolutely at the center of what they’re doing. They’re worried about Sharon | What role do you see agents and think, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t universities playing in developing new do that” for whatever reason. plays? Sharon | What about the advantages? What do you enjoy about working with students? Greg | I’m actually thrilled by the ways students will run with any idea you throw at them, and take it as far as you want. There is rarely any hesitation, any fear of failure. So the creative energy in the room on any given night can be mindboggling! Mark | Students have this incredible ability to find the essence of a play, and deliver it untrammeled by ego. They may not always have the skill level, the stamina, or the general high level of artistry as the professional actor, and
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Risa | My theory has been that there is a missing step between readings/ workshops and world premieres that universities can absolutely provide. I call it a “preview production”—fully produced with professional designers and a mix of student and professional actors. After talking to many playwrights over the years, I found that they were frustrated with feeling they were stuck in a cycle of readings and workshops without ever seeing their plays fully realized. They were also frustrated that once they had a premiere, they had a difficult time getting a second production to continue their work. So when I first came to the UCSB, I decided to dedicate my one slot a year to producing new or
nearly new work with the playwright in residence. I ran my idea by dramaturge Liz Engelman, who put me in touch with Sarah Ruhl and we worked on Melancholy Play. The second year, I invited John Walch to continue to work on The Dinosaur Within after its premiere. By the third year, we were producing completely new works and have continued to mount one fully produced new play each year, which has now grown into an entire program based on providing that missing step, called LAUNCH PAD. Since 2005, we’ve worked with eight writers: Sarah Ruhl, John Walch, Barbara Lebow, Sheri Wilner, Beau Willimon, Lila Rose Kaplan, James Still, and Alison Tatlock.
Sharon | How do you balance your fulltime teaching position with your career outside the university?
Sharon | How does that work impact the students?
Kate | Teaching is richly rewarding, but I’m very grateful that the University of Tennessee has a requirement that serious creative activity must continue outside of the school. The opportunity to travel, to see other theatres, to meet other directors, to work with new actors and designers, to see other work, to hear about other ideas—it all keeps my creative life and my teaching life balanced and exciting. It allows me to return to my students with firsthand reports about the ever-changing practicalities of how to “make it” in the profession.
Risa | My students absolutely love working with the playwrights. They love the chance to create a role and they understand that we’re all working to help the playwright develop the play. Since this is so much of what they’ll be doing when they get out of school, I think it is crucial to their education to learn how to do it well. For me, it’s been a constant joy to bring playwrights to campus and to see them flourish in a safe environment.
But, it’s not all sunshine and roses. When you’re freelancing, you have those days when you drag yourself back to the hotel completely exhausted, after back-to-back 10-out-of-12s, while in pre-production for another show in another town, you drop your bags, can’t get internet service, and you ask yourself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” Now add teaching into the mix—I’m exhausted for nine months of the year.
LAUNCH PAD has definitely expanded my world as an artist. While I had done a good amount of new work during my career, I was pretty steeped in the classics at the time I took this job. It has been so rewarding to be able to work with living playwrights on a more regular basis.
Sharon | What have you learned as an artist from working with your students?
Mark | While I was working at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, we collaborated with Caryl Churchill. We took a group of students to Romania to amass images and information and to work on exercises together, all of which led to Caryl’s play Mad Forest. In some fundamental way, I owe my career in America to this work. After Mad Forest was produced in London, Joe Papp rang me up to ask if we’d like to bring our production to the Public. And, while the students decided to not continue with the show—they had been working on it for a long while at this time—it did get produced at the New York Theatre Workshop with professional actors. This production bounced me into my life in America. TITLE PAGE
Greg | I’ve become a much more collaborative artist. Because it’s my job to teach the students how to take ownership, I often have to give up ownership. It’s also taught me to embrace and make use of the vocabulary of an actor on a greater level—it’s taught me how to speak to actors more carefully. The biggest thing it’s taught me, though, is to find the deeply personal connection to any piece I’m working on. If I need to convince the students to bring their entire being to the work, I have to do the same thing; I have to teach by example. And because of this, I’ve found myself becoming more involved with my work on a far less cerebral level, and approaching it on a much more emotional level. I think I work a lot harder when I work with students, and as a result the work is that much more gratifying.
60-SECOND ACADEMIC SURVEY RESULTS SDC recently circulated a survey to gather some statistics about our Members working in education. Over 700 of our Members replied. NOITAMEMBERS CUDE NI SRIN EBMEM
EDUCATION In education
Not in education
LEVEL GNIHC AET TEACHING LEVEL Undergraduate
TNEMOF YOLEMPLOYMENT PME FO EPYT TYPE Part-time
DIR/CHOR STNEMN GISSA ROHC/RID ASSIGNMENTS
Does include dir/ chor assignment
Does not include dir/chor assignments
Sharon Ott in rehearsal with students PHOTO c/o SCAD
OPPOSITE TOP TO BOTTOM
Kate Buckley in UT Green Room | Table work for LAUNCH PAD preview production of James Still’s Appoggiatura PHOTO Nayna Ramey | John Dillon + students PHOTO Donald Dietz Greg Leaming in rehearsal | Mark Wing-Davey in rehearsal for the Henry Box Brown Play PHOTO Ella Bromblin JAMES STILL since 2001
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FROM THE ARCHIVES
TCG ’11 PANEL
ADVANCING CAREER + CRAFT
s part of the Union’s and the Foundation’s commitment to supporting its Members at all levels of their career, SDC hosted a panel at the 2011 TCG National Conference to discuss the development of directors in the national theatre scene. The panel was composed of the late GILBERT CATES, then-Producing Director of the Geffen Playhouse; CURT COLUMBUS, Artistic Director of Trinity Repertory Company; JEFFREY HOROWITZ, founding Artistic Director of Theatre for a New Audience; SUSIE MEDAK, Managing Director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre; MADELINE PUZO, Dean of the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts; and Director JULIE TAYMOR. Moderated by SDC’s Executive Director Laura Penn.
The esteemed panel of producers and directors set out to illuminate the complex and varying ways in which directors advance their craft and careers, exploring the reality of today’s theatrical landscape and its impact on institutions, individuals, and artistry. While there are no easy solutions, the panel’s conversation and continuing discussions around these issues are important to encourage innovative ideas for how we can better support and develop directors’ careers and work.
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GILBERT CATES d.2011 | CURT COLUMBUS since 2011 | JULIE TAYMOR since 1996
Laura | The first question I have for this group is how do directors grow as individual, distinctive artists? How is the field supporting and nurturing and/or failing directors, not just emerging artists, but those at all levels of their career? Curt | The question is really interesting because I don’t know that there’s any one way into building a career. The thing I tell my students is you have to first and foremost have a life, and then a life as an artist, and then a life as an artist within your discipline. Those are sort of the three steps. How the field is supporting that? Not very well, because we’re still in a 20thcentury model of commercial-driven thinking. Madeline | I think we need to be a lot more precise with the way we’re using words. I think there are a lot of artistic directors and theatres who feel that they are supporting younger, emerging directors when they give them a job. There’s a difference between development and employment. If you hire a director and you want them to do a nice, clean, well-behaved production, you’re just giving them a job. You are not developing an artist. You are not developing a distinctive voice. He or she is a functionary of your mission, which is to keep your organization going. Susie | I’m not sure that we have the capacity as a field to function in that organized way. What does the field do for directors? What does the field do for actors? It’s a very broad statement but it implies a level of organization that not only do we not have, but I can’t imagine us wanting as a field: that sense of a uniformity of approach, a uniformity of plan, a uniformity of opportunity. Gil | We have to look at ourselves in the context of where we are, the time we’re in, and the conditions of the society that we live in. I mean, this is a brutal time. It’s a brutal time for the world. It’s a brutal time for America. Look at the discourse between the two major parties. Look at the tweeting and all the stuff that’s going on. It’s a mess. We live in a mess and it seems to me that the only thing that you can really do when you live in that kind of a mess—and I’m taken back to your terrific picture with Anthony Hopkins, what was the name? Julie | Titus. Gil | Titus. I mean it’s a mess. So— Julie | Thanks. Gil | —actually, I happen to love that film. Julie | I know. Gil | But the point I want to make is that it seems to me all you can do as individual
directors is to somehow get in a fighting mode and get ready to attack that mess. I was very friendly with Elia Kazan; he was kind of a mentor to me, and I remember once he published this monograph about what it takes to be a director. And the monograph said you have to know music and art and history and philosophy and you have to be able to sing, fly, dance, cheer: one of these enormous things which actually would be appropriate for any artist. But one evening I said to him, well, if you had to reduce all that to one thing, what’s the one most important ingredient? The one ingredient you really need is energy, strength. If we can somehow encourage the individual director to possess that strength and that sense of purpose and that unwillingness to be beaten down and that awareness of who that person is, then I think we’re doing a wonderful thing. Laura | Anyone else? Julie | I can only speak about my experience and how I became a director. I don’t know how all the other directors—that’s one of the things about us, we don’t really know each other’s lives. It is an isolated field for us. Actors work together, directors are by themselves. I grew up wanting to be an anthropologist. I was studying religion and literature but I’d always done theatre since I was—it might be like a Beatles song, but 50 years ago I was playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a summer camp production. I started theatre really young. But one of the lucky things about that time in the ’70s, the La MaMa time, the Peter Brook time, was all labs. There were labs and they were very inexpensive. I was in the bottom of a church floor in St. Clemens with the Theater Workshop of Boston, creating theatre at age 15 or 16 from scratch. It was the time where the playwright had pushed into the background and you created plays that were with Herbert Blau and all, that were made from books or diaries or pieces of the news. One of the other things that happened to me was travel. And I think directors need, and Americans need, to get out of our culture. Directors need to move around. There’s different ways that directors’ lives need to be enhanced. I know there’s a lot of need for people just to get electricity and water in this world, so we all take what we do with a big fat grain of salt because it’s not the most important thing, but we can be important in the lives if we’re doing what Gil just said, which is engaging in stories. For a director to have experiences outside of the theatre but also be able to see other directors, see other theatres from other cultures, this is the food that really supports a director to come at a text or at an idea with many, many tools. And I was very lucky because Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine,
PETER BROOK since 1959 | ELIA KAZAN d.2003 | JESSICA KUBZANSKY since 2000
all of that era, we were all working in that way. You could work from a prewritten text or you could create it, but there was an enormous enthusiasm for the director to be part of that creation and that is still critical for young directors now. Jeffrey | That is what I try to do at the Theatre for a New Audience. I will not work with a director unless I can support the tools and the craft and the art of that director. Directors are many things but they’re also storytellers. What do they need to tell those stories? You have to know what a director needs. And being distinctive is absolutely the bottom line. If they’re not distinctive, if a director doesn’t want to be distinctive, they would have no interest in talking to me. Curt | This is the thing that the field can and should be doing. Do you know NEA has a whole program that’s called Artists and Communities? I was like, oh good; they’ll give support to my resident company idea. No, no, it’s for artists to go visit and be in other communities, not in their own fricking community. Where are the grants for communities of artists? There are grants for individuals and a lot of the discussion is about how individuals respond and what individuals do. And I think the great lack in the field is that we don’t think collectively. Susie | But I have to challenge this. Curt | And I have to challenge the challenge. [laughter] Gil | Okay, can I say something? Susie | Okay, I’ll defer to Gil. [laughter] Gil | To go back to Jeff’s point about not wanting to work with a director unless he can support the director’s vision, of course the corollary to that, which we employ a lot at the Geffen, is to go to a director and to say to the director, look, we have $500,000 for this play, can you find a way to do it? Directors respond positively to that. They go back, how do they do it? I mean, the thing says multi-set, stuff like that. Maybe we can just do it with lights or maybe, whatever it is. So there’s the other part of it that also works. I saw a production of Hamlet that Jessica Kubzansky did in Ojai last year. I don’t think that show cost a dime. I don’t know what it cost, five grand or something like that. It was spectacular. I come back to the reliance of the director on their own two feet, their own imagination, their own ambition, their own effort to get something done. I guess what I’m trying to say is that as we have this discussion, which is great to avoid the feeling of entitlement, to avoid the feeling of directors that somehow, you know, we’re being treated FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
badly and we’ve got to get the field to help us and this is not right and that’s not right. I know Julie Taymor well enough to know that the experience with La MaMa and in New York was yeasty and fulfilling and phenomenal. And I also know that if she were born in 2036, she would find a way to become Julie Taymor with what was there at that time. That’s the only point I’m making. Susie | So can I come back now, Gil? [laughter] I think there has been a field where there continues to be a group of theatres that work in very similar ways, where we have institutional support for a rehearsal process. To a greater or lesser degree, that company provides full support to a group of artists in a rehearsal hall during a specific period of time for a production that will run for a specific period of time. Some companies do it better or worse. Some are more supportive than others. Some have associate or young directors in the room with mature directors. But the point is that there’s a structure that many of our companies operate within. At the same time, over the last 20 years or so, there’s been this wealth of exploration of different ways to develop work. It is also part of the field, but it is based on a different kind of artistic dialogue. There are opportunities in both of those, but there’s actually been a fairly sharp dividing line between the two. What is exciting about what’s happening in the field right now is that the dividing line is beginning to shift. Those of us who have worked in institutional companies who love the resources that we can provide to artists, what we think of as a kind of dignity that we try to offer artists by providing them resources and time, etc. also feel some of the frustration of the limitations of that structure. And it’s not altogether surprising to me that a lot of those companies are inviting artists who work in very different ways to come and be resident with them. Madeline | I know years ago, and I mourn the loss of it, when New York Theatre Workshop used to have the emerging directors’ festival, Jean Passanante would literally say to a number of young directors who her theatre had decided they wanted to support: what play do you want to do? Within their very limited resources, they would find a way of doing it. And people who went through this are now among the leaders of our field. I think they were paper choices; I do not think that they were choices where Jean actually saw the work. The program we had at the Guthrie was not quite comparable, we gave young directors a two-year residency and then they would do a production of a verse play with our company. It had to be a verse play and it had to be with our company and it was in our lab and it was for 50 bucks. I mean, there was no budget. But again, at some point in a director’s career, somebody said to them, you’re on the right path. Whether it’s a funding group, whether it’s
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a producer— Susie | But that implies that we have to be the ones to validate them and I don’t know that that’s the case. Madeline | I’m not saying it’s you. We’re talking something big. I saw a very talented director become a lawyer when they didn’t get that validation. At what point does somebody need to be told you’re on the right path? Laura | That was one of the questions I had. Building a career as a director is a lifelong commitment and much of what you do to develop that career is invisible to most people. But there do seem to be moments that you can identify through the rearview mirror where something happened. Someone witnessed, someone gave an opportunity, you shoved yourself through the door, the producer reached out, whatever it was. And what are those moments? I do think this question of a lab, of Research & Development, whatever those were in the past don’t exist in the same way. Gil | I just want to make a point. I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon about it but as directors, if you want a lab, create a lab. Madeline | No, you can’t do that. Gil | Yes, you can. Oh, I disagree. Madeline | You need to get people— Gil | Hold on, hold on. Yes, you can, and no, you don’t have to. I mean, both exist simultaneously. There are lots of directors I know here, right here in Los Angeles, that have gotten together. There are guys and women who have friends and they say look, let’s work, let’s work, let’s do this, let’s do that, let’s do it, start it. I’m all for the empowerment of directors. I’m all for directors getting off their ass, getting a couple of actors together, renting a storefront, meeting after they work, and going to work. Now, I’m also for helping them: we do that at the Geffen. And I’m also for the fact of in this society that we live in—look at War Horse. It was started in England, obviously, with the National Theatre Company. Can you imagine going to anybody, Bernie Gersten, anybody in this country that produces shows and saying, look, I have a great, great, great play for you. It’s 80 people. There’s no singing, there’s no dancing. Oh yes, it’s about a horse that joins World War II and we follow the horse and the kid who owns the horse, etc. They’d think you’re fucking nuts. But they have that in England. They have the National Theatre. They have it in Belgium. They have the feeling for it in France in terms of the culture there. We sadly don’t. We don’t. So I just want to know—
Julie | It’s not about going after work and getting together with a group of actors. The kind of training it takes to do the puppetry in War Horse— because War Horse was about the puppetry from South Africa, and it was about yes, the National or whoever put those things together. But it was not about the play as such. It was about the concept. To do the kind of work on the level of Simon McBurney or Robert Lepage or Mnouchkine, these kinds of directors, it takes a full-time commitment. Now that’s not to say any kid who’s got an idea can’t get up and get a group of people and start his own. That’ll happen regardless. Things will happen if you have a will to do it. But if there is a place that gives you a forum for it, it will happen better. What I always feel frustrated about as a director is when I cannot get actors who all have the same ability to comprehend a style. This is a very difficult thing because my favorite theatre that I see, I look at those performers and they can move and they understand the power of the body with the words, with the language. And that takes not just training in school, because you can start that in school, but it’s about a company and a place and a director where you are working on a piece of work and you’re discovering. Sometimes that’ll take a year. Sometimes it’ll take a year and a half. I have been approached by companies like Jeffrey’s, or by Carey Perloff—she said just come out and just work. You don’t even have to produce. You don’t have to have a result. We’re very result-oriented and result-oriented is very tricky when you’re trying to develop a new form. I feel it’s very critical that even if part of the regional theatre is to do a number of plays that are driven by the playwright, there should always be a play or a time where it is incredibly experimental without results that are necessary. Laura | In conversations I’ve had with directors and artistic directors, a question has been raised about the mid-career, established, working freelance director who’s traveling around the country and doing five to six shows a year because they’re good and people hire them. The work is good but the depth of exploration that once was possible, once was encouraged is not there in the way that as artistic directors they’d like to provide or as freelance artists they’d like to have encouraged. It’s a practitioner kind of experience, and less frequently is it an artistic exploration. Curt | I’m sorry to keep ringing the same bell but these are all connected to the fact that if you’re always auditioning for your next job, you’re never going to do the job that’s in front of you. And that has to do with everything that Julie’s talking about. This long-term relationship with a community of artists who over time can go, wow, we really messed that SIMON MCBURNEY since 1998 | CAREY PERLOFF since 1995
one up. What have we learned from that? What do we take from that and how do we risk on the next one? Which you can’t do with a room full of strangers who might be giving you your next job or who might think you’re a jerk and never hire you again. It’s really hard and this is why I hark on this same thing. There’s a whole new way of doing this now that doesn’t seem to be supported by the structure of the regional theatre model, and that’s the real lack in what the next 50 years are for directors.
like-minded artists who are developing what many of us feel is fantastically interesting, provocative, high-quality, well-crafted work.
Susie | I think it’s beginning to happen. I think it’s infiltrating. We’re building a complex right now that is going to have multiple rehearsal halls and artist housing purely so that we can say to people, come and be here and work in a way that you need to work with the resources that we can provide you. We may mount it, we may not. You may find you got something that you want mounted; you may find that you don’t. I’d love to say, Berkeley Rep is way out there, we’re ahead of everybody else. But I just think we’re part of what is happening. Yesterday Todd used that wonderful quote from Zelda Fichandler about how the idea of these companies was a great organizational idea. The question now is how do we make those structures flexible enough so that they can be adapted to not just what the institution needs but what preserves the entity of the institution?
Gil | Well, can I just jump on that? Everybody’s right in the sense that at our theatre we commission plays all the time and we have relationships with young playwrights that we had been working with all through their career and we do all this stuff. But I don’t quite understand what our focus is here as a panel. I agree with Julie that yes, this training is vital. If it’s funded, I would love to be part of a theatre that did that. I just don’t know how to do it because I don’t have any resources really to do it with. So I came in here under—I was misguided. [laughter] I am sitting in this chair because my understanding was what we were here to discuss was how by dent of our collective experience we could offer something to mid-career directors that would give them a thought as to how to continue and how to move on with their career. So all this stuff is good but when you’re out there and you’re trying to develop as an artist on the one hand and you’re trying to pay the rent and electricity on the other hand, how do you do that? How do you march on? Is that what our discussion is?
Madeline | Jeffrey, go ahead, please. Jeffrey | No, you go. Madeline | You quoted Zelda who was one of the founding directors and I think one of the great thinkers about the theatre, certainly in my lifetime. These organizations were once founded primarily to form companies. Companies of actors, companies of directors who were first addressing established text and then bringing in the writer, but creating an aesthetic that spoke to a community. I actually started at the Taper when we still talked about developing playwrights and I was there when we shifted to the language. And the language shift was subtle but profound. We stopped developing playwrights, we started developing plays. We went from developing and investing in artists to investing in product. That is a profound shift in the American theatre. Susie | I keep sitting here and looking at us, and looking at all of you, and we are not reflective of what’s happening out there. Because it’s a panel put together by the Union that represents directors who work in a certain way, inviting very forward-thinking people who are a great cross-section, but who more or less work in a certain way. And if we look at what our field is now, this is a tiny, tiny portion of our field, and there are hundreds of people at this conference who are finding ways to work in collaboration with other groups of ZELDA FICHANDLER since 1987
Madeline | But we also represent—I’ll include myself since I worked at the Guthrie and the Taper until I went over to becoming a dean— profoundly, deeply funded institutions, even if it is less than it used to be. And I do think profoundly, deeply funded institutions have a responsibility.
Laura | And that was my point about the established working director who is trying desperately to keep a life going, doing five to six projects all around the country, going in and out, not necessarily growing as an artist, being sometimes perceived by artistic directors to not have the rigor and the inspiration that they’d like to see. But they’re not in a position frankly to go develop their work in a basement with a bunch of kids because they maybe actually have to feed their kids. This group of artists is not able to advance in the way that the field is structured right now, artistically or personally, so we may lose them. They may become lawyers or we may lose them to film or television. But how do we answer that question that you think you’re here to answer? Gil | Well, as I told you on the phone, I don’t have an answer to it. [laughter] I guess that solves the whole problem. Curt | I really want to hear what Jeffrey has to say ’cause he’s been raising his hand for 20 minutes. But the mid-career directors I know who are successful are ones who have committed to communities of artists, sorry to say it again.
Gil | And how do you get there? How do you do that? Curt | I think you stop worrying about your career and start worrying about your life. Gil | That’s good. Take that a step further. What do you do? You’re 45 years old or whatever it is. Curt | Yeah, 47. Gil | No, I didn’t mean you. [laughter] What do you do? How do you do that? You go to a place or you find like-minded people in the place where you live? Curt | My early mentors always said to me, don’t think about yourself, think about the people around you and how you move everyone forward. They said that to me right from the beginning and I’ve just never operated any other way. And so, on a philosophical level, the way to move the ball forward is to move away from me and toward us. Gil | And you do that by getting a job, or by—? Curt | I think you do that by finding where you want to live and finding the community of people you want to work with. Gil | What I like about your answer and what speaks to me is that there’s a certain self-determination in that. There’s a certain willingness to go out and make something happen, as distinct from waiting for someone to give you the opportunity to make it happen. Curt | Totally. Gil | And for me, that is the one distinct quality that I always look for in artists with whom I work; someone who really wants to make something happen, that has energy and desire to do that. So I think that’s a terrific, terrific point that you made on that. Laura | Jeffrey, did you have something? Jeffrey | In regards to what you’re saying, what Susie was saying, at Theatre for a New Audience it’s hard to do this because there’s no earned income attached to it. We raise money and we create workshops. We call them actor and director workshops and we’ll invite young directors—although they could be young in the sense that they haven’t worked in this particular art form—and we’ll bring a mentor artist in. It could be Peter Brook. It could be Cicely Berry from the World Shakespeare Company. It’s pure process. Five, six, seven directors and a company of actors will just all work together, no end in sight. What are they going to discover? In the Berry workshop there’s one very, very specific goal. FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
How does the director work with the actor on the language of Shakespeare? How do they both enter into that? What is the structure of the language? It’s very precise. But anyway, it’s about a mentor; it’s a workshop and it’s open-ended. So I think it’s very important to provide that. From that, community has come out. People meet people in a non-competitive situation and I find that very healthy. But I do think self-determination and some form, as Julie was saying and Curt was saying, of providing a place where people can find a community and develop is essential for a theatre to help directors develop. Curt | And also a space to fail, which, as institutions, we’re really bad at providing. Jeffrey | But it’s very hard because there’s no earned income. And it’s very, very hard to find philanthropy that says “it’s pure R&D.” Curt | Where you say, we really want people to get in a room together to fail. Jeffrey | That’s right. And the thing about a play is a play is a quantifiable thing that maybe will go on to be produced some place. It’s much harder to do this. I’ve talked to people about this who could give money and sometimes their eyes glazed over. It sounds like navel gazing. But, in fact, you have to gaze at your navel. Laura | And a director can’t work alone by the very nature of their craft. Susie | You know, I was thinking before when I was brushing my teeth this morning about how I could be in any way helpful in this group. And I assumed that there’d be a lot of people in the room who were saying well, I’m a director, I’d love to work at a company like yours, how do I do it? And I was realizing that when we think about who is going to be directing in our theatre, we think about people with whom we have a relationship already, we think about people who may have a relationship with someone else we’re working with, whether it’s a playwright or an actor or an artist. So when you think about making community, when you think about making a place for yourself, I think about how there are directors who come through our doors who never step outside of the rehearsal hall. They think of themselves as being tourists in our home as opposed to being people who are genuinely trying to make contact with us as an entity. And I think that the people who ultimately have the greatest capacity to work well with us, to work with us, to be members of our community, are the people who are generous enough to be willing to open themselves up to us as a group of people with whom they can have a relationship.
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Laura | What makes a producer attractive to a director? When you’re approached for a freelance job, what is it that you look for in a producing organization or an individual? Curt | I want a producer who wants to bring my collaborators, who doesn’t come at me with a slate of people you’re going to be working with. So that I can bring my crew. Julie | I just want a smart producer. Someone who can engage with me on the ideas and check them. I don’t know any director who doesn’t want someone there to play with the ideas and to be able to engage. Curt | Someone who’ll come in with the hard questions. Julie | You’re a collaborator. That’s what you are as a director. So therefore you need to have a producer who’s willing to ask and really investigate it on every level. I keep thinking about what you’re saying and if there’s a way that there could be that idea of dream projects. Because I think there are a lot of directors who are very capable of moving and directing a show. But if institutions or places say, alright, we’re going to have this slate of plays. We know we’re doing that. It’s simpler, it’s easier, it helps with the money but there is always a slot for a director to come and work for six months, a year, or six months and then go away and come back. If someone said to a mid-career director, what is the production, what is the play? Or is there a writer you want or however you want to put it together, what’s your dream idea? That is giving lifeblood to a director. It’s giving them an opportunity to really expand their horizons. That is very important. They can’t just be doing the play that comes. Mid-career directors need to have some support and release so that they can re-investigate why they’re doing this. If you’ve never done a musical, do a musical. If you’ve never done crossover film and theatre, think about using this medium. Start shoving the forms together and that’ll just make the director a better director even in a very straight play mode. Curt | I want to go back to something Susie said which is one of the best things my mentor, Dennis Zacek, said to me when I was a young artist in Chicago. Once you get your foot in the door, what the fuck are you going to do with your foot? [laughter] And part of the director’s challenge is to show your whole self.
Gil | I think actually the last part has really been very helpful in terms of the issue of community, in terms of self-education, selfknowledge. I remember when I moved to California, I was offered a television movie. I had been doing features in New York and it was a movie with Natalie Wood and I didn’t know whether to take it or not. It was 1977 and at that time people said if you did television it’d hurt your feature career, all that bullshit. So I met with Robert Aldrich, who was a wonderful director and had been here a long time and I told him of my issue and I asked for his advice. And he thought for a second. He said, I never met a director who’d rather not work. And that just stuck with me. I don’t think he meant not working in terms of doing the television show. I think he meant not working in the context of stopping that life force that a director needs in order to exist. Laura | Jeffrey. Jeffrey | I like very much what Julie said about “special.” To me that word is inspiring. To create, directors need to know that theatres want them to be inspired and to be inspired by them. Second of all, I like it very much when a director tells me no, who challenges me, says that’s not going to be good, no, this is what I want to do. Directors have the great capacity to do that. The third is, we haven’t said this word yet, the politics. I’m really interested in the politics of a director. What is the worldview that director has? I mean, man, what are plays? Plays are about how we live and how we die, so you want to know where a director links into that. I really look forward to challenging conversations with directors and as Julie was saying, and she is absolutely right, how do you make it special for that director? If you can, you produce something fantastic and who doesn’t want to do that? Gil | Well said. Laura | Well, this is hopefully the beginning of a conversation. I don’t think right now in the field, whatever that may be, we’ve been talking much about the director, particularly these different stages and what kind of support and renewal directors need to find for themselves but can also be provided by all of us. So I appreciate you all helping to at least crack it open. And I do think it’s just a beginning. So thank you all.
Laura | That’s kind of a lovely note. I do think, Gil, we wandered but there are some gems in here.
DENNIS ZACEK since 1981
SUSAN STROMAN REELING IN A
“BIG FISH” INTERVIEW BY
HOWARD SHERMAN Having won plaudits for her choreography of such musicals as Crazy for You, Show Boat, and Steel Pier, Susan Stroman vaulted into the top ranks of director/choreographers with the musical Contact, followed by The Producers, Young Frankenstein, and The Scottsboro Boys, among many others. With two musicals scheduled to land on Broadway in the 2013-14 season, she spoke in July 2013 about the process of bringing the first of those musicals, Big Fish, to the stage. SUSAN STROMAN since 1987
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Howard | When did you become involved with Big Fish? Susan | Almost three years ago now, I got a call from producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen. I had seen the movie when it came out and I was quite taken by the story, quite moved. It is a father/son story, about trying to find out as much as possible about one another before they leave you. I remember being brought to tears at the end of that movie. So I naturally said, “yes.” Howard | When they asked to meet with you, had they engaged a writing team? Susan | Yes, Andrew Lippa and John August— and they all came over to meet me. Andrew had written several songs already and had worked with John on some ideas about how to break it down. Howard | Once you decided to work on the show, were there specific things that you immediately knew should be addressed? Susan | Well, a lot of the time— whether it’s John August or Mel Brooks or Woody Allen— when the source material is a screenplay, the first thing that has to be done is cut down the number of locations. In a movie, you can go to 80 places; in the theatre, maybe only 8 or 10. So the first thing you do is to see what scenes you want to preserve and if they’ll still work in these new locations.
movie right away. It allows this actor a real tour de force of playing all these ages right on stage in front of us. Luckily, we have Norbert Leo Butz doing that; he really embraces the changes Edward Bloom goes through and how one thinks about life at these particular ages. Also, musically, it allows that particular character to have a wonderful repertoire of songs throughout the whole show.
like a horse race—one show will take the lead and from that moment on you concentrate on that one particular show. But still, you continue developing different thoughts or ideas because you never know what will ultimately get produced in the end. It’s a miracle a musical ever gets up.
It’s different in institutional theatre or I’m doing now what regional theatre; that’s a different life. But when I’ve wanted to do since the design team, the I was a little girl...for me, crew, the creative team, the actors—the whole lot creating and inventing of you—are in this pool for the theatre has always together swimming, you’ll either drown together been a part of me. or you’ll win an Olympic medal together. It’s this great passion to make something work. That notion of, “Well, if the show doesn’t work, you’ll still have your job tomorrow” isn’t a luxury we have. Everything is gone. So you keep working on different projects. But once you know that a show is going forward, that’s total focus.
Howard | From the point at which you first signed on, when were you in a place to first hear it out loud? Susan | I would say it was only about two months before we put together a group of
Howard | When you prepare for a show, do you have a specific process you follow?
Howard | Because these writers also wrote the screenplays, how much of the process is convincing writers to let go of some of the things they love? Susan | I think it’s a conversation. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had to force anybody to cut anything. For Big Fish, John really understood there was no time to go to Specter, which is the little town in the movie; we had to get to Ashton and then to Auburn University. Specter was a “Big Fish” story, rather than a place that pushed the plot forward. But I know that he— like all writers, I think—loves these characters and places that we unfortunately have to lose. Howard | A key difference from the film is that Edward Bloom is played by a single actor, not two. When did that decision happen? Susan | That was Andrew’s idea, and I think it’s wonderful because it separates us from the
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people to read it. I said I would take it on if we could work all the way to a first reading. I already knew things needed to be changed or adapted, so we immediately started working because I didn’t want to hear what wasn’t totally finished. Readings are incredibly helpful. Having a little bit of an audience there to react will let you know what moments are or are not working. Howard | After that first reading, what was the process? Did you work on other things? How focused has the process been? Susan | If you are a freelance artist in this business, you’re working on several projects all at the same time. I meet with different writers every day, I work on different shows. It’s almost
Susan | I do a great deal of research—on the time period, the geographical area, any kind of historical characters. That’s the first thing. Then I work with the designers, so when I start my pre-production, I know what the set looks like, what the costumes are going to look like, and what I imagine the lighting to be. The next step is dealing with it musically. I spend some time with a pianist or a dance arranger just going through the score over and
Howard | As a choreographer, do you immediately think about how to physicalize the music, or do you just deal with it as part of the story? Susan | When I hear these songs, I try to imagine them danced or what movement might be there, but I have to deal with them as part of the story, because the choreography also has to be about storytelling. It always has to be about pushing the plot forward. Many times when you work with a composer, they give you the songs, but then it becomes about how to make the transitions musically and how to open them up for dance. And then I absolutely start working things out on my feet. WOODY ALLEN since 2003
Howard | What does that entail? Susan | I work out the choreography in advance of having the cast—and the blocking, sometimes. Usually it’s me, two dancers, my pianist, and my arranger. What I’m really doing is creating a net for the actors. Because once they are in front of me, I am inspired by them and feed off them, so even though I have prepared, it always takes another form; it changes. In fact, I could create a dance combination that turns to the right, and an actor or a dancer might say, “I could do that much better if I turned to the left.” So you adapt it for that actor, for that dancer. I always have a plan, but I tend to keep it to myself and just work with the actors to see how they feel about things and then guide them. In the end, I want them to feel very, very comfortable in any move or piece of blocking they do. Howard | When you get into the rehearsal studio with the company, since you are both the director and choreographer, how do you structure the rehearsal process? Do you delegate so that different things are happening in different rooms? Susan | If the show is highly choreographed, like Big Fish, what I usually do is bring in the ensemble first and do a lot of the big production numbers with just them. Then I bring in the principals and work on the principals’ choreography. That allows me to give my full attention to the principals and the scenework, knowing that the music and the choreography are settled or at least on the right path. Then as I put it all together, everything happens at the same time. Howard | How do you develop the specific “dance vocabulary” for a show? Susan | In any show, it has to be believable that the characters would launch into song and dance. It can’t look extraneous; that’s when I feel something doesn’t ring true in a musical. It’s different for every show, and every show you dance in a particular character. For example, Max Bialystock dances very differently from Leo Bloom. The way they dance helps exemplify their characters. It makes their character richer because they dance differently, and it comes out of their personalities. Edward Bloom tells “Big Fish” stories; his son wants to know if they’re true or not, and the audience wants to know, too. We make Edward’s “Big Fish” stories come to life on stage, and within those moments there is dance. Whether he’s talking about working in the circus and he swears that the elephants could dance, or if he’s talking about fishing and how he made fish jump out of the water JULIAN CROUCH since 2009
by doing the Alabama stomp on the dock, or if he kisses a mermaid and she’s able to dance after she comes out of the water—it’s these moments of fantasy that create the space for music and dance in Big Fish. Howard | With any adaptation of an existing work, there can be expectations. With Big Fish, you’re adapting a film directed by Tim Burton, who has a very recognizable design style. Did that influence the choice of the designers brought onto the project? Susan | Once you start with a script and you have music, you never go back to the movie. It becomes its own animal. But you’re right in asking the question about choosing the designers according to the nature of the piece. It’s fantastical. It needs a little magic. I had seen Julian Crouch’s work in Satyagraha and Enchanted Island up at the Met. The sets were spectacular and had wonderful magic in them, surprising moments of magic. We met, and he loved the idea of Big Fish, that someone would tell these exaggerated stories and create them in front of the audience. So he seemed absolutely the right person, and we’ve had a wonderful time collaborating. He’s always tickled. He has a twinkle in his eye when something magical happens on stage.
the transition has to be done in front of the audience’s eyes. Howard | Are there moments where you have to ask the writers to put in something to deal with a transition? Susan | Absolutely. There’s a moment in Big Fish where Edward Bloom dances with the bride and upstages his own son’s wedding, because of course Edward’s a magnificent dancer. The son was doing a simple box step with the bride, and the father sweeps her away and gets a big cheer from the crowd. We needed that moment to help us get into the wedding scene, but it’s also an important moment for the story, to see the contrast between these two characters. The show is about two kinds of storytellers: the son who tells the truth—he’s a reporter for the New York Times—and his father who tells elaborate “Big Fish” tales. Howard | You raise an interesting example of how you musicalize, because in the film, at the wedding, the father upstages the son by, once again, telling the story of “the Big Fish.” You’re talking about upstaging through a dance. Did that start in the script?
Susan | No I said to John and Andrew, we need to do a dance here to help change the set. But Howard | Is there a difference in process you can’t just dance a transition; any transition with a designer you’re working with for the has to have story motivating it. So what better first time versus, say, William Ivey Long, who way to show how Edward upstaging his son you’ve collaborated with than by having him steal frequently? the bride and take her for a spin on the dance floor. Edward Bloom tells Susan | Absolutely. After “Big Fish” stories...Whether 11 shows together, When Andrew writes, William and I have a the first thing he does is he’s talking about working shorthand. He has such write for the characters, in the circus and he swears a tremendous wealth of of their wants or needs or theatrical knowledge, what their goals are. He’s that the elephants could he can even look at the mainly concentrating on dance, or if he’s talking entire set of costumes character. about fishing and how for the show and explain where to spend money Howard | You say initially, he made fish jump out of and where we can save, he was writing about the the water by doing the which is incredibly helpful character’s wants and for producers, and for needs. Sometimes in a Alabama stomp...it’s these me, too. musical, someone feels, moments of fantasy that “We need a number here.” Howard | What about create the space finding a unified visual Susan | Well, that comes for music and dance... vocabulary for the show about too, because as you between the designers go through the show you and even on aural vocabulary with the sound? get a feeling of tempo. You can’t have three How do you mesh that team? ballads in a row. You have to have a tempo that feels like it’s pushing the plot forward, pushing Susan | It’s getting everybody together and the story forward. So you might say, “I need a talking about when we are in reality and when song here, but the song has to be up-tempo.” we are in fantasy and how to make that work I can talk about the show in terms of tempo, and how to make that transition easy for and it helps for the journey of the entire piece. the audience. It’s not the old days when you could just do a blackout, and the lights would I think many writers would just love to write come up, and you’d be someplace else. Now sixteen ballads and call it a day. I know John
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Kander would. He loves ballads! So I say to John, “No. We need an up-tempo right here for Scottsboro Boys.” Scottsboro is interesting because there is no song about want or need. Literally, those guys on the train don’t want to be song and dance men. They don’t want to be lawyers. They don’t want to be doctors. They just want a piece of bread. They want a job. Every show is different. You immerse yourself in the process of creating, in writing it, in musicalizing it, in working with the actors—you just immerse yourself in all of that. You don’t really come up for air until there’s an audience. The audience is the last thing you add to the process. You can feel the breath of an audience. You can feel if they want you to go forward, if you’re too long in one place. You can feel if something’s not funny. The breath of an audience is something that you need to be in tune with. Howard | When you hit the stage in Chicago, was there something that didn’t work the way you thought it would? Susan | We had a wonderful opening number that Andrew wrote called “God’s Honest Truth.” We wanted it to work because it’s a terrific song, but it didn’t really set up the style of the show. We tried to tweak it in Chicago, but we knew that once we closed in Chicago, he would write a whole brand-new opening, which we’ve done. It helps introduce us to Edward Bloom and his young son. It also helps the audience know what to expect during the evening. Also, we waited for a while before we told one of Edward’s “Big Fish” stories; we’ve moved that moment closer to the top of the show. These are things you discover when you have an audience. Even after the opening, we knew the audience still wasn’t quite onboard with what was happening. I wanted to make sure it didn’t take them half an hour to finally go, “Oh, okay.” Our second act was working like gangbusters, and we just needed to get the show off so the audience felt comfortable right away, that they knew what they were in for. Because of the nature of the show and its fantasies, I’m always going to be able to surprise them, so I’m not worried about that, but I just want to make them feel comfortable at the start. Howard | Were there things that the audience responded to more enthusiastically than you might have expected? Susan | There is a moment when Edward meets a witch in a swamp, and I choreographed this whole number, collaborating closely with my designers to create a scene where witches transform into trees and we see all sorts of
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wild magical illusions. In the rehearsal room, it was fantastic, but I didn’t know if it would work for an audience. You try to create story, create design, create dance that you are pleased with, and your hope is the audience will understand it. And then, of course, it was wonderful because the audience went crazy for it. Howard | With a Broadway musical, there’s a lot of money involved, and we can talk casually about changes, but they can have significant financial implications. How hard is it to make an expensive decision? Susan | It’s difficult because you have to make sure now the change you’re going to make is something you’re sure of, because changing anything in a musical involves so many departments. It involves the sets, the lights, the costumes. It involves orchestrations, dance arrangements, copyists. In a play you can change a line and there’s no problem, it doesn’t cost anything. But in a musical, it is a big deal.
In Crazy for You, there was a song between Zangler and Bobby Child. They’re drunk, and they flip their chairs on top of their heads, as showgirls. I thought, “This is hysterical. It’s gonna be funny.” I put it in front of the audience. It got no reaction. Then the director, Mike Ockrent, said, “Well, why don’t you take the spotlight, and the minute the chairs go up, turn it to pink.” Just that change of light made the whole dance work. It made it funny. So it’s analyzing what else can happen in a particular moment.
“You can feel the breath
of an audience. You can feel if they want you to go forward, if you’re too long in one place. You can feel if something’s not funny. The breath of an audience is something that you need to be in tune with.”
What I’ve found is that you bring the producers into it, and they, in turn, tell the investors what’s happening and ask for more money. Everybody wants it to work, so I’ve never felt like anyone ever gave up. But it’s always about bringing them in and letting them be a part of it, because financially, it’s a gamble. Howard | You finished in Chicago in the spring. Do you do a full rehearsal period before New York? Susan | We’re going back into a 10-day rehearsal period and then into tech. The availability of the theatre and people’s schedules all contribute to when we could start. It’s hard because this show is a huge machine. That’s the reason a lot of shows don’t come in right away. Howard | Are you mostly implementing planned changes, or is there still discovery? Susan | I think there’s always discovery. A New York audience might be different from a Chicago audience. I make changes up to the bitter end, and beyond—even little tweaks. It’s finding out different ways to see elements in the show that you’re pretty sure are going to work but for some reason aren’t. You have to be able to analyze that and tweak it.
Howard | The journey from choreographer to director and choreographer has been around for a very long time. Do you think it’s a natural progression for most people?
Susan | I think, for me, I’m doing now what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. It wasn’t that I was dying to be a performer. I wanted to direct and choreograph ever since I was young. I’m that little girl who danced around to her father playing the piano, creating dance steps. So, for me, creating and inventing for the theatre has always been a part of me. Being a choreographer for the theatre is different than being a choreographer for modern dance or classical ballet—you are very collaborative with the director. You are alongside him or her every step of the way, every page of the script. So it is quite natural to be doing it in a vision that’s entirely my own. I think it’s a very natural progression in the theatre. Howard | You are wearing earrings, which are the bones of a fish. Is that merely for my benefit, or is that a talisman? Susan | I have had these earrings on all summer. I wish I could say I change my earrings every day, but they’re right there, and I put them on. My wonderful, lovely friend, Jessica, gave me these earrings for opening night of Big Fish in Chicago. So now they’re my favorite earrings.
Stroman with Big Fish orchestrator Larry Hochman | PAGE 28 Stroman with Kate Baldwin + Brad Oscar PHOTOS Paul Kolnik
TITLE PAGE Susan
MIKE OCKRENT d.1999
MAKING A NEW WORLD AN INTERVIEW WITH
JOSEPH HAJ INTERVIEW BY TED
Director Joseph Haj with stage manager Gwen Turos (left) + Fair assistant director, Lauren Keating (right) PHOTO Jenny Graham CHRIS COLEMAN since 2000 | MICHAEL JOHN GARCÉS since 2001 NANCY KEYSTONE since 2000 | DAVIS MCCALLUM since 2004 | PENNY METROPULOS since 1994
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I WANT TO RUN A THEATRE THAT [CAN] BE A CULTURAL WATERING HOLE WHERE WE CAN ENGAGE IN DYNAMIC CONVERSATIONS WITH OUR COMMUNITY... CONVERSATIONS ABOUT POLITICAL, SOCIAL, AND AESTHETIC ISSUES, CONCERNS, AND THOUGHTS.”
Loudon Wainwright, III + Haj in rehearsal for PlayMakers’ world premiere of Surviving Twin PHOTO Andrea Akin
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rom performer to director to Producing Artistic Director at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C., JOSEPH HAJ has proven a fast-rising talent. As one of the few Arab-American artistic directors in the country, Haj has worked to transform the stage from a seeming ivory tower into a place of diversity and inclusion. He recently spoke with TED SOD, theatre artist and dramaturge at The Roundabout Theatre Company, about his career and mission to create theatre that engages a community. TS | You started your career as an actor, correct? JH | Yes. I didn’t come to acting until very late. Growing up in Miami, it was far more interesting for me to be at the beach than to be at school. My senior year, I signed up for drama and I had that one really great teacher. It didn’t take me long to know that this was something that I really wanted to do. I went to Florida International University for my undergraduate degree and I studied acting, but I felt I didn’t know nearly enough in order to be an actor. So I went to the University of North Carolina (UNC) and got my MFA in the professional actor training program. In grad school, I felt that my classmates were all well ahead of me. The first day of school they showed us the stage and they said, “These are the voms,” and I asked, “What’s a vom?” Coming out of grad school, I was doing summer stock in Maine for $200 a week when JoAnne Akalaitis cast me in Genet’s The Screens at the Guthrie and that changed everything. It legitimized me. After staying for two years at the Guthrie and doing several plays there, I no longer had to go into an audition room trying to persuade anybody I was an actor. It was a different level of conversation. TS | You’ve described yourself in articles I’ve read as a “person of color.” How did being a person of color affect how you were cast? JH | In all of my years as an actor, I never once had an audition for a Shaw play or a Moliere play. So, even though the doors had been kicked open with Shakespeare, it wasn’t being applied across the rest of the Western European canon, all of which I was eager to play in, but I was never invited to the table. And, in Hollywood, I played roles ranging from Ali to Samir, all of them terrorists. I anglicized my name professionally from Haj to Hodge and all of a sudden I was auditioning for the lawyer named Sam. TS | Were you born in this country? JH | I was born in Paterson, New Jersey. My parents emigrated in ’59 from Palestine. We lived in the public housing projects while my father studied in New York City. He took a job in Miami after receiving his Ph.D. from NYU. TS | Are you bilingual? JH | Because my parents were recent immigrants, Arabic was spoken at home. By the time my younger brother came around, my parents had been in the country for some years, so we spoke a mixture of English and Arabic. It wasn’t in their interest for us to cling to our cultural identity as Palestinians at the expense of being fully assimilated as Americans. My father was blind from a very young age, and both he and my mother were forever grateful for all this country had to offer. They found it miraculous. My father passed away in 2007 and I almost never heard him speak a sour word about America. We were participating in what to them was the greatest country in the world. TS | Tell us about your tenure at the Guthrie Theater. JH | I was at the Guthrie during what can only be described as a very rich time in its history. I worked with the director Garland Wright when he was at the height of his gifts as an artist and
JOANNE AKALAITIS since 1985 | JOSEPH HAJ since 2004 | TED SOD since 2003 | GARLAND WRIGHT d.1998
Haj with cast of Henry V PHOTO Jenny Graham FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
an artistic director. The level of influence he has had on my work is entirely disproportionate to the amount of time I actually spent with him. In the two years I spent at the Guthrie, we did four plays together, but there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think of him in one way or another. And it’s there that I met JoAnne Akalaitis and Robert Woodruff, both of whom have become lifelong colleagues, mentors, and friends. TS | What would you say you learned from working with Wright, Akalaitis, and Woodruff? JH | Taken as a group, they all have sensational craft, understand bodies in space, are fearless and spectacular rehearsal room leaders. They create powerful ensembles. When you make work as an actor for any of those directors, you are keenly aware that you belong to something special. They have all had a profound influence on my work, not because I make plays that look like theirs, but because they live rent-free in my head while I’m working on a show, urging me to be braver, smarter, more collaborative, etc. It was Garland who once said to me that there is only one reason to be a theatre artist, and that’s because it makes you a bigger person. So I try to choose projects and collaborators who I think will make me bigger and I try to lead a process so others can be made bigger by the work. TS | Can you remember the moment you decided you wanted to direct? JH | For many years, I felt that everything I wanted to understand in the art form I could explore by being an actor. And then, almost overnight, I started feeling like a punter on a football team, very specialized and narrowly focused. I found myself becoming interested in having a larger influence on the take of the play. There was a part of me that felt if I were to start to direct I would know how to communicate with actors. I understood the language of actors, I understood the concerns. The part of it that surprised me is that I have a strong visual sense. I love design; I have a very strong compositional sense. I have a sense of how things are placed in a room; how actors work in relationship to their own bodies, to one another, and to the things on stage. I was talking to a colleague about being surprised by that and he said, “Well, look, you spent thousands of hours in rehearsal rooms with these fantastic visual directors.” I think it’s connected to what Malcolm Gladwell posits in Outliers. Whatever your level of native talent, you need 10,000 hours to be really good at anything. And I think it’s really hard for directors to get 10,000 hours in. TS | What was the first full-length play you directed? JH | Henry V with maximum security inmates in the corner of the Mojave Desert. TS | What did you learn from working with inmates on Shakespeare?
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JH | Those of us who spend a great deal of time around the plays of Shakespeare go around saying repeatedly that Shakespeare is for everybody, although we have the nagging suspicion that it may not be true. Going into a maximum security prison was for me an attempt to test the theory. I worked from the center of the art form—from the place that I understand it best—and I asked the inmates to rise to that high bar. The work they made was astonishing. It was huge because it reminded me of the awesome power of the work that we do. It’s become important for me, periodically, to stop whatever I’m doing and find a way to make work with non-practitioners. I spent time in the West Bank in Gaza with a group of theatre artists including JoAnne Akalaitis, Robert Woodruff, Anne Bogart, and Michael Greif during the second intifada. I spent four months in residence in rural South Carolina making a piece that looked at race and the generational gap between teenagers and the oldest residents in that community, etc. I had such a great time directing and conceiving work for nonpractitioners that it gave me an appetite for wanting to do more on a professional level. TS | How did you navigate the transition into directing professional theatre? JH | I started putting feelers out. I called some folks I knew who were running theatres. I called Blake Robison, who was at the Clarence Brown Theatre, and I said, “Look, I know that you don’t know my work. If there’s anything on some introductory level that I could come and do to help you get to know me, I’d be happy to do that.” And Blake said, “Well, what if you come out and co-teach this Shakespeare class with me with the grad students and you can direct a Shakespeare PHOTO Andrea Akin project. You can choose what you want. There are six actors who are members of that class who I want you to use and you can do anything you want. It’ll give me a chance to know you and your work.” I directed a graduate production of Pericles. Blake then invited me back to direct Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses and As You Like It. In the meantime, I was hired here at PlayMakers. I assisted Mark Wing-Davey on a production of King Lear, and then got hired to direct a play here, which then led to another play. TS | When you are directing Shakespeare, how much research do you do? How important is having a concept? How much table work is necessary? JH | I read everything I can get my hands on. There’s so much scholarship around all of those plays. I spend a lot of time with the text itself, of course. And while I don’t search for a “concept” per se, they are plays that are so deep and vast that they benefit from finding a powerful organizing principle for approaching them. We stay at the table until ANNE BOGART since 1990 | MICHAEL GREIF since 1987 | BLAKE ROBISON since 2012 MARK WING-DAVEY since 1992 | ROBERT WOODRUFF since 1986 | MARY ZIMMERMAN since 1994
we all feel we understand the play. Typically two to four days. And then, once we’re up from the table, I almost never look at the written text again. There is a danger for both directors and actors with Shakespeare in thinking that solving the play is about not playing an iamb as a trochee. The plays are so much better and bigger than that. And after all that text-based work is done, you better be in the room working on these plays based on their performance requirements. I return to the same Shakespeare plays repeatedly, which I love. I think it is very hard for a young director to get meaningful exposure to those texts, and I am terrifically grateful for an acting career that asked me to spend a lot of time in those plays. I had acted in well over half the canon by the time I began directing, having sometimes spent months inside those works, some of them multiple times. I don’t know how a young director who has not been an actor gets time with those plays—not as texts, but as plays in production. I have been in or directed five Henry Vs, three Pericles, four Romeo and Juliets, etc. And I know a bit more about them each time. I am a different person when I come back to them. They are plays that can be looked at and interpreted from multiple points of view.
TS | What about ensemble-building exercises and improvisation? JH | I don’t do a lot of exercises or games and such. I find it hard enough to make a play by actually working on it. As an actor it was always completely clear to me when a director was buying time by asking the company to play a game or perform an exercise. Actors always know when a director isn’t ready. I try not to be that director. TS | What do you look for when casting actors or hiring a design team? JH | At PlayMakers we have a very deep thrust stage and it is a room that is unfriendly to the small reactive performance, so partly for our room and partly because it’s the kind of actor I enjoy, I like actors with compression and muscularity in their playing. Actors who have a powerful engine and know how to get on their front foot and get after it. In designers I look for a dramaturgical intelligence to go with a strong aesthetic. I also have an enormous preference for actors and designers who are mature and not crazy. Some directors thrive on chaos and insanity. I find it totally debilitating. The work is hard enough, and I can’t make myself “thick-skinned” to come to work each day when what the job demands is to make myself “thin-skinned” and available to the rehearsal room. Nothing is more valuable to an actor than knowing that a director is listening deeply and attentively to their work and reflecting that work accurately back to them. I find that to be very hard to do when there is a lot of crazy in the room. TS | When did you decide you wanted to run a theatre company? JH | I started getting really interested in the question of what theatre can mean to a community and what a community can mean to a theatre. It was always clear to me that I didn’t want to start a theatre from scratch. That just wasn’t where my interest was. The idea of a LORT theatre is really where I wanted to find myself. Because that’s where I grew up. I love the idea that when we do our best work as LORT organizations, we’re providing resources and moving obstacles out of the way so that artists can be maximally successful, which is all any of us want as artists, finally. I grew up in LORT theatre and I watched as the funding landscape changed. I watched what happened from 1989 forward. LORT theatres began to shift the mandate of how they thought about themselves. I think the arrangement for some LORT theatres for a long time was: our job is to make the art, your job is to come in the building, admire it, and get the hell out so we can move onto the next thing. The structure of those organizations allowed for an ivory tower kind of thinking.
OSKAR EUSTIS since 1997 | MICHAEL WILSON since 1993
It started me thinking: I want to run a theatre that could be a cultural watering hole where we can engage in some dynamic conversations with our community through the work that we’re making—conversations about important political, social, and aesthetic issues, concerns, and thoughts. It was my intention that if anyone was foolish enough to give me the keys to one of these LORT organizations that I was going to make the walls of the building as porous as possible and give the theatre to the community that it is charged to serve. I intended to do that by creating rigorous work and connecting that work deeply to our community. And that has proven to be a successful approach for us. TS | It was TCG that really gave you an opportunity to analyze how other theatres were being run, am I correct? JH | I applied for the career development program that TCG oversaw for directors and designers. But I was a bit of an anomaly for them because though I was an early-career director, I was already a mid-career theatre artist. They flew me to New York. I sat in a room with panelists who were asking probing questions about who I was as an artist and what I wanted to do. Emilya Cachapero called me a week or so later and said, “You’ve been selected, but the panel feels strongly that you ought not to do the track that most directors do. It doesn’t make sense to put you in a room with Robert Woodruff watching him make a play. You’ve done that. We want you to shadow artistic and executive directors about the nonartistic aspects of the job. Because we think you’re going to run a theatre someday.” TS | What do you think they saw in you? JH | Simply stated: I don’t know. But, it was my intention, if they believed in me in this way, that I would explore it, fully. I was impressed with the incredible generosity of artistic and executive leaders around the country: Michael Wilson at Hartford Stage, Oskar Eustis at the Public, Paul Nicholson at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and many others. Being around organizational leaders and watching them do their job gave me a sense of how I might approach being an artistic director if given the chance. When PlayMakers was looking for a leadership change, I was invited to throw my hat in the ring. TS | And you became Producing Artistic Director of PlayMakers in 2006? JH | Yes. TS | I want to hear what you’ve done to get away from being an ivory tower, which I think is going to lead us into a conversation about diversity. JH | A lot of the work is communicating to the community in the very best way we know how what it is they’re coming in to see. We give them some tools to unpack it if it’s formally or thematically challenging. We educate the audience about what it is they’re going to look at, why it’s relevant to them and was chosen for them, and why it may be important for them to come. And that way, people end up in a meaningful relationship to the work that we’re doing. I have a magnificent Associate Artistic Director, Jeff Meanza, who leads our outreach efforts. We have what I think are very sophisticated education and outreach initiatives. PlayMakers is associated with UNC and building university-wide conversations, building community-wide conversations around the work that we do is very valuable. TS | Can you give us a sense of what the community is like there? How do you invite people into the building?
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JH | We define community here in this way: we think of it in concentric circles. There is the circle of the artists and staff creating these plays. There is the circle that is the larger university community, there is the circle that is the Chapel Hill area and region, which is where we’re drawing most of our audience from, and then there is the circle that connects us to the national theatre conversation.
TS | Do you have thoughts on why this is?
We’re the only LORT theatre in the Carolinas and we’re conscious of the fact that we need to be a lot of things to a lot of people.
When you look for women in executive or artistic leadership in LORT, it’s at 22 percent and the needle hasn’t budged in a quarter century. And women make up over 50 percent of the administrative workforce in our LORT theatres. That is a picture of a glass ceiling. And I think our field needs to recognize it. It ought to realize that we’re late to the conversation. And it’s time for us to do something meaningful about it.
JH | I don’t think it’s a readiness question. Some people think it is. I don’t think it’s a pipeline question. Some people think it is. Which is to say I don’t think it’s a pipeline problem alone. I think it’s a glass ceiling issue for people of color and for women.
So, we question if we are being rigorous enough in our programming. Are we being diverse enough? And when we talk diversity, I’m not just talking about cultural diversity. Is there aesthetic diversity? How Dominique Serrand might approach a particular play will be very different than if I were to hire a different director for it. Are there women TS | Certainly boards will need to play a role in addressing this issue. (playwrights, designers, actors) in the season? Are there people of color How diverse is your board? in the season? Are there enough plays that are thematically resonant to our particular communities? If you look at the nine-play season we have JH | I don’t have one since PlayMakers is a part of UNC. We have an coming forward, four of the nine are written by advisory council, which is not yet as diverse as women; four of the nine are being directed by I’d like it to be. And we’re working on that. women. Four of the nine are being directed by people of color. We’re intentional about this. TS | Are you involved in the selection of I LIKE ACTORS...WHO HAVE We know that if we aren’t, the outcome will the grad students? I imagine that gives you always be disproportionately white and male. another opportunity to diversify, correct? A POWERFUL ENGINE AND TS | I’m wondering if there is a big difference between diversity and variety, then? JH | That’s a good question. I think there’s variety that’s not diverse. You can have a season of aesthetic variety that includes plays that are all written and directed by white men. I always feel inept talking about diversity because it is the most complicated issue and there are many LORT theatres that are wrestling with the issue meaningfully in their own communities. I don’t expect that I can speak comprehensively and clearly in some holistic way about it because it defeats me, finally. TS | But I would like to talk to you a little more about it. You’ve referenced that in LORT today there are only six people of color running theatres in a country that is immensely diverse in its demographics and population. Why do you think that’s happening? JH | This is an important question right now and a place where SDC could be involved in moving the needle on the LORT leadership question.
KNOW HOW TO...GET AFTER IT. IN DESIGNERS I LOOK FOR A DRAMATURGICAL INTELLIGENCE TO GO WITH A STRONG AESTHETIC. I ALSO HAVE AN ENORMOUS PREFERENCE FOR ACTORS AND DESIGNERS WHO ARE MATURE...SOME DIRECTORS THRIVE ON CHAOS AND INSANITY. I FIND IT TOTALLY DEBILITATING.”
If one is to pull back the camera, as it were, and look at this from 10,000 feet, let’s just forget the reasoning for a minute, just look at the picture. Roughly 150 LORT leaders; you have six of them as leaders of color. Six. Fortune 500 companies, privately held, no obligation towards the public good, have better outcomes than we have. No obligation to reflect their communities, the diversity of the communities in any way, they have better outcomes than we have. So, I think we have to look at it and say this isn’t just accidental. In my personal view, we have to be able to look at this and say, there have to be some aggravating circumstances here. There are systemic failures that are not allowing the emergence of people of color in these roles.
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JH | Yes. We see 500 to 600 students annually to accept a class of 6 to 8. And the diversity of that group is important to us. My commitment is to cast them in our work at PlayMakers, giving them meaningful opportunities for growth over their three years with us. As soon as a student shows readiness, sometimes the moment before, they’re cast and put through the demands of making work at a professional level. When our students leave after three years, they leave with strong résumés, having worked with some of the finest directors in the country. TS | It sounds to me like what you are doing, on a number of different levels, is opening the door to everybody to tell these stories and not just a select group. JH | We’re trying. I wish I could say that we’ve been wholly successful at it, but that’s the intent. TS | Is your intention to make sure that when the community comes into the building that they can see themselves on stage?
JH | I have to say I struggle with that question a little bit. Because as a Palestinian male, I never see myself in stories unless somebody is blowing up something. I go and watch Fences and I don’t have to be black to appreciate the father/son issues that are in that play. The struggle for wanting more for oneself and one’s family, the desire to get out and to make a new world. I don’t have to be African American to know that. Audiences are able to understand themselves relative to that world. What’s important to me is that we’re getting a plurality of stories and voices on stage, and a plurality of voices in terms of who is directing and designing those plays.
DOMINIQUE SERRAND since 2003
FORTUNE P L U C K PERSISTENCE FORGING A PATH BY
efore the early 20th century, plays were typically directed by the leading actor, author, or some other experienced member of the company who had apprenticed and learned their way into the responsibility of directing. Richard Burbage, Henry Irving, Edwin Booth, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan were all company members who rose from the artistic equivalent of the proverbial mailroom. Our forefathers, the first exclusive professional directors, like Harley Granville-Barker and Edward Gordon Craig, also benefited from being part of a company before directing their first productions. Today there are wildly varied paths by which directors forge careers, and finding apprenticeship in the company model, which still effectively produces artists of the highest caliber, is one such path. Pioneers like Joseph Papp, Zelda Fichandler, and Tyrone Guthrie ushered forward numerous young directors by providing them with a theatrical home where they could flourish. Early career directors became company members, able to observe and participate, inheriting the knowledge and craftsmanship of veterans, and in time, receiving their first major directing opportunity, which often changed the paths of their artistic lives.
SHELLEY BUTLER since 2008 | ZELDA FICHLANDER since 1987
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lmost 30 years after its inception, the Resident Director Program at the Guthrie Theater still shines as one of the concrete examples of mentorship formalized in an institutional program. Garland Wright created and implemented the program during his long tenure as Artistic Director. Wright believed there should be a training ground for young directors that included master directors and designers, where directors could observe a gifted acting company working on great classics. Under his program, which ended in 1995 at the end of his leadership, directors were invited to spend two years as a Resident Director at the Guthrie on salary, assisting Wright and other directors on a range of productions. They had the opportunity to observe the company throughout the rehearsal process, and essentially became members of the company themselves. At the conclusion of the residency, these Resident Directors helmed a classical production of their own in the Guthrie’s Lab space.
Many of the directors who participated have gone on to forge impressive careers including Jesse Berger, Risa Brainin, Anne Justine D’Zmura, Erin Mee, Charles Newell, and Bartlett Sher, among others. The relationship of these mentees rarely ended with the residency, and some, like Newell, were invited back soon after to direct. Newell was the inaugural Resident Director and co-directed productions of the History Plays on which Sher assisted; Sher was invited to stay on as a Company Director and spent an additional three years on staff. Wright was giving back what he himself had been given; he too was a beneficiary of an apprenticeship system. According to Sher, Wright was “keenly aware of the significant opportunities he received as a young man in his own informal apprenticeships with Zelda Fichandler and Michael Kahn and Liviu Ciulei, and [he] felt a responsibility to carry that forward.” Lauded as a visionary artist with a strong belief in crafting theatre for a specific community, Wright (whose own story deserves far more attention than can be chronicled here) did not see himself as a mentor or a teacher, yet he became one of the most influential directing mentors of the current generation. Sher notes that “he wouldn’t have referred to himself as a mentor; it’s not a word he would have used. He simply invited us in and gave us access to his work, the inner workings of the Guthrie, and all aspects of his theatrical world.”
THE RAREST TREASURE
or many, the meaning of mentorship is murky. Clearly, a mentor is someone who shares the knowledge they have and provides access to learn and observe, but a classic mentorship usually does not involve giving the mentee run of the shop. A mentorship can also confuse inspiration and imitation. It is partly for these reasons that Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) Artistic Director Jeffrey Horowitz also sloughs off the mantle of “mentor.”
Horowitz believes that a director needs an artistic home in order to develop a critical body of work. Directors often return to his theatre and his commitment to them is clear. Under the judgmental scrutiny of New York, Horowitz provides directors with the rarest treasure of all: a protected artistic home. Usually directors have an established body of work before their first production at TFANA, but a significant exception is Arin Arbus. “Arin came here as an assistant director, not to me,” Horowitz explains, “and then I invited her to stay. But the only position that supported her was an administrative position where she essentially became my assistant. So there was a several-year period where she was listening
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to me talk about other directors’ work and what I saw. When I invited her to direct, that’s when [our relationship] went into full throttle.” In 2003 Arin Arbus was working as an assistant director for Gerald Gutierrez at TFANA when Gutierrez suddenly and tragically died. Gutierrez was Arbus’ boss, mentor, and friend; she was bereft, lost, and unemployed, but it was at this moment that her life changed. “Out of the blue, I got a call from Jeffrey,” says Arbus. “He said he wanted to honor Gerry’s vision by maintaining the team that Gerry had pulled together for Engaged. He asked Doug Hughes to direct the show, and I worked as Doug’s assistant. Jeffrey then asked me to work on TFANA’s annual fundraiser.” Arbus carried on by working in the office and assisting on more shows. Meanwhile, she continued to direct outside projects. “I invited Jeffrey to come and see Of Mice and Men that I was directing with prisoners in a jail upstate. He drove hours to attend. Soon after, he asked me to serve as the theatre’s Associate Artistic Director, and invited me to direct a main stage Shakespeare [production] for TFANA. I cannot overemphasize what a huge, artistic risk this was. It was shocking to me. I had never directed Off-Broadway before. I had never studied Shakespeare in school, and certainly never directed it. But it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and so I picked Othello.” The Othello Arbus directed was a critical and commercial success. The following year, she directed Measure for Measure, which did not receive the same acclaim. Undeterred, Horowitz continued to support Arbus, asking her to pick another show. “His belief in me at that moment was life changing. He has given me an artistic home at Theatre for a New Audience. This has been invaluable for my development as a director. I have grown up at TFANA with Jeffrey’s support. We work very closely on productions. We spend months arguing, talking, reading, making an edit, exploring the territory of a play long before rehearsals begin. We have shared artistic values.” Despite Arbus’ praise, Horowitz does not describe himself as a mentor or his relationship with Arbus as an apprenticeship. “[If] you apprentice with a painter, you execute what a painter wants. You learn, but it’s ‘this is my work, you follow this out.’ My goal is to empower artists to think independently and to act independently, otherwise it would be a dependent relationship, and you don’t want that. You want a collaborative relationship. Mentorship is really different.” For Horowitz, mentorship requires observing and absorbing the specific style of a master and his craft. “I am not a director. I am an artistic director who produces. I have a certain body of knowledge and certain tastes.” He later specifies those aesthetic tastes. “I’m looking for directors who, first of all, enter into the imaginative world of Shakespeare through the language. Secondly, I’m looking for directors who understand that in order for this text to explode, [he or she] has to find a way to work with the actor with that language. The third thing is that I am interested in directors who have a storytelling vision, who have a unique vocabulary. Bart Sher’s vocabulary is different than Julie Taymor’s, which is different than Arin’s, and that’s a very important aspect in a director. They tell the story of the play in different ways.” Although his experience with Arbus may be singular, Horowitz has stayed devoted to several artists “who sparked something in him,” developing long-term relationships with Julie Taymor (her first Shakespearean production was at TFANA), Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld of Fiasco Theater, Karin Coonrod, Kate Whoriskey, Darko Tresnjak, and Bartlett Sher, among others. Many of these august names participated in a program he created called the American Directors Project (ADP), which began in 1997 and continues today. The ADP gives directors a way to explore Shakespearean language, working alongside a community of actors. Horowitz wanted to create
ARIN ARBUS since 2011 | JESSE BERGER since 2003 | RISA BRAININ since 1997 | LIVIU CIULEI d.2011 | KARIN COONROD since 1996 | ANNE JUSTINE D’ZMURA since 1997 GERALD GUTIERREZ d.2003 | DOUG HUGHES since 1986 | MICHAEL KAHN since 1966 | ERIN MEE since 2001 | CHARLES NEWELL since 1990 BARTLETT SHER since 1996 | JULIE TAYMOR since 1996 | DARKO TRESNJAK since 2000 | KATE WHORISKEY since 2000 | GARLAND WRIGHT since d.1998
an environment in which the actor and director could enter the world of the play together through language. “[As part of the program] we would ask them to bring two scenes of Shakespeare. No props. Just the scenes. We’d give them a company of actors and a room. [The director] works with the actors along with the play—just [the director] and the language and the actors. And we’d see what happens. It wasn’t a scene class and it wasn’t a directing class; it was more about how you entered the world of Shakespeare. How could these different artists enter that world together through the language.” In the ADP Horowitz recognized a direct connection between his own goals and Wright’s, remarking, “I think it’s about defining the work you want to do. That’s the essence I took from Garland Wright. I wanted to create an environment where Shakespeare and other great texts could be worked on in a certain way: that took dramaturgy. That took scholarship. That took longer rehearsal periods.” The ADP afforded Arbus the time to learn the ropes of directing Shakespeare under the helpful eyes of Horowitz and Royal Shakespeare Company vocal coach Cicely Berry (who worked with directors and actors within the ADP). This, coupled with her production Of Mice and Men that Horowitz had seen, resulted in Horowitz’s confidence and the granting of Arbus’ first major directing opportunity.
A PLACE TO HONE THE CRAFT
ithout any such knowledge of his previous work, Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein provided Eric Ting his first major opportunity at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Ting recently burst onto the New York scene with a bold and critically acclaimed production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… at Soho Rep. Behind his critical and artistic success was a mentorship made possible through a Theatre Communications Group (TCG) grant.
The relationship began at Williamstown Theater Festival, where Ting was assigned to assistant direct Edelstein on God of Vengeance by Donald Margulies. The show went well, and after opening night Edelstein advised him to keep in touch. One year later Eric received a phone call. “Eric?” “Yes?” “Do you know who this is?” “…No…” “Guess.” “And of course it was Gordon,” recalls Ting. “And he’d called to see if I’d be interested in being their candidate for the TCG New Generations Leadership Grant. It was the preliminary stages, so there was nothing for me to do but offer my name. Fast forward six months. I’m literally walking home from the last day at my job (all ready to start temping and writing) and I get another phone call.” “Eric?” “Yes?” “Guess who this is.” “…Gordon?” “Yep. We got the grant. Can you start next week?” The TCG grant was custom-built to foster a mentorship between emerging leaders and accomplished theatre professionals at a host theatre. For nearly two years Ting assisted Edelstein on shows and worked as a member of the core artistic team at Long Wharf, learning community outreach and working behind the scenes wherever he was needed. He described it as “hard work, and not always the most rewarding, but the best sort of work. I think, in time, I earned Gordon’s
trust and certainly the trust of the institution.” To close out the grant, Edelstein offered Ting his first professional production, Glen Berger’s Underneath the Lintel, a bold risk for Edelstein. “I had never seen Eric’s directing work. I had an instinctive feeling for his artistry, for his mind, for the extraordinary combination of [his] gifts. But the thought of giving Eric, who had never directed a professional show before, this show at Long Wharf…it, actually wasn’t hard once I made the decision. I wasn’t nervous.” The TCG grant allowed Ting time to be nurtured at an institution, and to gain the trust of the staff and company. “It’s given me a place to hone my craft supported by one of the most talented, resourceful staffs in the country—a true artistic home,” says Ting. Edelstein and Ting had entered into the long legacy of apprenticeship. “From the moment I arrived at Long Wharf, [Edelstein] encouraged an open dialogue and rewarded initiative. He answered any question I had with a frank honesty, and demanded participation in making every play we produced as good as it could be. I witnessed everything, good and bad, what to do and what not to do. He gave me the chance to work with master artists like Bart Sher.” Names such as Sher’s recur often, contributing to the genealogy that might be traced back to Garland Wright and beyond, into the deepest theatrical past.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
orowitz also had a mentorship of sorts, and he cited a long list of artists who were early influences and supporters of his producing career, including Peter Brook and Michael Langham. Edelstein, on the other hand, felt he had no mentorship story of his own to tell. “I myself have never been really mentored, nor do I feel like I was given any real opportunities as a young director. I wanted to change that cycle. When I met Eric, it was clear to me that I was encountering a truly exceptional human, and when this mentorship grant crossed my desk, I said, okay, let’s apply for this grant. We did and we got it.” Similarly, Edelstein also declines the title of mentor. “I don’t know how to mentor anybody. I’m clueless as to what that actually means, and I mean that. I’m not being disingenuous. What I know how to do is give people jobs to do and help them, support them, be inclusive.”
Ironically, Sher, Arbus, and Ting describe themselves as having been mentored by those very Artistic Directors, Wright, Horowitz, and Edelstein, who have argued that they are not mentors. Horowitz and Edelstein agree that they are not out to teach; they are not interested in creating imitators of their work, and this, perhaps, is the single greatest unifier between the three, and possibly also the key to their successful mentoring relationships. Most stories about how directors find their ways into companies and earn their stripes involve fortune, pluck, persistence, and a confluence of events at exactly the right moment. For these types of outliers, talent and tenacity seem to be all that is needed to find apprenticeship or mentorship, but by looking at these stories with unfocused eyes, you can just discern the outline of what a truly expansive director development program might look like. It would be a combination of elements drawn from the strengths of every story. Deeply funded and highly focused programs spread out across the country in numerous theatres, backed by producers’ support that would allow these companies to identify exceptional artists and invest in them over long periods of time. Until such programming consistently exists, experienced directors who take on the tradition and responsibility of nurturing the next generation will continue to impact the theatrical landscape long after their own ephemeral work has faded away.
PETER BROOK since 1959 | GORDON EDELSTEIN since 1988 | MICHAEL LANGHAM d.2011 | ERIC TING since 2006
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“I often feel that the learning environment in a university is a great arena in which to experiment and, as a director, I think it’s healthy to try new approaches every now and then.” - ANDREA ANDRESAKIS
Spotlight on the Guest Artist Initiative In 2010, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation began the Guest Artist Initiative Program, which facilitates and funds the hiring of SDC Members to direct and/or choreograph theatre productions at universities and colleges across the country. To date, funding and/or facilitation services have been granted to schools including Arizona State University (twice), Colorado State University, Eastern Mennonite University, Fordham University, Louisiana State University, Marymount Manhattan College, Michigan State University, Morehead State University, University of Evansville, and University of Nevada Las Vegas. The experiences funded through this program have been positively received by all involved—the university community, students, audience members, and artists. Rob Roznowski, head of Acting and Directing at Michigan State, states about the Guest Artist Initiative grant: “What a great success it was having Jen Bender here. We were expecting her professionalism and high standards—what we did not expect was her kindness, compassion, and sincere interest in our students’ education. It was a resounding success.” American colleges and universities may apply for matching funds for a Guest Artist fee for a director or choreographer for a specific project. Interested schools may apply by submitting a completed application form for a production to SDCF. An SDCF panel comprised of professional directors and choreographers, arts administrators, and college educators will select the productions to be awarded grants. In the spring of 2013, Andrea Andresakis, a freelance director, choreographer, performer, and educator, was selected by Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA to direct Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw. Below is an excerpt from her experience as a Guest Artist:
I often feel that the learning environment in a university is a great arena in which to experiment and, as a director, I think it’s healthy to try new approaches every now and then, so I decided to try a rehearsal method that Shakespeare and Co. uses, whereby instead of holding scripts, they verbally feed the actors the lines during rehearsals. The actors loved this rehearsal method and were off book in record time, considering the difficulty of the language. One of the actors said that when he went home to work on his lines, he discovered that he knew them already. Furthermore, from day one, the actors were able to handle props and rehearsal costume pieces such as skirts and bustles, hats, and sabers that the costume designer had provided, thereby connecting their physical actions with the lines, which was very helpful for a piece with such a specific style. While it’s always satisfying when the production as a whole is successful, for me the greatest reward comes from passing down the training which I’ve been so fortunate to have and watching the student actors blossom. One such actor was a freshman who played Catherine. She had such a tiny voice when she auditioned that we could barely hear her and she was rather uncomfortable using her body. However, she had good diction, a feel for the style, and was connected to her audition monologue, so I took a chance and cast her. With a lot of hard work, her acting soared and she ended up being the first pick for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. It’s a great feeling when you have the opportunity to make such a positive impact on a young person. 40
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ANDREA ANDRESAKIS since 2003 | JEN BENDER since 2009
CAPTURING CREATIVITY BY HANNAH
Jeff Whiting—Director/Choreographer, Artistic Director of The Open Jar Institute, and man with terrible handwriting—can now add “software developer” to his collection of job titles, a title he never dreamed he’d have. He has created a new tool to simplify the lives of theatre professionals. Released in March 2012, Stage Write is an iPad app that allows directors, choreographers, and stage managers to chart and record staging, location, pace, and intention electronically, saving the time, paper, and energy exerted in creating and transporting traditionally heavy show bibles. Users of this app can set the dimensions for their stage, add correctly proportioned scenery, make icons for each actor, and draw pathways for the icons to follow. The stage can also be studied from two points of view: as an actor or as a director/designer, both from above. “The idea for the app essentially came out of necessity,” Whiting said during a recent interview. “I was doing a show for Disney in Hong Kong, and we were experiencing a language barrier. I would say something, and it would then get translated into four different languages, and so I had the idea to say, ‘Instead of explaining where everybody’s going, why don’t I just visualize it?’” From that point forward, he started projecting charts on the wall representing where people were on stage, saving the time it took to relay the information four times over. A few years later, Whiting was given the chance to further foster his brainchild while working with Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman when she asked him to create the show bible for Young Frankenstein in 2007. “I’ve always had an affinity for technology, so as I set out to create a format for that show bible, I naturally turned to technology for help. I was surprised to discover that there was no software for such a thing. It was my association with Stroman that led to the first development of the idea.” When he finally decided to put the idea into an app form, Whiting took about three months to visualize it and then hired a company that executed the programming over the course of six months. “I think my main concern was that I didn’t know how many people out there would want or need this; I knew I had a great need for it in my career and in my work,” he said. “I’ve discovered over the last year or so that it’s answered a huge need for many people. It makes me happy that the app has been so embraced by the community and that people are finding it as useful as I have.” PHOTOS LORETTA SUSAN STROMAN GRECO since since1994 1987 | JEFF WHITING since 2011
FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
“I’ve always been a big fan of technology...but I never thought I would develop it. I just kept trying to do my job...and there just wasn’t anything, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to just do it.’” Before Stage Write, Whiting would spend three months of aroundthe-clock work to create a show bible that outlined every detail of a production: where actors are standing, their stage business, the accompanying light cue, the props used in a specific moment, etc. “The audience might see a transition go by during the show in what seems like seven seconds of magic, but what they don’t realize was that months of coordination between lighting, sound, costume departments, and choreography went into making that transition seem magical. That’s what we do—we make magic. We work tirelessly to find that magic, and once we’ve finally found the magical moment, we need to document it in order to create that moment of magic each night in the theatre.” After using the app to create the show bible for Disney’s Newsies, choreographer Christopher Gattelli contacted Whiting to say he finished the bible in a mere three days. “It was phenomenal,” Gattelli said. “When it came out, I was so excited that someone finally figured it out. There was a buzz around it. Someone said, ‘Did you hear about that new choreography app?’ and knowing how much dancing was in Newsies, we said, ‘Let’s just get it.’ I had to track him down to say thank you. ‘You’re a genius!’ I said. ‘I’ve been waiting for this for years!’ It changed the whole process, and it was such a relief.” “To create a show bible in three days as opposed to three months is a pretty remarkable difference. It’s a huge time-saver,” Whiting said. “The app allows you to document all those details in a way that’s never been done before.” In addition to months of work saved, Stage Write has also contributed to conserving a few trees. Traditional show bibles can use more than two
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thousand sheets of paper to complete. Now, all of that can be saved in a digital file. Instead of lugging a two thousand-page binder around, the users of Stage Write can just pick up their iPads and go. “I think one of the important things that a director and choreographer will gain from it is the ability to go into a rehearsal process with a more detailed plan. It allows you to go in having worked out pathways. I’ve spent hundreds of hours during pre-production just looking at the page and imagining everybody in motion. Many times, you’re in meetings talking hypothetically, and I’ve been there and pulled out the app and said, ‘Okay, let’s see what that might look like,’” Whiting said. “It’s great to actually have an accurate representation of your work in the correct dimension.” While Stage Write can be valuable in pre- and post-production, it can also be useful during rehearsal. Whiting said that before the app, he would spend all day in rehearsal and then all night making notes about rehearsal. Now, he can make quick notes throughout the day as it happens. “I create all my notes in digital form. Those who see my handwriting say it’s probably better that I stick to this method.” Stage Write also allows its users to share their work with the rest of their production team. “Say your choreographer wants to share the file with the associate choreographer,” Whiting said. “They both have to use their iPads to actually edit the document—because the app only works on the iPad—but in terms of viewing it, it can be emailed to anybody as a PDF file. Your iPad backs up and saves every time you make a move. With just the push of a button, I can send this to my dance captains, the lighting designer; they all have the most current version of our spacing.” CHRISTOPHER GATTELLI since 2000
However, those who have the app can’t give it to anyone else. “Apple will prevent that,” Whiting said. “They control the licensing, so they’re able to protect the app from being copied. But if I want to send my material, it is my responsibility that it gets only into the hands of the people that should get it. On my charts, I always put a watermark that says, ‘Creative Property of Jeff Whiting.’” At the beginning of each project, users are able to set up their own watermarks, which appear on every chart of their production to identify and protect their creative property. Even with a watermark, years of work and intellectual property can be scattered throughout the internet at the push of a button. Concern over unlawful replication is inherent in the simplicity with which a user might share and distribute copies of his or her work. “Ultimately, the first step in challenging someone else’s alleged improper use or copying of your work is to be able to prove what your work is,” said SDC Counsel Ronald H. Shechtman. “I think [Stage Write] is a helpful tool in defining what a director or choreographer has created.” The benefit of the app, Shechtman said, is the means to document work in a precise and detailed way. The risk, however, is that the people who have access to the work could use it for their own reproduction, knowingly or unknowingly. “I don’t think Stage Write is any more of a threat than YouTube,” Director/Choreographer Dan Knechtges told SDC Journal. “There’s no way to ever really protect [your work]. There are only ways to inform potential perpetrators of copyright infringement and of the possible financial ramifications. There are hundreds and hundreds of theatres, thousands of high schools doing these shows and they don’t realize that they can’t take the work off the internet. They don’t do it maliciously; they just don’t know. The main thing I see as protection is education.” Knechtges, who serves as co-chair of SDC’s Licensing Committee, said that Stage Write can be a helpful tool for licensing productions. “Licensing solves many of the issues of letting people know that choreography and parts of direction are protected, that the choreographer or director owns their work. There is an educational purpose to all of this, and an archival purpose, too. I think it would be invaluable to study the art of what master directors and choreographers have done in the past—to see a Meyerhold production of a turn-of-the-century play, or to understand why Elia Kazan made certain choices in Death of a Salesman in the first place—and translate it through our own expression today. Stage Write is the first step in a technology that I can only see improving and benefiting our Members.” “I look at that as a positive thing,” Gattelli said. “If people want to license your work, you just send them this bible, and here are the formations, here are the numbers, the breakdown of the steps, the intent. With Altar Boys, people were asking for the choreography, so we would either have to send out my associate or our dance captain, or put it on videotape, and that takes time and people’s schedules and availability. Now, it’s so easy to do.” Stage Write has been put to good use in the productions of Choreographer/Associate Director/Associate Choreographer Amber Mak. “The complexity of a production can be expanded by using the app because it allows the creative team to visualize a larger, more complex production in a short rehearsal period,” Mak said. “It also allows us to put all of the puzzle pieces together more fully without having every person and set piece in place. Here in Chicago, where time and money are incredibly limited, the app has the ability to change what kind of production we are able to do.” Director/Choreographer and Associate Professor of performing arts at Elon University Lynne Kurdziel Formato uses the app in her students’ coursework. “Every single course that we teach now requires more investment in technology. I definitely think it’s the way of the future, and it appeals to a generation that grew up with technology at their fingertips.” Even directors and choreographers who rave about the app occasionally return to pen and paper. Gattelli writes all of his choreography by hand before entering it into Stage Write. “I’ll usually write out the entire step and write the intent next to it to remind myself why we did it,” he said. “There are times when I simply don’t have my iPad with me or the battery is running low when I need to create charts and blocking, so I resort to writing it all by hand,” Mak said. “Sometimes I enjoy the actual process of writing things down; it seems to solidify ideas I am creating.” In addition to Young Frankenstein, The Scottsboro Boys, Big Fish, and Bullets Over Broadway (all shows for which Whiting was Stroman’s associate director and/or choreographer) Stage Write has been used in the production of numerous Broadway and national tours including LYNNE KURDZIEL FORMATO since 1996 | ELIA KAZAN d.2003 | DAN KNECHTGES since 2001
INTERVIEW W/SDC’S COUNSEL
RONALD H. SHECHTMAN In your words, what constitutes directors’ or choreographers’ property? Directors’ or choreographers’ property is creative work that is unique and that can be reduced to a fixed form. Stage Write potentially provides a fixed form. Therefore, it’s relevant to issues around stage directors’ or choreographers’ property rights. So would Stage Write make it easier to copyright and license since it would be fixed in a tangible medium? It would be another means by which to do it. It could otherwise be done by a video recording or by sufficient and detailed notation, analogous to the same ways that choreography is notated or reduced to a fixed form. Do you think the app makes stage direction and choreography easier to replicate unlawfully? To the extent that it’s available to more people, more people can avail themselves of the choreography or stage direction that is specifically recorded on Stage Write. What are the risks and benefits of using Stage Write regarding one’s property rights and licensing? I could write a book on that question. Let’s start with benefits. The benefits are that there is a means to document and record stage direction and choreography that is quite precise and detailed. The risks are that people who have access to the Stage Write version for a particular play could use it to guide them on reproducing someone else’s stage direction without authorization. How do you go about copyrighting work documented in Stage Write when it incorporates the other collaborative artists’ works, like set designers? One has to exclude on the copyright application any of the other work. No different from submitting a film version of a dance including the music and excluding the music from the copyright application. What are the precautions to consider when using a tool like Stage Write? First, I think it’s important to understand that there are many elements of stage direction and choreography that are not recorded on Stage Write. Those are not only conceptual directions, given to actors or designers, but the many intangibles that deal with mounting a production so that Stage Write only manifests stage movement, like choreography, created by a stage director or choreographer.
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(but not limited to) The Book of Mormon, Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Producers, and Les Misérables. The app has also gotten a lot of use from companies and musicians such as Disney World and Disneyland Entertainment, Universal Studios, the James Taylor Concert Tour, Cirque du Soleil, and Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Industry professionals for the small and silver screens are also starting to use Stage Write in pre-production. The day after the launch party of the original app, the staff who had planned the party told Whiting his app would be useful for their work, too. “I said, ‘You know what? With a few tweaks, this could be useful to event planners.’ So I went back to my developers and said, ‘Let’s use the basis of what it is, but let’s make it more suitable for what they’re going to use it for.’” The app has also been used to create cheerleading and marching band formations. “The thing about the app is it will always be in development. I don’t think it will ever be finished.” Whiting said. Part two of Stage Write, which is called the Staging Score, is soon to be released. “It’s much like a score that a conductor would look at for a show. It has the oboe line, and it has the piano line, and this has a line for every character in the show, and it works along a timeline,” Whiting said. “Each person has four lines. They have a line for the step they’re doing, the foot they’re doing it on, their arms, and the motion. It allows you to describe in great detail what people are doing. So the first half of the app that I created was to answer where people are on the stage at any given moment of time, and the Staging Score allows you to go in and see the detail of what those people are doing while they’re in that position.” The Staging Score will let users add textual detail to their charts as an alternative to traditional dance notation for choreographers, such as Labanotation, Benesh Movement Notation, and Sutton Dance Writing. He had initially wanted to release both parts of the app together, but he wasn’t sure if the idea was viable or if there were enough people that would want it. He also funded the project on his own, shouldering the entire financial burden. “It was daunting,” he said, “but along the way I just kept thinking, ‘This is a good idea. Eventually, someone will create this, and it might as well be me.’ That’s what drove me toward this investment.” Whiting had been saving his money to buy an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen but instead decided to invest every penny into Stage Write. With the success of the app, Whiting has earned back the initial investment, which he says will allow him to continue development. “[What] I really want to implement is animation,” Whiting said. “So you could create two charts, but then you would draw the pathway, you would hit ‘play,’ and you could watch all the performer icons move into their position. That would really be key if a swing is going on. We can actually sit and watch the pathway so they know who they go upstage of and who they go downstage of. That’s something I’m excited about.” According to Whiting, there are many more aspects of the business that can be improved upon—which may inspire future software development for Whiting beyond Stage Write— starting with the process of casting a show. “That’s something I’ve been talking about. I’ve not taken action on it yet—maybe sometime soon. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because we’re doing auditions now for Bullets Over Broadway, and I keep thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way!’ I’d love the ability to type my notes into something I can then reference later because, inevitably, a year down the road or so, you have to replace the person that you chose and go back—with my terrible handwriting, which is illegible—to remember who was right for the role. I’d love to be able to have that at my fingertips.” “I really am a storyteller. I’m an extremely visual person, and that’s a part of why I created the app, to visualize what happens. As I approach a piece, I see all the pieces moving. Whatever the scenery becomes and whatever the music is certainly inspires you to create something. I enjoy doing it all,” Whiting said. “The point of using the app is to capture your creativity. It allows you the opportunity to blow it out of the park and then document how you did it so somebody can learn from it. I think that’s important. “I’ve always been a big fan of technology and how it aids us in process, but I never thought I would develop it. I just kept trying to do my job. I kept looking online for software, and there just wasn’t anything, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to just do it.’ It was an experience I never dreamed I would go into, but I’m really glad that I did.”
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There is a part of the app where you can go in and type in a little box the intention (what the actor is supposed to be doing); so while there are elements that are not recorded, there are elements that wouldn’t necessarily be related to movement that could still be included in those charts in Stage Write. Well, then, that would even amplify or add to the stage directions and choreography that are being formalized and recorded here. Would a watermark on a chart actually provide any protection? It would help clarify that someone believes that he or she has some ownership right or stake in what’s set out on this application. What’s the difference between submitting a traditional show bible and submitting printed PDF charts created with Stage Write for copyright? The issue would remain as to how complete and precise the duplication or the reduction to fixed form is. And whichever does it more and better would be preferable in support of any claim to protect intellectual property rights. I know that regarding music or books, for instance, in copyright law, people can sue if you’ve used a substantial amount or the heart of the work—does that apply in the same way to stage directions and choreography? Yes, I think it does. The issue is when there is a sufficient critical mass to demonstrate that what was created is unique. In other words or by the analogy, you might be able to use a few bars of music, but once you use a few lines, the question starts getting more urgent as to what is fair use. Same thing in direction or choreography—no one can own, just as no one can own a few notes—a few movements on a stage, but when you put enough together that create some unique “choreography,” if you will, then property rights begin to attach. What is your advice on the matter of property rights and copyright and licensing? I think it behooves directors and choreographers to create and maintain a detailed record of what he or she has created. The only means, ultimately, to challenge someone else’s alleged improper use or copying of your work is to be able to prove what your work was. And ultimately, Stage Write is a tool that can help them do this, you think? I think so. I think it is a helpful tool in defining what a director or choreographer has created.
THE SOCIETY PAGES SDC Members + STAFF @ work + play
ABOVE DirectorsLabChicago PHOTO
For the past five years, SDC has participated in Broadway Salutes, an annual event recognizing Broadway artists who have made a career on the Great White Way for 25, 35, or 50+ years. (left to right) 2013 inductee Jerry Zaks | Member Services Coordinator Barbara Wolkoff pinning 2013 inductee Edie Cowan | 1st Vice President at Actorsâ€™ Equity Association (and SDC Associate Member) Paige Price + 2013 inductee Jeffrey Calhoun | 2013 inductees James Rocco, Edie Cowan, Tony Walton + Executive Board President, Karen Azenberg LEFT/BELOW
KAREN AZENBERG since 1989 | JEFFREY CALHOUN since 1992 | EDIE COWAN since 1982 PAIGE PRICE Assc. since 2013 | JAMES ROCCO since 1990 | TONY WALTON since 2004 | JERRY ZAKS since 1982
FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
In late July, Executive Director Laura Penn visited the 13th Biennial National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. ABOVE
North Carolina Black Repertory Company/NBTF Artistic Director Mabel Robinson presenting at the NBTF Gala On September 22, SDC participated in the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market for the first time in almost ten years. Members generously donated signed items, as well as experiences like backstage tours, and SDC obtained and donated a script from the Smash pilot that had been autographed by the cast. Table items garnered $2,121, and items that were included in the silent and live auctions raised more than $7,100. If you have Broadway items hiding in your closet that you’d like to donate for next year’s flea market, contact Membership@SDCweb.org LEFT TOP
SDC’s table in Shubert Alley
Volunteer Becky Dole, Members Patti Wilcox, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, DJ Salisbury + Director of Member Services Barbara Wolkoff LEFT CENTER
Members Stephen Nachamie, Jonathan Cerullo + DJ Salisbury LEFT BOTTOM
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JONATHAN CERULLO since 1994 | MARCIA MILGROM DODGE since 1979 | STEPHEN NACHAMIE since 2002 MABEL ROBINSON since 1976 | DJ SALISBURY since 1995 | PATTI WILCOX since 1994
We are all but a small part of what remains to be discovered, to be found out. You will find out that one life is not enough. You will want to have several lives in which to discover what there is to be discovered.”
German-born taught extensively throughout her career at the New York Wigman School, later renamed the Hanya Holm School of Dance; the Bennington College Summer School of Dance; Colorado College, and the Hanya Holm Company. She choreographed 13 musicals and other plays, and made history when she became the first choreographer to copyright a routine using Labanotation for Kiss Me, Kate. Widely respected in the dance community, Holm was known not only for being a pioneer of American modern dance, but also for spreading her love of dance to her pupils, encouraging improvisation, and fostering several successful protégés such as Alwin Nikolais, Murray Louis, and Glen Tetley. 1893—1992
Barbara Morgan c/o SDC Archives FALL 2013 | SDC JOURNAL
SDC MEMBERS John R. Pasquin · Vincent Paterson · Sheldon Patinkin
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