SDC Journal Spring/Summer 2021

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LIGHTHOUSES, CRUCIBLES + DIVINE MOMENTS A Special Issue on Influences + Inspirations


Evan Yionoulis





Saheem Ali Christopher Ashley Anne Bogart Jo Bonney Mark Brokaw Rachel Chavkin Desdemona Chiang Hope Clarke Lydia Fort Leah C. Gardiner Liza Gennaro Linda Hartzell Anne Kauffman Dan Knechtges Pam MacKinnon Kathleen Marshall D. Lynn Meyers Lisa Portes Lonny Price Ruben Santiago-Hudson­ Seema Sueko Eric Ting Maria Torres Tamilla Woodard




Michael Wilson TREASURER

Melia Bensussen SECRETARY




Laura Penn COUNSEL


Karen Azenberg Pamela Berlin Julianne Boyd Graciela Daniele Emily Mann Marshall W. Mason Ted Pappas Susan H. Schulman Oz Scott Daniel Sullivan Victoria Traube


Stephanie Coen


Woodie King Jr.

May Adrales

Baayork Lee



Adam Hitt

Elena Araoz

Melia Bensussen Joshua Bergasse Jo Bonney Noah Brody Desdemona Chiang Sheldon Epps Ann M. Shanahan SDC JOURNAL PEER-REVIEWED SECTION EDITORIAL BOARD SDCJ-PRS CO-EDITORS

Emily A. Rollie Ann M. Shanahan SDCJ-PRS BOOK REVIEW EDITOR



Anne Bogart Anne Fliotsos Joan Herrington James Peck SDCJ-PRS PEER REVIEWERS

Donald Byrd David Callaghan Jonathan Cole Thomas Costello Kathryn Ervin Liza Gennaro Travis Malone Sam O’Connell Scot Reese Stephen A. Schrum


JoAnne Akalaitis





Victor Malana Maog



Ben Barnes

Kathleen Marshall



Joshua Bergasse

Jerry Mitchell



Anne Bogart

Jonathan Moscone



Margot Bordelon

Casey Nicholaw



Julianne Boyd

Jack O’Brien



Charlotte Brathwaite DIRECTOR


Tatyana-Marie Carlo DIRECTOR


Carl Cofield

Austin Pendleton



Curt Columbus

Artemis Preeshl



Lear deBessonet

Louisa Proske



Liz Diamond

Jessica Redish



Annie Dorsen

Jessica Stone



Estafanía Fadul

Mei Ann Teo





Addie Gorlin-Han

Nathanael Johnson



Miranda Haymon

Niki Tulk




SDC JOURNAL is published by Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, located at 321 W. 44th Street, Suite 804, New York, NY 10036. ISSN 2576-6899 © 2021 Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. All rights reserved. SDC JOURNAL is a registered trademark of SDC. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Letters to the editor may be sent to POSTMASTER Send address changes to SDC JOURNAL, SDC, 321 W. 44th Street, Suite 804, New York, NY 10036.




COVER Seret Scott Amanda Crommett



Volume 9 | No. 1








8 I Would Not Be Here Without You BY


10 Artistic Inspiration in




20 Tadashi Suzuki as

23 A Divine Encounter with Anne Bogart BY


25 A Sense of Liveness and Belonging BY


27 Two Shows That

Changed My Life BY


28 Come On,

I’ll Show You BY


30 Nicholas Martin:

A Heaping Dose of Irreverence BY


31 Learning How to Break the Rules BY


Lighthouse BY


32 Three Geniuses:

Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins + Jack O’Brien BY

34 Alan Johnson:

Unsuspecting Mentor BY


35 Three Phases BY


36 Quilts of Inspiration BY


38 Elia Kazan: Ruthlessly Honest, Infinitely Curious BY


40 Mike Ockrent: An Original BY


42 We All Stand on the

Shoulders of Others BY

Nicole Morris, Jalil Robinson + Mercy Olajobi in A Raisin in the Sun at Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, directed by Jeffrey L. Page PHOTO Ken Ek





44 My Year at

Berkeley Rep BY

63 Ann Reinking:


46 A Dedication to Black Storytellers


54 Art Matters: In Praise of the American Regional Theatre BY



58 The Power of Bilingual Theatre / El Poder del Teatro Bilingüe BY


in America: Historical Perspectives







80 Remembering Lee Breuer BY


81 Remembering BY


82 Remembering

Joan Micklin Silver BY


SDC LEGACY 83 Douglas Turner Ward

Foundation Awards BY


74 The Zelda Fichandler Award Acceptance Remarks

and Changing Lives CARL COFIELD

Bob Avian

Marge Champion

68 Directing Shakespeare

62 Kent Gash: Giving Back BY



57 Breaking Barriers BY





IN MEMORIAM 79 Remembering

Stage Directors: Conversations on Craft


to Family-Friendly Theatre


67 Contemporary Women

56 Little Resources, Lots BY




of Heart: The Chicago Theatre Scene

Award Acceptance Remarks

65 Moments of My Life



77 The Gordon Davidson

A Beautiful Legacy Lives On



The Mother of Us All at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, directed by Louisa Proske PHOTO Stephanie Berger


PRESIDENT On February 8, the SDC Foundation, in a remote celebration, honored the recipients of this year’s awards for excellence in directing and choreography: the Joe A. Callaway Awards, Danya Taymor and Travis Wall, and finalists Knud Adams and Les Waters; the Gordon Davidson Award, Seret Scott; the Zelda Fichandler Award, Kamilah Forbes, and finalists Carol Dunne, Seema Sueko, and Pirronne Yousefzadeh; and the Breakout Award, Jenn Rose. (A full account of the celebration appears on p. 71.) It was an exciting and moving evening including video clips of live theatre as it existed a year—and what seems like a lifetime—ago. To see and recall and hear about the exemplary work of these directors and choreographers was inspiring, as was the wisdom and gratitude they expressed in their remarks. Each recipient spoke of at least one director or choreographer who helped light the way for them. And we saw direct lineages from presenters to recipients. Jack O’Brien, who hosted the evening, spoke of his mentor, Ellis Rabb. (Jack has also contributed a marvelous piece for the Journal about learning from other directors, which you can read on p. 7 of this issue.) Person after person spoke of fellow directors and choreographers whose early and continuing support have made a difference in their artistic lives and in the opportunities they’ve been afforded. Joe A. Callaway, Gordon Davidson, and Zelda Fichandler themselves inspired and created opportunities for so many directors and choreographers, and their legacies, too, were honored through these awards. Of course, the awardees, in addition to inspiring us through their work, are also generously mentoring others. The Oxford online dictionary defines “to inspire” as 1) to breathe in air, and 2) to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially something creative. We have been living in an unprecedented period where the simple act of taking breath has been imperiled. As we enter a new season of hope for racial justice, for progress against the coronavirus, and for our return to in-person work, it is affirming to seek and acknowledge sources of inspiration wherever we find them. This spring’s SDC Journal focuses on the many forms of artistic inspiration and the invaluable role of mentorship in our field. Some of us take inspiration from nature; others from the vibrant energy of the city. Some in solitude; others from the bustle of crowded streets. Many of us have taken inspiration in this time from family and friends, from those who work for social justice, from front-line workers in our hospitals and grocery stores, and, of course, from the work of other artists: fellow theatremakers as well as painters, poets, novelists, musicians. We remember productions that made us say: I want to do that. I want to make people feel/think/be moved to action like that production made me feel/think/seek to do. We are indebted to the artists who made that possible for us, and we are called upon to offer our work,

pass on our knowledge, and give purposeful support to the next generation and especially to those who may have been heretofore marginalized so that they too may find a place for their visions and their voices in our field and community. Today, I am inspired by the generosity of those who have contributed to our Emergency Relief Fund, administered through the SDC Foundation. And by the resilience of our Members and Associates who have availed themselves of it. By those who, finding themselves robbed of their livelihood by the pandemic, have found a way to maintain faith that the theatre will return and to keep the artistic flame within them alive while caring for sick loved ones or working a seemingly endless series of part-time jobs. By those who have created theatre without a theatre space. It remains an honor to serve this Membership alongside my fellow Executive Board Members. I have been inspired every day by my work with Executive Director Laura Penn and the dedicated and exemplary SDC staff. And I am excited to share the inspiring stories of our extraordinary Members in this issue of the Journal. In Solidarity,

Evan Yionoulis Executive Board President




EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Now is a moment of disruption—disruption across the field. An extended, painful disruption that I think we all hope has positioned us for change. As a path to reopening develops, and as, every day, we see more commitments to emerge as better versions of ourselves and our institutions, I have decided to try to draw inspiration from the disruption. In this issue of SDC Journal, I read about those who have inspired you and see connecting threads among these essays, the inspiration, and the inspired. While distinct with the unique experiences of individual artists, many of those threads seem to create a tapestry woven by theatre artists who advance the form—and, through that, our culture—through disruption of norms, large and small. By pushing the boundaries of the work, by asking other artists to push themselves, new ways of working emerge. An early-career dancer blends their aesthetic with the vision of a choreographer in the center of their career. A director at the height of their career finds inspiration from a mid-career artist and begins to consider new ways of working. This issue is a powerful representation of the struggles and hopes of the Membership, and is a loud and clear call for the Membership to step forward and lead. Whenever and wherever you are in a position to lead—you must. This Spring/Summer 2021 issue of SDC Journal will be digital only, but through the magic of our online publication platform, ISSUU, we hope you will enjoy hearing from your colleagues, both those you know and those new to you. A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for the America’s Work Force Union Podcast. I always enjoy talking with labor leaders about representing you. It is often the first time many have stopped to consider the “work” you do. I get to break it down, talk about what you do and how to find your work in what they see on stage, and why your work requires protections. I talked with Ed “Flash” Ferenc about SDC’s expansion efforts, paused because of the pandemic, which will be ever more important as we get back to work. I bragged about our organizing effort for fight choreographers, touching on the craft and how, while it has been with us for a very long time, it has been under-recognized. And, of course, returning to work was also discussed. I found myself saying to him, of you, “They’re hopeful, creative, driven, tenacious, ambitious workers. We’re going to get back to work.” As you are getting vaccinated and thinking about getting back to work, we know that many of you are looking for resources. We are here, even with reduced capacity of staff. Our eye is on getting you back into rehearsal halls and ensuring that the hard-earned advances in protections and wages we have previously achieved are not




Hervé Hôte

eroded. You have been largely unemployed for more than 14 months, and for many it will be longer still. You must be paid when you get back to work. We are also here working with many of you to press upon employers their responsibility to provide a workplace that is safe—safe from both discrimination and harassment and from COVID-19. Within the theatre ecosystem, we are in constant conversation about the absolute need to address workplace culture. With you, employers, and your collaborators, we are all in. In Solidarity, now more than ever,

Laura Penn Executive Director



One of my favorite cabaret songs from the last century ends with the following couplet: “Then, as a token for the dough he has sunk, He gets a little label slapped on his trunk! The Riviera!” That’s me. Just substitute “I’m a director!” for “The Riviera!” and it pretty much sums up what we do for a living and what we become. I’m currently working on editing my second book, which primarily deals with this very subject: directing and how we get there. And boy, is it hard! I have this personal conviction that when we get right down to it, most directors would have to confess we’re not at all confident that we actually know what the hell we’re doing most of the time. Clearly, critics don’t. And how often do we seem to mystify the beloved actors staring at us as if we’re speaking another language? There is no actual “way” to do it, ultimately. If you think of your top, say, five or six professionals, not one of them replicates the others. Some block gloriously, and some never think about it. Some are martinets and some pussycats. Some cajole, some use humor, some actually demonstrate. And on any given evening, with any given project, three different directors may well deliver three separate productions of the same play with equal brilliance, panache, and individual success. Because, finally, as Tom Stoppard has reminded me on several occasions, “Theatre is an empirical science”; it either works or it doesn’t, and if it does, nothing you can say about it matters. The audience tells you. Period. So how do we become directors? How do we get there? Decades ago, when I stumbled into the presence of my first hero, Ellis Rabb, whose APA/Phoenix company was, perhaps, the last one and only genuine repertory company we were to experience on Broadway in the last century, he was for me not only unique but also he became my north star. He had it all: charm, eloquence, style, a sense of bravery, and theatricality still pretty much unmatched over the intervening years. So since I had no style, no training, no clue, actually, for quite some time I did my level best to emulate him. He also had tons of mystery, something I never had and never will, if I live to be 200 (and I have every intention!).

Emulation was perhaps something of an exaggeration, but I watched, I learned, and I stole. And APA/Phoenix being a company, please understand—and with me as its apprentice being the only directing assistant they could afford—there happened to be a few other directors I also attended and took notes for: John Houseman, Eva Le Gallienne, Stephen Porter, Alan Schneider...not bad, eh? Houseman was terrifying and didn’t block all that well. Stephen didn’t block at all! LeG coached, flirted, demanded fealty. Alan could be mean. And they were all effective. All were tried-and-true. And I stole from them, too. And a few years later, when Ellis passed me on to his oldest friend, William Ball, out at San Francisco’s A.C.T., and I watched Bill mesmerize his own company with that overwhelming vaunted theatricality of his, I stole a pinch or two of that as well. And finally, moving to the Old Globe under the benign supervision of its founder, Craig Noel, I watched him seemingly do virtually nothing while genuine life burst forth on his stages, as direct and true as he was. And yes, I did my best to steal from him, too.

Ellis Rabb PHOTO © 1962 MLive Media Group. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Because we’re magpies, we’re inveterate thieves by nature. We see a transition, a light cue, a moment of confrontation and think, “Wow! That is so cool!” And if we attempt to employ the moment, the gesture, directly in our next Ibsen, still in no way does it resemble what the original impulse was. It has become different as we are different. It moves up the other way as well—Daniel Sullivan and I have been “siblings” all our lives, but when I saw him guiding the Seattle Rep with dry, gorgeous wit, it taught me something. I’ve learned from John Rando, who was my first acolyte, from Joe Mantello every time he gets up to do it, from the immortal Lloyd Richards, Tommy Kail, Kenny Leon... Look around you. There is glorious stuff everywhere, there for the taking.

William Ball PHOTO c/o A.C.T.

Face it. We’re none of us original. We are composites of everyone we ever admired, everyone we ever followed, anyone who ever impressed us. You cannot even see our skin anymore. We’re all covered in decals that belong to other talents, men, women, other cultures, even. Little labels slapped on our trunks that say, “I probably stole that, but they won’t mind...hey...for what it’s worth, I direct for a living.” Kinda great, no? Jack O’Brien is a director, producer, writer, and lyricist who served as the Artistic Director of the Old Globe in San Diego from 1982 to 2007.

Craig Noel + Jack O’Brien on the grounds of the Old Globe as it is being rebuilt following a 1978 fire PHOTO c/o The Old Globe SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL





You, high school drama teacher, who shared with this 17-year-old about how you and your wife have a pact. Sure, you’ve been together for 25 years with two kids—but at any point in time, for whatever reason, either person is allowed to say, “I’m done. Thank you.” And leave with grace and no explanation. That is still my definition of love and liberation. Thank you, John Lofthouse. I would not be here without you. You, college choir conductor, who showed me how to score breath in order to shape a phrase, so that music can float meaning. You were my first directing teacher. Thank you, Genevieve Kibble. I would not be here without you. You, college film professor, who screened Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, the first work of art in which I could see the multiple layers of meaning, dancing in their complexity, creating the giant art hole in my soul. You were the first to call me “director,” to call me into being before I knew what that actually meant. Thank you, Victoria Mukerji. I would not be here without you. You, theatre dad, who taught me that if there are 16 people in the room, it is on us to learn 16 different languages. You also taught me how, when going through a breakup, to look at it with levity, right in the eye, and say, “NEXT.” Thank you, Tony Taccone. I would not be here without you. You, theatre mama, way before you taught me in grad school, gave this ingredient in Composition class in SITI training in Saratoga: a moment we knew we had made it. That was the first of many questions/prompts/catalysts you offer that swiftly shift consciousness and help me define my very purpose for breathing.



Thank you, Anne Bogart. I would not be here without you.

must she be going through?” I still hear you as the voice of compassion.

You, founder of the DAH Teatar, who through the history of your city of Belgrade taught me the layers upon layers of seeing and that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. You taught me the power of the theatre in times of crisis. Standing with you and the Women in Black while neoNazis yelled at us, I practiced resistance against fascism in action. And then we laid a thousand roses down, and the poetic act still resonates through my whole body.

Thank you, Monica Santana. I would not be here without you.

Thank you, Dijana Milosevic. I would not be here without you.

You, goddess of shining black light, when you were a guest artist at Hampshire College and everything you did was to lift everyone else up. And then everywhere else, you show up to shine brightly upon others. You model where there is no fear, only immense love.

You, Italian auteur at La MaMa Umbria, for teaching me about the power of sound and the eye of god, by inviting us to offer our nakedness to a wall and a horse in a field under the moon. I understood, finally, the primal choke of original sin. Though also, when I asked you if you had experienced it too, if you had offered your nakedness to the horse, you shook your head like—why would I? Thank you, Romeo Castellucci. I would not be here without you. You, kind teacher, taught me to change the frame—to multiply the dimensions of the paradigms that we in our pithy conceptions have set up. Oh yes, and that moment at the end of Dog Days, when, because there is no more water left, she wipes her mother’s dead body with her own urine as a last sacrament. You taught me to relentlessly pursue revelation and to love to the ends of the world. Thank you, Robert Woodruff. I would not be here without you. You, assistant director, when the stage manager walked out 15 minutes before our final dress rehearsal and all I could think about was MY SHOW—THIS IS FUCKING UP MY SHOW, and you whispered in my ear, “This is what she wants to do with her life— being a stage manager is who she is. What

You, student in my first class as a professor at Hampshire College, who, when I expressed the worry that I hadn’t shared my work in the class, said with such alacrity, “But Mei Ann. Your LIFE is a work of art.” That is what I strive to live up to. Thank you, Snem DeSellier. I would not be here without you.

Thank you, Daniel Alexander Jones. I would not be here without you. You, former monk and beyond saint, who led the Hemera Contemplative Fellowships Retreat and asked us to tell our life story to each other—all 17, thus curing me of any attachment to the story I tell myself of who I am. And then asking us to move a rock wall over six feet and back—and though for a while I did curse you in my mind, at some point I was present with each stone…the weight and coolness and color…and then one became their gravestone….the one I hadn’t known how to mourn…until you gave us that space and I could find a stable nook for that grief. Thank you, Ernesto Pujol. I would not be here without you. You, Singaporean older sister, for always making time to remind me to never give up on being an artist—’cause why else did we immigrants leave our country? And that wildfire may tear through forests, but blue fire cuts through steel. And to not direct being in love—to let go and find wonder. And I know I should quote your much bitchier and more hilarious sayings, but to be honest, your Oprah is where you get me most.

Thank you, Chay Yew. I would not be here without you. You, living ancestor performance maker, whose very life and work has charted through each path I long to take. You show me the limitless possibilities of the imagination, and I am deeply inspired by your unrelenting curiosity and passion. Thank you, Ping Chong. I would not be here without you. You, family, for life and an exemplary model of how to be a good person. Thank you, Bob Teo, Lan Teo, and ShanMae Teo. I would not be here without you.

Romeo Castellucci PHOTO Kenneth Lee

Chay Yew, Mei Ann Teo + Lauren Yee

And you. For creating worlds to enter into, each one generously opening up a way forward into understanding the complexity of our humanity. Thank you, Madeline Sayet, Nia Witherspoon, Troy Anthony, Jillian Walker, Diana Oh, Raquel Almazan, Shakina Nayfack, Stefani Kuo, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, Ruth Tang, Vichet Chum, Amy Berryman, So Mak and Bex Kwan, Colin Goh, Yen Yen Woo, Du Yun, Christine Chia Yueh Chin, Jeremy Tiang, Chloé Hung, Jessica Huang, Carol Tsui Lyn Ho, Jean Tay, Jue Wang, Christopher Chen, Jon Bernstein, Marnie Breckenridge, Lauren Yee and team of Labyrinth, Dustin Chinn, Stan Lai, Jian Yi and cast of This Is How We Begin and Fei, Celine Song, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Wei Yu Chia, Kate Mulvany, Erik Ehn, Leah Nanako Winkler, Eugenie Chan, Bryonn Bain, Bryan Quick, Alice Holst and cast of My Alice, John McDowell and cast of ClayFeet/WireWings, Eryck Chairez and cast of Red Books: Our Search for Ellen White, Bertolt Brecht, Thorvald Aagaard, Rebecca Gilman, Jerry Bock, Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, Sholem Aleichem, Thomas Gibbons, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, Jean-Baptiste Molière, Anton Chekhov, Charles Mee, William Shakespeare, Thornton Wilder, Samuel Beckett, Euripides.

Mei Ann Teo, Lan Teo, Bob Teo + ShanMae Teo

Mei Ann Teo + Anne Bogart

Mei Ann Teo + Robert Woodruff

Victoria Mukerji, Jagdish Chowgule + Mei Ann Teo

I would not be here without you. Mei Ann Teo is a queer immigrant from Singapore making theatre and film at the intersection of artistic/civic/ contemplative practice. Mei Ann Teo + Daniel Alexander Jones

Dijana Milosevic + Mei Ann Teo SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL



LIZ DIAMOND The devastating siege of the pandemic is just beginning to lift. The doors of theatres, long shuttered, may be opening “within the year”—the forecasts vary. Theatremakers have been slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic, physically, emotionally, and economically, suffering sickness, the loss of loved ones, the loss of livelihood. BIPOC artists have been hit especially hard, as they have borne the impact of rampant, and enduring, racism, and led the new movement for social and economic justice within our field. This has not seemed a year in which artistic inspiration was meant to flourish, and yet it has persisted, like the blade of grass pushing up through concrete, insisting on its own necessity. Where do artists find (or summon, or stumble upon) inspiration? What form has it taken during this year, when traditional means of theatrical expression have been mostly off limits and when it has felt imperative to put one’s creativity to work for social change? These are the questions that led me into conversation with five exceptionally creative theatremakers: directors Elena Araoz, Charlotte Brathwaite, Annie Dorsen, and Victor Malana Maog, and director/choreographer Jeffrey L. Page.



The Great Outdoors at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, directed by Annie Dorsen PHOTO Julieta Cervantes

LIZ DIAMOND | In preparing for this conversation, which is centered on the question of artistic inspiration and how it is recognized—or coaxed into being—by a theatre artist, I’ve been thinking about the etymology of the verb…to inspire…which is, “to breathe life into.” We’ve witnessed tragically, viscerally this year, the horror of being unable to breathe. For an artist, making, creating is essential to life, and for that, you need something besides oxygen. Finding the something that will breathe life into our imaginations, especially as theatre artists in a time of forced social isolation, has been a huge challenge, but it’s felt urgent that we do so. I’m wondering how you have found a way to breathe life into yourselves as artists this year. What have you found that has kept your artistic metabolism functioning? How have you kept breathing?

Sullivan, and Nina Simone. I’ve been taking long walks up and down Harlem River Drive, riding my bike, and reading lots of Bertolt Brecht’s essays. It’s been a time of fortification for me.

JEFFREY L. PAGE | I have done my best to keep the television off, the news off, and my creative mind active. I’ve been steeped in the language of Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eckhart Tolle, and so many other thinkers that inspired me. I’ve been listening to Miles Davis, Moses Sumney, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Jazmine

ELENA ARAOZ | I am feeling hopeful that when we can come back to the theatre, together in space, things will change. I think that the theatre industry is a slow-moving machine; it does not innovate with any speed. We like things the way they were; traditions sometimes stay alive even if they are hurtful or not culturally relevant any longer. I find this

Of course, thinking about all that’s happening with respect to the policing of Black bodies here in America has hit me hard. I remember watching the Breonna Taylor verdict; feeling the weight of the moment, I cried for a couple of hours. I had to ask myself how I could create gestures and colors and textures for my friends and myself to breathe, as you say, Liz. It’s been really important for me to take walks and to read books, and try to keep my television off. I try hard to stay immersed inside the really beautiful words of people who are smarter than I am. And so, that’s been helpful for me.

a really interesting time for theatremakers, because, in a sense, we’re having to prove to a larger society why we are still relevant and why we’re still essential. When everything was first shut down in New York City, for instance, theatre artists were not invited to the table to be part of the conversation about how the city would come back—and this is arguably our country’s theatre epicenter. So I have found myself asking how is it that we, as theatremakers, can look at what we’ve been making, perhaps recycling for a really long time, and demand of ourselves the kind of change that makes us culturally relevant to a larger population? I’m excited by the prospect that the theatre won’t go back to what it was, in the light of the twin pandemics of racist violence and COVID-19. LIZ | Victor, how about your artistic metabolism? What’s kept you going? VICTOR MALANA MAOG | Well, I was afraid when all this came down. I have a 20-month-old now, and I just didn’t know what to do. There were some exciting projects ahead, but then it all went away. So the day-to-day has been quite different. Honestly, some days, my artistic intake

ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS ELENA ARAOZ directs theatre, opera, and virtual performance internationally, Off-Broadway, and regionally, with productions at BAM, Cherry Lane, New York City Opera, Prague Shakespeare, New York Theatre Workshop Next Door, McCarter, Bucharest International, Glimmerglass Opera, Oregon Symphony, PEN America. At Princeton University, she leads Innovations in Socially Distant Performance.

ANNIE DORSEN is a director and writer who works at the intersection of algorithmic art and live performance. Her performances have been widely presented throughout Europe and the US. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, among other honors.

CHARLOTTE BRATHWAITE is a director whose genre-defying works illuminate the realities and dreams of the marginalized, highlighting unheard, unseen, and overlooked stories. Dealing with subject matter from the historical past to the distant future, her work brings to light issues of social justice, race, sex, power, and the complexities of the human condition. Awards: Princess Grace, Creative Capital, United States Artists, MAP Fund, Art Matters. Associate Professor of Theater Arts, MIT.

VICTOR MALANA MAOG, named one of American Theatre magazine’s “People to Watch,” has worked at the Public Theater, Second Stage, 2g, Williamstown, Drury Lane, ACT, Berkeley Rep, Cal Shakes, ABC/Disney, and Disney Parks Live Entertainment. Currently, he is the Visiting Professor in Theatre at Saint Mary’s College of California.

LIZ DIAMOND is Resident Director of Yale Rep, Chair of Directing, and Professor in the Practice of Directing at Yale School of Drama. Productions include works by Suzan-Lori Parks, Octavio Solis, Marcus Gardley, Nilo Cruz, Seamus Heaney, Brecht, Beckett, Stravinsky, Strindberg, Racine, Molière, Shakespeare, and Euripides. Awards include the OBIE and Connecticut Critics Circle Award. She serves on the Executive Board of SDC.

JEFFREY L. PAGE is an Emmy Award-nominated director and choreographer. He was the first African American to be the Opera Directing Fellow at the Juilliard School. Mr. Page won an MTV VMA for his work with Beyoncé. He choreographed the Broadway musical Violet, and with Diane Paulus is co-director and choreographer of the upcoming Broadway revival of 1776.



question or two. It’s been great to learn, to try to understand a little piece of the puzzle of where we are, how we got here, and what the mechanisms are for change on that level, if there are any possibilities there. CHARLOTTE BRATHWAITE | I think I literally went back to the basics of my breath, drinking water, and finding stillness and quiet, which is something I feel like I haven’t really done consciously in maybe 20 years or so, because I was running behind the things that we chase after. I think this moment offered me an opportunity to go back to the fact that, “Yes, I make theatre, but I’m an artist. I make lots of different things. And I think in lots of different ways, and I can manifest my work in lots of different ways.” I want to echo reading Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. I’ve also been reading a lot of June Jordan. Baldwin says, “Only artists know the truth about us.” It’s only an artist who can tell you what it means to love or to lose somebody. Thinking about that has kept me in a forward motion. Definitely there were a lot of periods this year when I didn’t feel like making anything or I didn’t know what would be important to make, but my ancestors come from a long line of griots and healers—that is the other side of my work. It’s not only entertainment. It’s been a year of a lot of reflection and thinking about transformation. The first law of thermodynamics says energy never dies, it just transforms. That has been keeping me going, thinking about that. And Audre Lorde’s quote, “We were never meant to survive.” If we weren’t meant to survive, what is there? How do I keep creating, whatever that form of creation means, and allow myself to be patient with myself and also with the others in my life? I learned a lot about patience this year.

Tessa Albertson in Macbeth at Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University, directed by Elena Araoz PHOTO Bolo Akoya

consists of listening to Raffi on repeat and dancing around the living room with my daughter—children’s music! But I’ve also been reading James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Kafka. Looking at my daughter, I sometimes hold my breath, and I combust in tears more often than I’d like to admit to a room full of strangers. I think of her being born at this time. I wonder, “Is this the world that we’re going to live in? Is this the world that we’re doomed to die in?” Having been born in the Philippines months after martial law, I literally hold my breath, especially around the time of elections and this time of social injustice, and I ask myself, “Is this a repeat of a life that I thought I left behind?” I try to take it one step at a time and breathe. I do try to reconnect with artists out there,



just to have an honest touch base about where we see ourselves and our field. I love the theatre so much that in the past I would squint and not look at the dollar signs, not look at the hours, not look at the imbalance so that I could charge ahead toward this beautiful, difficult thing. Now, I can step back and reassess. ANNIE DORSEN | I’m maybe one of those people that Elena was talking about who needed to be reminded what the value of theatremaking is. I always have my doubts, anyway, in the best of times. I decided that I wasn’t going to fight it this year. I was looking at the vast tundra of unemployment spread ahead of me, and I decided to do something totally different—so I’ve been sitting in on 1L law school classes [the first-year curriculum for law school]. I’m not enrolled; I just sit in, do all the reading, and sometimes ask a

LIZ | All of your words are deeply resonant with me, and I’m hearing some interesting common themes emerge. The enforced pause of this period has put you in the presence of what quiet really can feel like, and what opens up inside you when you are in that place of quiet. I’m hearing that you’ve experienced moments of emotional vulnerability, which, not knowing you all equally well, I suspect might have been both a surprise and relief to you. Jeffrey, you talked about asking yourself how you “could create gestures and colors and textures for my friends and myself to breathe.” Has that question given rise to any new ideas—or little tendrils of new ideas yet for you? JEFFREY | At the beginning of the pandemic, I got lots of actors together and I hosted

“reading saloons” online; we read August Wilson and Wole Soyinka. And that created a space that almost felt therapeutic. It felt restorative. To answer your question, I certainly have tried to create, and I think in some respects I have created, spaces and conversations so that we can come together. In Octavia Butler’s book Wild Seed, Anyanwu—the lead character—speaks about turning herself into a dolphin, and she talks about the way a dolphin touches another dolphin as being almost like a fingerprint. And she describes how mammals need to be around each other and they need touch. It made me think about the space that we’re in right now, where we’re devoid of touch, especially in a moment of time where people who could very well be my brothers and sisters are screaming and crying and dying in the streets, and they’re alone with no one to touch. I can’t reach out and embrace them in the way that I want. Creating those reading saloons kind of created a space for us to touch each other and to cry with each other, with August Wilson or Wole Soyinka. It created a space for us to start to confront what was happening in the world and what’s happening inside of our hearts. In that respect, I think art is extremely necessary. Right now, we need art to get us through this extremely tumultuous time. We need spaces that will provide much-needed community, beauty, peace, and happiness. And so, yes, I think that I have started to dive into what that meant. LIZ | We’ve seen that some artists have doubled down on productivity—shifting over to the Zoom universe immediately, creating extraordinary experiments in live and virtual

work—while others have gone into a kind of hibernation. How have these last months opened up time in your lives to reflect, to reconsider aspects of your artistic process?

“What’s been really lovely about these virtual experiments is that they have brought back my curiosity and my desire to learn from artists in other mediums.” —ELENA ARAOZ ELENA | I’m one of those artists who doubled down and made a whole bunch of work, because I had begun to feel like I could easily stay within this field and stop experimenting. And this time became an opportunity to experiment again and to work with people that I wouldn’t get to work with in a traditional venue. What’s been really lovely about these virtual experiments is that they have brought back my curiosity and my desire to learn from artists in other mediums. In the rehearsal room, theatremakers like to talk about action. Musicians and opera makers like to talk about emotion and feeling. And suddenly I’m working with gamers, who are thinking about engaging an audience in a completely different way. And coders have an entirely different philosophy about capturing an audience’s imagination. I’m learning so much about the communication, that live

Diane Phelan + Julian Cihi in Galois at the New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival, directed by Victor Malana Maog PHOTO Erik Carter

Charlotte Brathwaite leading rehearsal for No More Water/The Fire Next Time: The Gospel of James Baldwin PHOTO Da Ping Luo c/o Park Avenue Armory PICTURED PHOTOS LaToya Ruby Frazier



feedback loop, between artists and audience, and all the ways in which we can invigorate or shake it up. I’m also excited that the work I’ve made in this time forces me out of my learned “American theatre” ways, and I hope that some of that invention, that ability to take risks, sticks around for myself. LIZ | And I hope that there will be producers willing to support you in going beyond what they’ve seen you do, to create something they can’t imagine. ELENA | Something you, as the artist, can’t even imagine yet. LIZ | Precisely, precisely. The idea of this time, Elena, as providing you with a safe space for experimentation is really interesting. As is the fact that just by embarking on these new projects and experiments, you have felt your curiosity and appetite for risk and play reinvigorated. You’ve also described your desire to invigorate the audience. Are you talking about interactivity? Has that been a thing you’ve been looking at in your work? ELENA | There’s definitely ideas about interactivity, and what is “liveness,” and all of that conversation. But I also am thinking a lot about who we invite into the theatre and how. I think many of our theatre spaces have been exclusionary spaces, and what has been great about this experimenting phase that I’m in, and working with new kinds of collaborators in virtual space, is that we are able to invite audiences that might feel more welcome because they don’t have to go into a space where they’ve never felt invited before.

Elena Araoz working with playwright Benjamin Benne at the the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference

ANNIE | I’ve been working for the last 10 years with algorithms and computer code, exploring different ways that digital technology interacts with performance. So as soon as the Zoomification of the world happened, a lot of people called me up and said, “Oh, you must be in heaven right now because you know how to do this.” And of course, I was not in heaven. I’ve never done online or video art, and I don’t want to do online art. I’ve been working on how to use theatre as a space of reflection about what these technologies do: how they order information, what kind of dramatic structures they propose, how we interact with these things, how our logic does or doesn’t work nicely with their logic. And so, I watched a bunch of Zoom things, and I was happy to see what people were doing, but I just found myself thinking I have nothing to offer this form whatsoever. I like to be in a room with people. I remember last March and April, there was a lot of discussion



Yesterday Tomorrow at La MaMa E.T.C., directed by Annie Dorsen PHOTO Maria Baranova

Jeffrey L. Page leading a community workshop sponsored by Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble in Philadelphia PHOTO Nathea Lee

about how the pandemic hit everyone where they were—it was like Pompeii: we got frozen in time at the moment the volcano hit. People with young children at home had a completely different experience in every way from people who did not; people working outside the home had a radically different experience from people who worked from home; people who live alone—all kinds of things. It was like everyone had their own individualized lockdown and, of course, there were commonalities as well. But it’s interesting that this Zoom platform opened up something for you. LIZ | Jeffrey, what would you say this “enforced pause” has opened up for you? JEFFREY | For me, it’s really engendered a new spirit of working in America. As codirector of 1776 with Diane Paulus, we were all set to move forward with production when the pandemic hit. There was a moment in time when we actually thought that we were going to maintain an undisturbed plan and design ideas. And we had a conversation, and I was like, “Diane, there’s a lot happening in this world and we have to understand why we are doing this project.” And the process has enlarged itself into a fantastically meaningful experience that is not typically afforded

within the time-sensitive constraints of Broadway and commercial theatre structure. We were encouraged to think about how this reframing of 1776 might meet the nature of what is going on in the country (and world) right now with respect to race, gender, and class politics. It was—and I love the way you said this, Liz—the “enforced pause” that we needed to think about the importance of the art that we create. It was this enforced pause, for me, that allowed us to pay closer attention to the greater “why.”

I don’t think that we would have ever had this opportunity if we didn’t have this enforced pause. Society, as a whole, would have just kept going with business as usual, and I would have kept trudging along thinking that the burden of change is my responsibility alone. Without this enforced pause, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn something deeper about myself in relationship to the world and the very real way we might utilize art as protest and to heal. It makes me feel the pulse of myself in a different way.

It also made me think more about teaching. I’m teaching now at Harvard a class called Koteba Performative Traditions, which is a satirical performative tradition in the country of Mali by the Bamana people. The class is allowing us to reckon with our current social climate through the lens of art, and I’m having exciting thoughts about how this Bamana tradition of Koteba could contribute to certain ideas within America. It’s creating a space that is making me believe in the possibility of structural change—how we are thinking about inclusive, diverse, and equitable opportunities, how we can reassess antiquated notions that our country is built upon and start to look at it from a different perspective, an Africanist perspective.

VICTOR | This time has pushed me in new directions. In a lot of ways, part of my experience in the theatre has been confronting a perception around where I might belong. There have been different challenges throughout my career, where gatekeepers only thought I could work at the 99-seat level or I could only helm Asian American work. Despite some great losses, some doors have opened. Last summer, I was asked to creative direct a virtual celebrity charity event. While that’s not necessarily art, per se, negotiating creating online and humbling myself with all the things I didn’t know—the peculiarities of technology, power structures, and also how to share humanity socially distanced—has been an eye-opening road for me. Within a day or SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


we hold our fellow travelers close, no matter the distance? That’s how I want to push myself into this wholly scary territory. CHARLOTTE | One of the things that has been going through my mind over this period is a Ruby Sales quote, which I have up on my wall everywhere: “One of the greatest triggerfingers of the empire is to destroy intimacy.” I think this time has really been about how do we take back getting to know each other and being close, being intimate with each other, even though physically we can’t be together? I think about that in a lot of the work that I’ve been doing this period, and I’m continuing to as we move forward. 2021 has been about coalition building—taking people who normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to gather and trying to put them in spaces of sharing at an intimate level.

Rey Lucas in Macbeth at Cal Shakes, directed by Victor Malana Maog PHOTO Kevin Berne

so, we had over 100,000 viewers, giving me insight into the reach of the medium. I also started a visiting professorship at Saint Mary’s College of California, and I am thinking about how to use this particular platform to tell the intimate stories that entwine social media and our multiple pandemics. We’ve commissioned an original music-theatre film written and composed by Karen Ann Daniels,



who is the director of the Mobile Unit at the Public Theater, with choreography by Antonio Brown, who was part of the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company. Even though there’s a range of songs and technical needs, at the end of the day, our question is still how do these seemingly small people in these micro boxes live in the world? It’s a deep, deep siloing that we’re investigating. How do

The projects have gone analog, for example, Chapter + Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, which I created with Meshell Ndegeocello and a host of other artists, began as a live show—inspired by different ideas of praise services. We were in preparation to present live shows when the pandemic hit. I was so grateful that, instead of canceling it, Meshell went along with this idea of creating a tollfree phone line. People could call from all over the world and get a little moment of a sound installation, a moment of pause, a breath. They could also sign up and get a free broadsheet mailed to their homes with beautiful images created by Rebecca Meek and beautiful words of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Staceyann Chin. We also asked artists to create video testimonies on their own time. It felt very important to me, as a director or co-creator or collaborator on these projects, to create spaces where people felt they could show up with their full selves and not have to do the thing that we usually have to do, which is pretend everything is okay and leave it at the door. You could bring in the thing that maybe had you crying all day. Because very likely, there’s at least a handful of people in the group who felt the same way or who needed to hear someone who’d say what they felt out loud. So I think finding ways to be intimate and going back to old technology has actually felt really refreshing. I appreciated you all bringing up your classes. I teach at MIT, and one of the classes I created during the pandemic last year was called “Creating the World We Want: Protest, Activism and Performance.” It is an art class as coalition-building class; I get to invite amazing people (artists and activists) in to talk from various perspectives about what it means to create work, what it means to talk about the body and bodies in relationship to one another. It has felt really rewarding,

Charlotte Brathwaite leading rehearsal for Casting the Vote: An American Dinner Party at Massachusetts Institute of Technology PHOTO Danny Goldfield

because young people are hurting. It has made me feel more like we can create space to celebrate being here and make space to hold really the fullness of what it means to be human here right now. ELENA | It’s so great to hear you all talk. I just want to mention something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Whenever I feel like I just want to get on a plane and go visit my family and throw caution to the wind, I think about how my family has survived this far. When I was a kid growing up, anytime we would cough, my dad would be terrified that we would have tuberculosis, because for him, growing up in poverty in Peru, surviving tuberculosis was an amazing feat. And I think about how I can’t just get on a plane and go visit wherever I want because so many people had to survive to get me here. Why would I destroy that? I’ve also been thinking about how much I hate technology. I really hate it: my eyes hurt, I don’t like screens. And yet, I think the reason I felt the need to try my hand at whatever was going on in this technological world is because my children and my students were born into a world where technology and performativity are already enmeshed. Social media and much of the internet is a performative place. Like Charlotte was mentioning, what am I putting forward, what

are we all putting forward? And what are we leaving behind?

“Without this enforced pause, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn something deeper about myself in relationship to the world and the very real way we might utilize art as protest and to heal.” —JEFFREY L. PAGE I wanted to wrestle with that. I wanted to really wrestle with that post-humanist idea of how we, as humans, are so enmeshed with technology, for the good and the bad. I try to wrestle with this laptop, which I know how to use about two programs on, to make something performative or theatrical with it. I feel like I’m going back to very early ideas of play, because I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s a limitless place, because I can create almost anything if I think about it from a theatremagic perspective. To me, theatre-magic means creating something beautiful out of nothing. And working in a virtual space is

like trying to make theatre out of cardboard and paperclips. You don’t even get duct tape, you don’t even get the things that hold it all together. You just get some random pieces and make something from that. It’s brought back the sense of playfulness for me, and in a lot of ways, it’s brought me back to myself. While I’m stuck here, not able to go away, all right, well, I’m going to sit here, and I’m going to play. LIZ | I want to move now a little bit beyond the immediate circumstances of the past year and ask about your long-term relationship to inspiration. How does it operate in your artistic life? Do you see patterns over time, in terms of the circumstances that are present when you feel it? Is there an artist whose work is currently feeding your soul? JEFFREY | I’ll say Ishmael Reed, Pablo Picasso, and Moses Sumney. Ishmael Reed, because he wrote a book called Mumbo Jumbo, which has changed the way I view history as an amalgamation of things both recalled and recreated. His fiction novel is rigorously researched, drawing on historical mythologies of ancient Greece and its progenitor, ancient Egypt. The myth is retold within the frame of a fiction and therefore provides a new understanding of the delicate line between fact and folklore. In thinking about the lineage of Dionysus through the lens of Osiris and Set, and all of the other historical SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


and mythological figures who appear in Mumbo Jumbo, Reed demonstrates that the things that I imagine and then form into art are of great importance. We create reality. Sometimes the creation is based on a hefty amount of research, and sometimes it’s based on a recurring image that constantly visits your dreams. Octavia Butler does the same thing in her writings, as well as the work of Misha Green’s Lovecraft Country. Pablo Picasso, because of the way that he reflects reality through his art. The reflected image in Picasso’s painting is extraordinary; you see people behave not as they would in reality but in your dreams. When I first started to look at Picasso, I would think to myself, “Why is this eye up here? And that eye down there, and the head misshapen?” It started me on a journey of expressionist art creation based on ulterior modes of impressions, rather than pictures merely based on what one sees in a naturalistic sense. So that’s been a huge point of inspiration for me. Then Moses Sumney, because he literally takes cardboard and paperclips, and he creates magic. I don’t know if anybody is familiar with Moses Sumney from his recent Tiny Desk concert for NPR, but it was stunning. It blew my mind. He was able to create magical moments with no



band, just by himself, the microphone, and his imagination. It made me want to think about what I have in my possession that would allow me to create theatre magic in a similar way. ELENA | I really love the way you asked that question, Liz, about other patterns that show up, because I’ve noticed that in every production that I direct, there are three people I’m always in conversation with. One is my dad. It was very important to him that we spoke English and that we had a love of language. He taught me that punctuation means just as much as the words themselves. The other thing that he still reminds me of always is that a party—taking from Latin tradition—is not a party unless there’s music and dancing. Now, almost all of my work is infused with music pretty heavily and, most often, live musicians. The other influence that blends with that is from my college professor, Lynn Kremer, the head of my program at the College of the Holy Cross. She is a scholar and practitioner of Balinese dance drama. Every semester we had Balinese artists, three or four a semester, who would come and teach us. In that training, I learned about epic theatricality, impossible stage directions, and the way humor works in the body. My aesthetic, my

visual aesthetic, has come from her and that early training. The last person that is always a part of everything I do is really my biggest directing mentor, Sir Jonathan Miller, who passed away not too long ago, and his very clear need never to do things the way they’re supposed to be done; to fight, at all costs, against sentimentality; and to always look at people for their problems and their secrets. I think characters are created by what they don’t say more than by what they do say. All of that, I think, combines into my love of a very naturalistic, honest, beautiful look at troubled people with impossible design and dance-like theatrics. VICTOR | I grew up with very suburban roots and a very narrow worldview, yet there’s been a pattern of leaps and collisions that helped in unboxing me. Trying to build something online, just jumping off the deep end and seeing where that goes, is a prime example of such a leap. It’s inspiring (and brutal and freeing). In my early years at NYU, I was working with the Creative Arts Team, which was a theatre and education program based on Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire’s work. The guiding questions around oppressors/oppressed,

Odera Adimorah + Lauren Marissa Smith in The Woman / The Man at the Lenfest Center for the Arts, Columbia University School of the Arts, directed by Jeffrey L. Page PHOTO Robert C. Strong II

education, and liberation continue to pulse through my work. At that particular time, I also studied with Richard Schechner, and that absolutely blew my mind. Back then, I hadn’t experienced things beyond Stanislavski and the American regional theatre. When Grotowski, Meyerhold, anthropology, ritual, all of that came into play, I was blown to smithereens. While at NYU’s Creative Arts Team, I worked as an actor-teacher-stage manager with inschool shows and workshops across all the boroughs. My production manager was this guy who was terrible at driving the van and setting up all the equipment. Lo and behold, we got into a car accident outside of Juilliard. I thought, “I’m going to lose my life!” But this lousy driver became my big brother, and that’s a gentleman named J.T. Rogers. J.T., from a very young age, helped unbox me in terms of where to eat. He introduced me to the Public Theater, to Aasif Mandvi. He took me to that seminal conversation between August Wilson and Robert Brustein at Town Hall. He’s probably not going to like that I’m talking about him, but it was this sort of brotherhood; he took me under his wing and introduced me to NYC and theatre with a new pair of eyes and ears. I never speak about him very much in public, but I just have to say thank you to him. CHARLOTTE | One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about this year are the Akashic records, which are basically the metaphysical records of all the things that ever were, all the things that will ever be. I’ve been thinking a lot about mystery, how that functions; the unknown, how that functions. How one taps into that. So I have endless inspiration right now. Ellen Stewart forever will be someone I think of who showed me an incredible amount of generosity in my experience with her in this realm. She offered attention and care to so many who hadn’t found a place. She offered us a place, a stage and a place to be felt and heard, and a community. In many ways, she offered the world. I’ve never felt limited in that. I think Ellen always showed that it’s a big, big world. There are so many artists that are feeding my soul right now. I have so much gratitude to every one of my collaborators, because there’s this constant back-and-forth that I’m allowed to have with them. They’ve pushed my understanding and my perception. And I really, really got into Toni Morrison again during this period. The way she weaves feelings and words and ideas together is just phenomenal. Annie, what about you?

Victor Malana Maog rehearsing South Pacific at Drury Lane Theatre PHOTO Brett Beiner

ANNIE | These stories are so nice about the contingency of inspiration. The accidental encounter you were mentioning, Victor, that opens everything up. I always think that my entire last 11 years of work kind of came in a purely accidental way. I had an idea to do something with the text of the debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, from the early 1970s, about human nature and creativity and how power is formed through language. I took the idea to a composer friend of mine, and in the course of conversation about the project, she recommended I read an essay by Alan Turing called, “On Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” It’s foundational to the entire field of natural language programming, so from a different perspective it’s also about the relation between thought and language. I read it, and indeed it is foundational for a reason. So that was the start of me thinking about artificial intelligence and theatre. LIZ | On this idea of contingency… I’m always amazed at my capacity for turning what were random accidents of fate into a tidy little narrative about my own life. When in fact the sequence was for the most part born of quite accidental collisions of temperament and circumstance. It actually remains a total

mystery why anything happened the way it did! But what I’m hearing in what all of you have said is that, however accidental or random these collisions may have been at the time, you’ve each displayed, in common with one another, an uncommon capacity for recognizing something hot in an accident, something important, something meaningful, and an uncommon curiosity, appetite, energy—life force—to pursue it. Also, I can’t help but notice that you haven’t waited around for the muse to descend; you’ve kept on stoking the fire, reading, studying, absorbing new information, experimenting with new ideas, materials. I think it was Picasso who said, “Inspiration does exist, but it must find us working.” Being with you this afternoon has been soul food for me. Thank you for sharing your beautiful minds and hearts, and thank you for what you do, which is to breathe life into the culture. It’s never needed it more. We’ve been on the ropes as a country. On the ropes as a polity and as part of the global ecosystem. I just pray that this crisis will prove to be a point of transformation. With artists like you, alive and alert to the world, there’s reason to hope that it will.






It started with a phone call in 1988. Peter Zeisler, then the Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), asked if I would like to travel to Toga-mura, a tiny village in the mountains of the northwestern part of Japan, where the theatre director Tadashi Suzuki and his SCOT Company host a theatre festival every August. Invited to attend in exchange for speaking at the festival, I accepted immediately. The journey to Toga is arduous. After the long flight from New York to Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, there is a bus journey to Haneda, another airport on the other side of the city, and then onto another plane to the city of Toyama. This is followed by a long car journey winding upward into a dramatic mountain range, past precipitous ravines and dense forests. Finally, at the end of a long tunnel, the SCOT compound soon appears, sitting amid fields

of rice paddies and surrounded by round green hills. Nestled among the slopes are several theatres, including a 900-seat outdoor Greek theatre affronting an emerald lake and a smaller charcoal-gray thatched-roof A-frame indoor theatre, the Toga Sanbo, both designed by the great architect and friend of Suzuki, Arata Isozaki. Upon arrival, completely exhausted from the long journey and ready for sleep, I was greeted by a SCOT company member who said that a car would arrive in 20 minutes to bring me to the Sanbo to watch a runthrough of Suzuki’s The Tale of Lear, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Even though seeing a play was the last thing that I wanted to do at this moment, I felt that it would be impolite to refuse. The car arrived, and I was driven the short journey to the theatre. Isozaki had remodeled the Toga Sanbo from a gassho-zukuri, an immense

mountain farmhouse, into one of the most beautiful small theatres I had ever seen. The interior is modeled after a Japanese Noh stage and constructed from all cedar and charcoal-colored wood, which gives an overall feeling of rich darkness. I sat down on the tatami mats laid across the audience area, fretting a little bit about staying awake. Suddenly, a cart carrying a male actor playing Lear appeared in silence from stage left, pushed by another male actor dressed as a female nurse. The nurse then turned slowly and sat down with his back against the cart and took out a book. As he opened the book, seven sliding doors upstage abruptly cracked open, revealing seven actors in brightly colored kimonos to the loud accompaniment of Handel’s Largo from the opera Xerxes. The seven actors began to move regally downstage directly toward the audience. That was it! I was wide awake and continued to be alert for the remainder of this remarkable

Greetings from the Edge of the Earth, Suzuki Company of Toga, Japan, directed by Tadashi Suzuki PHOTO c/o SCOT



The Tale of Lear, Suzuki Company of Toga, Japan, directed by Tadashi Suzuki PHOTO c/o SCOT

production. The images and moments from The Tale of Lear remain in my memory to this day. As the play began, I knew that I would travel any distance, to anywhere in the world, to find myself in the hands of a great theatre director. This journey to Toga was the first of many return trips. In 1992, Suzuki proposed that we launch the SITI Company together. He was clear at the outset that he would help to get SITI started but that he would remain closely involved only for the first few years. For the first four years of SITI’s existence, from 1993 to 1996, we split our summers between Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York, and Toga-mura, in Japan. SITI’s initial four productions were hatched and performed at the festival in Toga. Ever since then, Suzuki has remained supportive of SITI’s trajectory. In the summer of 2019, he made it possible for SITI to return to Toga and perform our production of Radio Macbeth in the festival. Early on in my life, I discovered that I need to leave the United States in order to see my own culture and history more clearly. And these external, physical journeys bring about the most significant internal ones. While breathing the air of a different culture, I begin to grasp the extent of my own hardwired cultural conditioning and expectations. In my theatrical journeys, I have found myself in situations in which theatre is conceived of and treated in ways that are quite dissimilar

Tadashi Suzuki + Anne Bogart PHOTO Rena Fogel

to what I had experienced in the United States. Yes, the languages change, but also the notions of what theatre is, what it can do, and how it is done are distinctly different. Tadashi Suzuki thinks differently than I do about what a play is, about what an audience is, what a rehearsal is for, what acting is, and about how theatre interfaces with the world. Not long after the initial experience of Suzuki’s The Tale of Lear, I was fortunate to spend time in his proximity, which gave me the opportunity to compare his world view with mine and to examine more clearly the impact of my own cultural assumptions and conditioning. This does not mean that I dropped all of my inherited values and beliefs

about the theatre, but rather that I was given the opportunity to compare and to choose what I wanted to keep and what I could let go of. I first watched Suzuki in the context of a working rehearsal in 1992 in the small city of Mito, north of Tokyo, as he prepared Dionysus, his adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae, for performance that evening. I was surprised to find it difficult to breathe at moments during the rehearsal. Repeatedly, in the midst of a scene, Suzuki clapped his hands and while all of the actors remained still and precisely in place, often in precarious positions, Suzuki zeroed in on SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


Dionysus, Suzuki Company of Toga, Japan, directed by Tadashi Suzuki PHOTO c/o SCOT

one actor, sternly demanding exactitude and commitment, both physically and imaginatively. After another clap, the action continued. I was a little taken aback at how rigorous and demanding Suzuki was and how he obsessed over the minute details of an actor’s physical actions and imagistic motivations. But over time, I came to appreciate his passion and attentiveness, and I learned from his example. Each summer, at the conclusion of the Toga Festival, the SCOT Company performs Greetings from the Edge of the Earth, a huge theatrical event on the outdoor stage overlooking the lake. A thousand people cram into the 900-seat theatre, and they are treated to a spectacle that includes a collection of moments from “the best of” many of Suzuki’s productions, and the evening ends with a magnificent firework display spread out both near and far over the mountain range beyond the lake. The spectacular show concludes with a ceremony in which large wooden sake barrels are smashed opened with mallets and the entire audience is invited to imbibe. One summer, I was sitting in the audience marveling at the magnitude of the spectacle, the complexity of the staging, the fireworks, the music, and the audience’s enthralled enthusiasms when I began to take note of the specific angle of all of the actors’ hands as they rolled dramatically in long lines of



wheelchairs along two hanamachi across the lake toward us. I suddenly realized that the magnitude and success of the overall event could not have happened without the close and obsessive attention to detail that Suzuki demanded from the actors. Suzuki’s example has repeatedly encouraged me to place the bar higher and to ask more from actors than I had previously done. I also gained a greater appreciation for an audience’s capabilities and what they are willing to endure. I was able to replace the standard American populist attitude of “But will it play in Peoria?” with a more discriminating and exacting approach to making theatre. I learned that the theatre is rooted in spirituality and that a play can digest and use its own history. I learned that a company can be a like-minded group of artists who share the responsibility for every aspect of each venture. A lighthouse is something or someone outside of oneself, an example, a point of orientation, a beacon of hope or a guiding light, a focal point symbolizing strength, guidance, and even a safe harbor. Tadashi Suzuki became such a lighthouse for me. While negotiating the challenging circumstances that are guaranteed to arise in the demands of producing, rehearsing, and opening productions, it is only too easy for theatre directors to get caught up in the

battle to survive. We forget to look up and out. But if we do look up and out, we will see that there are, in fact, lighthouses all around us that can help us to navigate the rocky shoals and rough seas in our path. In the proximity of these lighthouses, we remember that we are not separate. There are certain theatre directors, most of them a generation older than me, who, when I looked up and out, became lighthouses, and their examples helped me to navigate the ocean currents of my profession. In addition to Tadashi Suzuki, Ariane Mnouchkine and her Théâtre du Soleil give me the courage to act when I am most in doubt or despair. Both Peter Stein and Klaus Michael Grüber at the Schaubühne in Berlin during the 1980s transformed my understanding of what a theatre event can encompass. In the United States, Robert Wilson’s persona and his work were both unexpected and illuminating. All these directors have helped me orient myself in the world by forcing me to question my ingrained assumptions and conditioning. Anne Bogart, a theatre and opera director, is Co-Artistic Director of SITI Company, which she founded with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in 1992.




This is the story of how a divine encounter with Anne Bogart changed my life. It was 2001, and I was 20 years old. I had wanted to be a director since early elementary school, but growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I wasn’t sure what the life of a professional director entailed. Mine was a theatre of church, Mardi Gras, and football games—it was JOY, exuberance, and, most importantly, community. By the time I was 18, though, I was holding a lot of wild existential questions, and an ache filled my heart. I wondered if theatre might be a place for that ache and a place where questions could be not necessarily answered but entered. When my college directing mentor, Betsy Tucker, pointed me to Anne Bogart’s essays, I knew I had found my Guide. I’d like to phrase this gently, but I can’t—I became OBSESSED with Anne Bogart. First, I read her book Viewpoints, and then I read everything else I could find about her (reviews of her shows, interviews). I got a long black sweater like one I saw her wear in a picture and felt oh-so-directorly when I wore it. Anne appeared in my dreams, usually gold and glowing, one time legit sitting on a throne (I know, I know). She spoke about directing in a way that to me signaled spiritual practice. The director was approaching the altar with fear and awe, organizing a rehearsal room to leave space for a visit from the Divine. Because Anne devised original pieces out of a question, I believed her method would allow me to crack into the longing in my spirit, the rageful despair and great hope I felt, and the questions about God in the world. That summer, I attended the SITI Company’s training at Saratoga Springs, a rite of passage for many. There, I got to see her work. It was for me, as Anne might say, an aesthetic arrest. Never before had I understood that the languages of space, body, movement, breath, and lighting speak as powerfully as text. Her work moved me in a way I didn’t understand. I’d find myself crying at the sheer beauty


of when the company held completely still. When I watched Will Bond perform his solo piece, Bob, I didn’t realize until the end that I had been holding my breath, leaning forward so far I almost fell off my chair. Anne’s work was a romance and an awakening. And I had no idea how she made it, but I knew I wanted to learn.

“Anne taught me that this type of fear is part of making art. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong—it means you are doing something right.” That summer, Anne taught me that there was actual power in being scared shitless. My mom used to tell me and my sister that if we were ever in a shipwreck, we shouldn’t waste time fighting the initial sink—we should let ourselves float all the way to the bottom and then push up from the ground with all our might. If kinda scared was the float down, scared shitless was the ground from which you could rocket up.


Less than a year later, during my last semester in college, I faced the question of how to begin. How does a director begin? How does an artist make a life? I had no idea. I thought I might want to move to New York, but I had also grown up to believe New York was a place of danger and sin, and that a young woman from the Deep South might get smushed at her first step off the bus. As spring approached, I felt inspired by a plan. I would take a discernment trip to New York City. I bought a cheap plane ticket (it was a strange time, so shortly after 9/11) and stayed with the one friend I knew. I mostly spent those days walking around the city, imagining what it might be like to live there. After two days, it was time to fly home. My heart was full. I sat down in LaGuardia Airport and opened my prayer journal onto my lap. I was writing earnestly, praying God would see me in my smallness and confusion and guide me, when I glanced up—

Anne taught me that this type of fear is part of making art. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong—it means you are doing something right. Terror means you have your hand on the Ouija board. It means that’s the moment when you have to act—make a choice. Even the Suzuki method her company practiced was a physical metaphor for enduring discomfort and rising from the ashes. (Sidenote: I was never an athletic person, so the idea that a director needed physical training that involved stomping around a dance studio in biking shorts and socks scared the bejeezus out of me, but hey! I faced my fear!) That summer was a crucible in which something new could be born.

Anne Bogart PHOTO Michael Brosilow



There, standing 10 feet in front of me at the airport, reading a screen above my head, was Anne Bogart.

Bowl. We are touring Room and Bob and preparing to make a new piece inspired by Leonard Bernstein.

ANNE: Yes.

A fluorescent halo of light crowned her head.

ME: Wow, that sounds incredible!

Beat. Beat. Beat.


ANNE: And what are you working on, Lear?

ANNE: When would you like to start?

I thought I might be having a vision, but after blinking for 10 seconds, I determined she was actually there. Anne Bogart was checking her flight information, and I knew she would likely walk away soon. I was scared shitless, but THIS WAS MY MOMENT. The universe had opened a door for me, and I had to walk through it.

(Me? You want to know about me?)

Those four lines of dialogue altered the course of my life. In August 2002, I would move to New York to become Anne Bogart’s assistant director. She changed my life—first with her words, then with her work, and finally with her YES.

I stood and started walking toward her, hoping my head wasn’t visibly pulsating given that my heart was now beating LOUDLY in between my ears.

ANNE: Mmmm. That’s very interesting. Do you know the Latin root of the word ecstasy?

I didn’t know if she would remember me (that summer with SITI, Anne had also been on a European tour and most of my contact with her was in a large group), so I introduced myself before there could be a pause. Anne in her typical graciousness said she was glad to see me.

ANNE: Ex-stasis. To stand outside of oneself.

ME: What are you working on right now? ANNE: Oh, I’m devising a new version of Midsummer Night’s Dream set in the Dust

ME: I’m devising an original piece exploring the question “What does it mean for a woman to pursue ecstasy?” The text is primarily Lady Macbeth’s, but I also use found text from Forbes magazine, Heidegger, and Sex and the City.

ME: I don’t believe I do—


In the years since, I have tried to find words to adequately thank Anne (impossible)—to say “Anne! Do you realize what that moment in the airport meant to me? My whole life might have been different if it weren’t for you!!!” And she usually smiles a small smile, because she is humble and perhaps too used to hearing that she changed someone’s life.

[Pause for Lear’s mind to be blown again.] [Carry on for a few minutes with Lear asking more questions about the Dust Bowl piece, but Lear becomes aware of the time and realizes this blessed window will close when Anne has to catch her flight. Lear doesn’t know what to say, but she knows she has to say something…] ME (clearing throat, speaking louder): Anne? Do you ever take assistant directors?

Kelly Maurer leading a SITI Company training PHOTO Michelle Preston


ME: Can I be your assistant director?

Lear deBessonet is the Artistic Director of Encores! at New York City Center and Founder of the Public Works program at the Public Theater, where she served as Resident Director for eight seasons.





I’ll never forget arriving at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in 2013 for the inaugural Public Works production, The Tempest, conceived and directed by Public Works Director Lear deBessonet. (Todd Almond did the adaptation, music, and new lyrics.) The sense of event was palpable— anticipation, excitement, and energy giving birth to a buzz I hadn’t felt outside a theatre in a very long time. Walking up to get my ticket, I passed large groups of folks of many ages and racial and ethnic backgrounds; I became hyperaware of it being the first time I’d seen an audience that actually reflected New York City. I had been looking forward to this show from the moment I’d read the announcement that the Public was starting a new initiative to create large-scale outdoor theatre with and

for NYC communities. I had no idea what to expect except that it sounded like all my theatre dreams spun together and I wanted to be part of it somehow—if it couldn’t be on the creative side, then as an audience member. I set multiple calendar reminders and was in line by 6 a.m. the morning of the first performance to make sure I got a ticket—only to realize that most people hadn’t caught on yet and I could’ve slept a few more hours.

“I felt what it truly meant to have an active exchange between performers and audience—a blurring of lines despite the fourth wall, like we were all in on something together.”

Community ensemble members in the Public Theater’s The Tempest, conceived and directed by Lear deBessonet PHOTO Joan Marcus

The experience exceeded my expectations. There was a liveness and immediacy that was what I had always hoped going to the theatre would feel like. I heard people around me excitedly exclaim when a family member or colleague appeared onstage. I inhaled in awe with my fellow seatmates at the moments of sheer spectacle. And I felt what it truly meant to have an active exchange between performers and audience—a blurring of lines despite the fourth wall, like we were all in on something together. Being part of it made me feel both immediately at home and incredibly alive. The sense of liveness and belonging, the idea that the production could only happen with this audience, on this night, in this way, was what I’d always hoped to experience as an audience member and create as a director. Of course, in The Tempest, it didn’t just happen by accident. There was a clear value



of care that was reflected in the invitation to the audience to participate and show up as one’s full self. Although I can’t speak for the performers, I can only imagine that this was also a central tenet of the creation experience, which felt reflected in the joy that was shared from the stage. The production sprung for me the realization that there was in fact a way to bring my aesthetic preferences and artistic goals together. I had always struggled with what felt like two opposing forces: the desire to create work centered on community and civic engagement, and my aesthetic leanings toward spectacle, bold design, and musically driven, large-scale work. I’m not sure where along the way I picked up that the two were mutually exclusive, but The Tempest showed



me it doesn’t have to be either/or—far from it. In fact, they only enhance each other. I think back often to how I felt part of something as an audience member that night. The values of the production reflected so clearly in every aspect of the experience and created a singularly live event with and for the local community that felt to me like the essence of what theatre could be. While I have yet to be artistically involved with a Public Works production, it has inspired so many elements of my own work. It pushed me to dig deeper to analyze what about making theatre felt urgent to me, who I make theatre with and for, and what it means to facilitate truly welcoming and inclusive spaces for both creators and audience. It also illuminated for me that doing the kind

of community-driven, civically engaged work I am interested in doesn’t mean setting aside my aesthetic preferences. In fact, the two came together that night to bring back something I hadn’t felt in a long time—the wonder, magic, and surprise that had made me fall in love with theatre as a child. Estefanía Fadul is a Colombian-American director interested in the intersection of theatre with civic engagement.

Community ensemble members and members of the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company in the Public Theater’s The Tempest, conceived and directed by Lear deBessonet PHOTO Joan Marcus




There are two shows that I can say, without a doubt, changed my life. Tina Landau’s production of The Time of Your Life that originated at Steppenwolf, and Mary Zimmerman’s Lookingglass production of Metamorphoses. Both came to Seattle in the early 2000s, when I was a young acting student. I’d dabbled in directing but didn’t have a true sense of what a director was capable of creating until I saw these two productions. Both were intensely theatrical, filled with lyrical staging and visual metaphor. Both contained music and dance woven seamlessly throughout. Equally compelling was the sense of connection and electricity within the ensembles. “Who are these visionary female directors based in Chicago?!” I asked, and within a year I was in a U-Haul driving east, ready to begin my new life in the Midwest.

I spent nine months interning at Steppenwolf, then took a position at Lookingglass. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the work of these ensembles. I watched every production that Zimmerman and Landau directed in the city, and then, miracle of miracles, I had the chance to assist Landau on The Diary of Anne Frank. This experience was revelatory. I walked away with a deeper understanding of Viewpoints and, even more importantly, the gift of cultivating a creatively safe yet rigorous space for actors. “You’re the writers, and I’m the editor,” Tina would say, with great warmth and trust, as she pushed actors beyond their comfort zones. It’s a phrase I’ve repeated in every rehearsal process since.

grow. Yet the seeds of my directing tastes still feel so inextricably linked to the work of Zimmerman and Landau. I continue to love expressionistic staging, high theatricality, and, no matter what show I’m working on, my intention is to enter the room with a strong vision that I then cultivate with an energetically connected ensemble. My work is undoubtedly different from that of these two masters, but I like to believe that they are a part of my artistic lineage. Margot Bordelon is a New York-based director who specializes in new work.

It’s been nearly 15 years since that experience. I’ve gone to graduate school and directed dozens of professional productions. I’ve continued to learn and (hopefully!)

Erik Lochtefeld, Raymond Fox + Doug Hara in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Metamorphoses, directed by Mary Zimmerman PHOTO Michael Brosilow

Ann Joseph, Yasen Peyankov, Amy Morton + Robert Breuler in The Time of Your Life at Steppenwolf, directed by Tina Landau PHOTO Michael Brosilow





I applied to the Lincoln Center Directors Lab because I wanted to focus on craft. My parents are carpenters, and I see my own practice as akin to theirs. At this point, I had spent a significant amount of time developing new plays. I knew what kind of work I was drawn to, but I wanted to return to the school of thought based on utility, as opposed to taste. To borrow from carpentry—I wanted to spend time with other directors discussing the utility of a hammer, or a nail, or a screwdriver, for the theatre. I wanted to approach theatre as a craftsperson. My time at the Directors Lab was brief and consequential. Our final lecture was from Bartlett Sher, and his opening line to us was, “I don’t want to talk about the business with you all, I want to talk about craft.” Um?

Yes. I opened up my notebook and wrote down everything he said for the next hour and a half. Bart clarified the key difference between interpretive artists and generative artists, unclogging a drain that had kept me from exploring other parts of my artistic identity in addition to directing. Bart said, “I don’t believe in genius. I want to take away the burden of discovering your inner genius. With the right text and collaborators, you will find your groove.” The “working twice as hard to get half as far” narrative debunked. I don’t need to work twice as many hours, be a genius, or even strive toward becoming one. I can rely on what attracted me to directing in the first place: the opportunity to gather a group of people around text. Audiences, actors, and artists alike. Again and again. For the first time, the craft of directing was broken down plainly, a gift for my Virgo mind.

Intimate Apparel at Lincoln Center Theater, directed by Bartlett Sher PHOTO Julieta Cervantes



Bart said, “These are the six areas you want to focus your interpretation of a theatrical world in: Space. Composition. Shape. Line. Rhythm. Tension.” Just like that. I wrote it down. And underneath, I wrote: Hammer. Screwdriver. Saw. Wrench. Wire cutter. Power drill. Bart went on to further explain dynamics of each of these areas. How triangles are awesome, why center stage should be avoided, and the true difference between a thrust and a proscenium. My hand was cramping, but I didn’t care. I made my way to the front of the throng that rushed him at the end of his lecture and shared an opinion I had about what his synthesis of craft meant for directors directing work outside of their own race and ethnicity. Bart said, “You’re absolutely right, and we should talk about

this more later.” I didn’t know when this later would come, but I knew this evening was a turning point in my directing career and, frankly, in my life. About a year later, I was sitting down for coffee with Cynthia Mayeda, Senior Advisor for the New York Theatre Workshop’s 2050 Fellows. We were at the halfway checkpoint of my fellowship, discussing how it was going. The conversation was dynamic and engaging as ever, as all conversations with Cynthia are, but before we said goodbye, she had a question for me. Cynthia said, “Oh! Miranda, do you know anyone interested in working in opera?” I thought I was being Naomi Louisa O’Connell in Intimate punk’d. “Yes, me!” Her second Apparel at Lincoln Center Theater, directed question was, “Are you available by Bartlett Sher PHOTO Julieta Cervantes to meet with the director, Bart Sher, sometime soon? He’s speaking to candidates for an undergraduate education influences his associate now.” Again, an excited “Yes! I can.” work today. Talking to Bart, I felt like I was “Great,” she said back. “And do you know in school again, engaging in discourse and Bart?” “Sorta,” I said, remembering our brief unpacking problems. But this time, instead interaction during the lab. Cynthia said she of my directing education being trapped would set up a meeting between the two of within the walls of a classroom or a model us. box, it could expand and grow into an actual theatrical space. At one point, Bart said the I don’t remember exactly what Bart and Vivian Beaumont is the best theatre, “Period.” I spoke about, but I do remember it was And I said, “Why?” and he said, “Come on, I’ll lively, intense, and heated at times. Bart was show you.” eager to hear about how I almost enrolled in a PhD in performance studies because I I did end up being Bart’s associate on love theory so much, but at the last minute Intimate Apparel, and I quickly learned that decided to try my hand as a freelancer. I his philosophy on sharing his knowledge is wanted to know about how his liberal arts always, “Come on, I’ll show you.” I told Bart how much his Directors Lab visit impacted me, and how I wanted to learn more about each of the areas he mentioned. “Okay,” he said, “So, each week, I want you to pay attention to a different element, like shape or composition or line, and then we will talk about what you observed during lunch.” Lunch became a ritual for the two of us. We would start off by talking about rhythm or balance, or randomness and tension, but then our conversations would evolve into a play we’d just seen, or our favorite Kafka short story or our thoughts on trigger warnings before shows. Our fellow cast and crew would find us either laughing hysterically or arguing loudly, sometimes in the same moment. Bart always said at the end of our lunches, “These conversations. THAT is the work.” If I didn’t understand a point he was trying to make, Bart would just show me in rehearsal. He’d ask actors if they wouldn’t mind landing more center instead of down this next time through, then whisper to me, “See how much Bartlett Sher PHOTO Joan Marcus tension we lost?” I would see. And I’d pull out that same notebook and write it all down.

Our time on Intimate Apparel was cut short— we were about a week away from freezing on March 12, 2020—but the level of craft and discourse that Bart engaged me in during our couple months in rehearsal is at top of mind, even in our current theatrical setting. How do I maintain a level of tension on Zoom? Can I balance the actors’ faces better on the screen? What’s the rhythm of this moment, and will it be better executed “live” or prerecorded? I can’t wait to return to the theatre for many reasons, but to be honest, the one I look forward to the most is working with Bart. Perhaps as his associate, or as a visitor, or just a fly on the wall. Bart gives new meaning to “learning on your feet,” and I can’t imagine continuing my growth as a director, I mean, a craftsperson, any other way. There’s learning how to operate a skill saw in a classroom, and then there’s doing it on the jobsite. And there’s learning about the craft of directing from Bart’s lecture in the basement of Lincoln Center, and then there’s the privilege of being in the same room as him, of being his mentee, and of being his friend. Miranda Haymon is a writer, director, and curator, and a Resident Director at Roundabout Theatre Company.





“Last weekend, while I was eating in Portland with Wigle and Monk, I was thinking that you might be as close as a few minutes away, and it made me kind of, well, I had a desolate sort of feeling alongside a troubled longing that made me double up on the blueberry pie. So I now weigh in at about 300, but don’t worry, most of it’s below the waist so when I direct I’ll look the same.” —Nicholas Martin I was an actor in his plays, his directing assistant, and, eventually—due to his nudging—a director that he hired when he was running a theatre. He was one of my (and my husband’s) dearest friends. We traveled all over Europe with him and had searingly funny experiences both lowbrow and high. “I HATE MOLIÈRE!” he screamed as we exited the Comédie-Française at intermission and opted for ice cream instead. Going anywhere with Nicky Martin—be it the Musée d’Orsay or the Westway Diner—was an experience filled with culture, food, philosophy, and



gossip. He collected people under his coat as he moved along: “Nicky’s children.” There were hundreds of us: actors, designers, writers, directors. He was the funniest, most wicked person in the room. He listened. He loved his collaborators. He loved telling stories filled with beautiful language with his closest friends. He had an effortless, seemingly hands-off approach when rehearsing. The first week was always filled with “Did he read this yet?” feelings. Then came weeks of patience (from him) for neuroses (from us) and gentle guidance. His cranky days were perhaps most hilarious as he sternly breathed noisily through his nose, sucked on a Diet Pepsi through a straw, and whipped off his glasses to read a part of a scene in the script, hunched over and looking at it with angry consternation that it wasn’t giving him the answers that any of us needed. His outrage at his or anyone else’s slights was unparalleled. “Well yes I want to talk about the famous sandwich: I agreed to it ONLY if it were pastrami with Russian dressing on rye. And like so many things in my life lately, no one was listening I guess, and now it has SAUERKRAUT and CHEESE on it which makes it goyische and unorderable. So it’s become emblematic of all those fuckups that start as favors and end on a bad note. But I’ll be there, ‘INAUGURATING’ the sandwich and making an ass of myself.” —Nicky’s email to me after I asked about his newly established sandwich at Papa Charlie’s in Williamstown But most days there was that effortlessness to his endeavors. He sat back, watched, howled with laughter; he sat forward, riveted, and hands slightly outstretched as if he were conducting, completely committed to our group task of storytelling. And then came his note sessions during weeks of run-throughs. There weren’t many. There would be runthroughs where I wouldn’t hear a peep from him. Sometimes it was just “Slow down” or “Try tossing that hat behind you at the end

of the line,” something seemingly shallow and innocuous—but often it revealed deeper truths about tone and character and always got to the heart of what was most important in the moment. Sometimes the note was so exacting and so wise that it humbled me to realize I hadn’t yet fully understood the play. One of his assistants described it as “The beauty of a well-appointed note.” Meaning: he didn’t say much, sometimes it seemed shallow, sometimes it had more psychological ballast, but somehow it was always at the exact right moment and a puzzle was solved. Something that, as I glance at my own pages of scribbled, micromanage-y notes, I have yet to learn but always try try try each time I’m with a new group of artists. Just shut up and get out of their way, Jess. Nope! Gotta-talk-to-her-aboutstressing-the-appropriate-word-to-land-the punchline-right-this-very-second-and-whilewe’re-on-the-subject-talk-to-props-abouthow-the-boxes-need-to-be-ripped-offrevealing-the-credenza-NOW-not-in-tech. But I want to get there. Because there’s not a better feeling than having someone in the room believe in you and give you the space to discover. There’s not a better leader than one who breathes wisdom and elegance and love into a story all while inviting the talents of those in the room to imagine and obsess and explore—all while slurping a sweet coffee and adding a heaping dose of irreverence to the proceedings. Jessica Stone is a Brooklyn-based actress and director.

Nicholas Martin + Jessica Stone in Paris






One of my very best collaborations with a writer started out as one of my worst. Qui Nguyen professed how much he hated me when we first worked together (as director/ fight director, not yet as director/playwright) with Partial Comfort theatre ensemble in 2009. The director, a laser-focused perfectionist with a penchant for dark, highbrow art and with self-acknowledged control issues, meets the writer/fight director, an impulsive, genre-bending, playful mischief-maker—the conflict was clear. Fast-forward to 2014: I am the last on the list of available directors for a devised show at NYU, and we end up in the rehearsal hall again. But, mirroring the plot of a romantic comedy, a storied animosity blossomed into a beautiful friendship and an incomparable playwright/director relationship. Our histories and geographies were actually quite similar—both first-generation Asian kids with working-class parents who, through the turmoil of geopolitical crisis, ended up in the rural South. We both found theatre to be our outlet for creative expression—a testament to the power of theatre itself, since nothing on the current mainstream stages reflected our experiences.

Where we differed was actually what caused our divide in 2009. An overachieving, straight-A student, I believed that I could achieve my version of the American Dream by playing by the rules laid out for me by the white dominant culture. Inheriting a mindset of an oppressed colonized people, I believed that Western standards were superior, and in my pursuit to follow my passion, I emulated those forms. I shied away from any form of self-aggrandizement; I buried myself deep into the work, believing that the work itself, judged positively by the gatekeepers, would be the only proof needed for advancing to the next professional level. The work then became my best i​mpression o​f those idealized forms, instead of my own authentic, unique voice. Don’t get me wrong, I was really good at it. My best impressions led me to the start of a professional career. But it was when I encountered Qui’s work that I transformed into the artist I am today. Then, and now, Qui didn’t care about highbrow arty-art and scoffs at any intellectual dramaturgical justification for it. He always wants music to blast when audiences enter the theatre. He wants to include two or three fight scenes and a song and a movement montage because that’s what he wants to see. He doesn’t do that

because he consciously wants to be irreverent or genre-busting—he wants to have fun in the theatre and, in turn, wants theatre to be fun. He cares that people who come to see the play have a good time. He wants theatre to give people a jolt, an experience. And he wants those people to be like the people he knows—his friends, his family who had never heard of (or cared about) Aristotelian form. ​In essence, without the pretension of setting out to create a “transformative experience,” he does it anyway. This boldness is born because Qui is completely himself and unapologetically so. He doesn’t give two fucks that he is outside the culture; he regards that as his superpower. He brings his entire self to each of his characters—from horny heroines to badass underdogs to guileless sidekicks who spend the majority of the play spouting sophomoric insults only to reveal deep wisdom at the end. Despite the bright vividness of his stories, they are deeply political, though he’d never willfully say that aloud. He puts Asian stories on stage that defy harmful, dehumanizing stereotypes. He expands what theatre is in form, but he also expands what A ​ merican​is to Americans. In working together, I found that I could break the rules without compunction. In fact, I would break the rules with infectious glee. I found myself reacquainted with the girl who took the wheel of a truck at age 12 and stopped a church service with a forceful opinion. I put things on the stage that brought me joy—that celebrated my own weird, impish humor. I leaned into my guilty pleasures—like romantic comedies and pop songs. On stage, the “eye-popping” and “bold” aural and visual world simply reflected the darkness and the joy of my curiosities. The rehearsal room became my home, and the people in it family. It was a kind of take-your-shoes-off, cometo-the-table welcome that allows everyone to show up as themselves. I learned how to love my work, regardless of what anyone else said. I began to use my own outsider status as my superpower. I​ made space for myself in my work.​And for anyone who has struggled to free themselves from that colonized mindset, you know just what a revolutionary act that is. May Adrales is a director and the newly appointed Artistic Director of The Lark.

Jon Hoche + Raymond Lee in Vietgone at South Coast Repertory, directed by May Adrales PHOTO Debora Robinson/SCR


Aliza Rae






“Human rights have crept into the theatre.’’ I will never forget that phrase. Where I was and who spoke those words. At the time, it was said nonchalantly, but it puzzled me and made me sit up and listen. Was he bitching about someone specific? Was there some incident? Or was it just a frustrated throwaway at the end of an extremely concentrated day of dancing? I was young, sitting at the feet of a giant, and I was absorbing everything every day. Often after rehearsals we would go to his office across the hall and have a drink. Jodi Moccia, Danny Herman, myself, and a few others from the cast would be invited for a

Michael Bennett rehearsing Scandal with Jerry Mitchell + Jodi Moccia PHOTO c/o Jerry Mitchell



“wrap-up cocktail.” We would talk over the choreography of the day and speak openly about our sexual experiences. Why were we talking about sex? Because the show was about sex. All kinds of sex. This musical was going to be shocking, funny, and have a point to make about sex and love. But the point I am trying to make is we were being asked to talk. Rehearsal had finished, but the work went on. Have you guessed the giant who first uttered that phrase? The quote is Michael Bennett’s. The time was 1984/1985, and the place was Michael’s office on the seventh floor of 890 Broadway, across the hall from Studio A, where we were

in our second six-week workshop for the musical Scandal. Time Jump Now it is 1988. I’m back at 890 Broadway on the seventh floor, but this time in a small side room with another giant of the industry. Equity deputies are explaining to him the rules for five- and 10-minute breaks for the performers. My mind flashes back about four years to that phrase, “Human rights have crept into the theatre.” I am witnessing a giant of our industry who can’t understand why he can’t control when the breaks happen. He promises to give the required number by the end of each day but when he deems appropriate based on the workflow. No dice!

The giant? Mr. Robbins. Jerry, if you were lucky enough to sit by his side as I did for two years, absorbing everything every day. Jerome Robbins had not rehearsed under a Broadway contract since his last triumph in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof, 24 years before. Rules and regulations had changed, and Jerry had to change too. At times, it was difficult, but he rose to the occasion and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway was a smash. Time Jump It’s May 2000, and I have been working as a choreographer with the brilliant Jack O’Brien on a new musical, The Full Monty, at the Old Globe in San Diego. And suddenly the phrase “Human rights have crept into the theatre” finally makes sense to me. Sitting in a legendary note session with Jack O’Brien is everything you need to know about collaboration and why human rights in the theatre should be embraced by every director and feared by none. That became clear with Jack and The Full Monty but continues to this day. In over a decade of collaboration, Jack O’Brien has taught me how a director can and should collaborate. Human rights don’t creep into the theatre with Jack. They are invited in, welcomed, and encouraged. They are used to enhance our stories and uncover inequalities in our lives.

Michael Bennett in his office at 890 Broadway PHOTO Martha Swope © The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Inspired equally by these three geniuses, I saw the choreographer and director I could be and wanted to be. Michael and Jerry were raised in the dance studio, where discipline and accuracy were praised and speaking was forbidden, especially during class or a rehearsal, but I saw them shift their collaborative approach and attitudes. Jack—an actor, an assistant, an artistic director, as well as a director—was raised in environments of collaboration.

Jerome Robbins in rehearsal for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway PHOTO Martha Swope © The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Musical theatre is about collaboration. All theatre is about collaboration. I had the great good fortune to learn these lessons of collaboration from these men and a few other artists: Agnes de Mille, George Faison, Ron Field, Onna White, Donald Saddler, Jerry Zaks, and Tommy Tune— as well as how the ONLY way I can work is by welcoming everyone into the process. Human rights have indeed crept into the theatre. And we are all better for it. Jerry Mitchell is a theatre director and choreographer.

Jack O’Brien PHOTO c/o The Old Globe





In the spring of 1995, I reluctantly attended an audition for a bus-and-truck tour of West Side Story. I say reluctantly because I didn’t want to go on tour and I had no intention of actually taking the job if I booked it. Still, I was coerced into going. I was a young dancer on a weeklong vacation in New York City to take dance classes and see Broadway shows. I didn’t see myself leaving my home in Michigan anytime soon, if ever. At the audition, we were taught the original Jerome Robbins choreography, and I thought of it as a free repertory class. At the front of the room was this slight yet intimidating man, who was all at once subdued and easily excitable. The man was Alan Johnson, who had performed in the original Broadway production of West Side Story—and went on to restage the original choreography both nationally and internationally for more than three decades. I ended up getting an offer for the tour, and, well, of course I took it. I moved to New York City that summer for rehearsals. I was incredibly green. On the first day, I walked into the studio in 890 Broadway and immediately saw Alan sitting at the front of the room. I was terrified. Each day of rehearsal was like an eighthour master class for me. I learned about intention behind the steps. I learned how movement could convey emotion, character, and narrative. As he would mark though a step, Alan’s facial expressions and odd vocalizations taught me more about what I should feel than any words could. Sometimes



he would squint and open his mouth in orgasmic euphoria. Other times his eyes would widen to what seemed to be twice their natural size as he donned a maniacal smile. I understood what he was “saying,” and it informed my movement in an entirely new way. After the first year of the tour, our dance captain left. Nobody else wanted the responsibility, so I volunteered. I’m not sure why I thought I was even remotely qualified for the position. What seems even more ridiculous is that Alan gave me the job. It wasn’t easy, but Alan’s encouragement empowered me to keep trying to improve. He completely supported me throughout my tenure as dance captain, even though I’m sure I was probably woefully inadequate due to a complete lack of experience. Perhaps one gets to a point in their career where trusting others gets easier. I’m trying. I’m not there yet. Over the years, I would go on to assist Alan for many productions. Notes with Alan were always a highlight. When he would whisper a note into my ear, or attempt to whisper (I was always nervous it was audible), he was quite blunt; when I wrote it down, I would try to smooth the edges a bit. But, of course, he then would deliver the note using his original colorful phrasing. Usually everyone laughed. Generally, his casts loved and revered him. They understood he was from a different generation, and they knew that he loved them back, often in a tough love kind of way. Occasionally, in rehearsal, when someone would make a choice he didn’t like, he would just shout, “NOOO!” as if to say, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!” But he would just


Alan Johnson Rose Eichenbaum

as easily let you know how much he loved a choice you made. There was no ambiguity in these communications. I’m now starting to realize how valuable a trait that can be. I remember the first time I saw footage of Alan dancing his own choreography. It was a clip from the 1984 Emmys. To see him dancing this athletic, energetic, syncopated jazz movement, I began to understand the scope of his career. I also began to see what was possible for me, and what I could do with my own future. Alan had been a talented dancer with an impressive résumé. He was one of the few who held the keys to Robbins’ legacy for West Side Story; he had the comic wit to stage the numbers for Mel Brooks films (including “Springtime for Hitler” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”); he was a choreographer for Broadway and television; for Shirley MacLaine, Ann-Margret, and Chita Rivera; and now he was my mentor. I’m not sure he was aware of that last part, though, nor do I think he was aware of how many others he had mentored over the years. To be honest, I don’t think I even realized it either. It wasn’t until I went off on my own and I found myself using all the lessons I learned just by being at his side all that time that I understood what an impact he’d had on me. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Joshua Bergasse is a New York-based choreographer and director.




It’s hard for me to pin down influences and inspirations to any one source, as I’m the sum of everything that I have seen and experienced, but some of the seminal influences that really shaped who I was and aspired to be as an artist probably happened broadly in three phases. The first phase, unquestionably, was the “just being exposed” phase as a child to the visual arts in museums and various ballet and opera companies in New York City; listening to many Rodgers and Hammerstein cast albums, Mahalia Jackson, Motown 24/7, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Leontyne Price; playing Travis in A Raisin in the Sun at Kentucky State University under the direction of the incomparable Dr. Winona Fletcher, and then seeing the stunning work of the Negro Ensemble Company and my first Broadway musicals with the miraculous magic and artistry of Geoffrey Holder and George Faison in The Wiz with Stephanie Mills as well as Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a teen; and becoming a training company member of Philadanco as a preprofessional dancer transitioning from being a collegiate gymnast. Phase two would be my L.A. years as a performer in the early ’90s. Working with Ron Link in what was to be my Broadway debut as an actor in Bill Cain’s play Stand-Up Tragedy, which started at the Mark Taper Forum, and getting cast shortly after as Young Jelly in the world premiere of George C. Wolfe’s Jelly’s Last Jam at the Mark Taper Forum. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who played Buddy Bolden in that production, has been a pal ever since, and he continues to inspire and influence me by his example over and over again. Those were two of the most formative experiences for me. But also seeing astounding work that ranged from Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror and Twilight, Ron Vawter’s Roy Cohn/Jack Smith, lots of Reza Abdoh’s searing and visionary work at L.A.T.C., the mind-blowing Pomo Afro Homos, the radical spirit of bold satire of the Five Lesbian Brothers, and Lloyd Newson’s DV8 Physical Theatre to catching Ian McKellen’s Richard III and the world premieres of Angels in America and The Kentucky Cycle; doing guest spots on sitcoms with George Carlin

Robert Barry Fleming + Ruben Santiago-Hudson in Jelly’s Last Jam at Mark Taper Forum, directed by George C. Wolfe PHOTO Jay Thompson

and Dave Chappelle, series with the likes of Amelia McQueen, Alex Rocco, and Terri Garr, and movies opposite Brendan Fraser and Guy Pearce; developmental readings and workshops; playing opposite O-Lan Jones and Hawthorne James; watching directors direct me, like Garry Marshall and Curtis Hanson in film and L. Kenneth Richardson on stage; and watching the artistic leadership of Gordon Davidson, and later Molly Smith at Arena, was such an eclectic mix. I see all those peoples’ influence in what I do now as an artist and leader. Phase three probably starts with working with the brilliant Robert O’Hara to everything up to the present. I feel like I grew up and began to mature as an artist a bit at the Public Theater, again, under George C. Wolfe’s tenure, and I was decidedly influenced by taking time to study at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival before that and reinvestigate my process. Reimagining and reanimating a sense of ongoing inquiry as praxis helped me see the work of friends and varied colleagues and masters, like Luis Valdez from the Teatro Campesino family, Moe Angelos’ light touch and openhearted elegance in her portrayals in The Builders

Association projects led by Marianne Weems, fully embodied total theatre experiences of Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil, and Peter Brook’s Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, or witnessing Robert Lepage in Elsinore by Ex Machina—these examples have all seared themselves into my creative brain. It is reinvestigating Toni Morrison’s canon and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and every novel, play, biography, documentary, and so many more artists who inspire and influence me today. Having an ethos of lifetime learning and discovering geniuses like Tarkovsky or Roy DeCarava and brilliant young artists like Bradford Young, or just being moved by the work of artists near and far, like Chloé Zhao, Idris Goodwin, Whitney White, Taibi Magar, or Barry Jenkins; those are the sources of inspiration that keep me both humbled and growing. Robert Barry Fleming is the Executive Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville.





When I was asked to make a site-specific production of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s opera T ​ he Mother of Us All—a three-way collaboration between the Metropolitan Museum, the New York Philharmonic, and the Juilliard Vocal Arts program for the 2020 centenary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment—the lead producer gave me two prompts: one, that the production would take place in the cavernous Engelhard Court in the Met’s American wing, and the other, that it would reference a work, or a group of works, in the American collection of the museum. Although I often take a great deal of inspiration from art forms and artists outside of theatre, I initially found this a difficult task. The first problem was obviously the Engelhard Court itself. What struck me



immediately was that it was full of art that Gertrude Stein would have objected to strongly—American sculptures that desperately tried to be European and at the dawn of modernism looked doggedly back toward the 19th century rather than forward toward new forms.

The other great challenge was the language of the piece. I was working on Stein’s libretto every day, scanning it, reading it aloud, trying to find my way in. It is a dense and enigmatic text that doesn’t yield its secrets easily, at once playful and full of dangerous and inconvenient political propositions. Though there are characters (some fictional, others historical) and stories that run through the piece, focus often​​changes abruptly, non sequiturs abound, and the question of “What holds this together?” is not easy to answer. Working with young singers on this material would be challenging, though potentially

thrilling—they would need to participate in Stein’s word games, embrace her refusal to treat character arc in any conventional way, and commit to the political undercurrents and questions of the piece.

Going deeper into the Met’s archives, I discovered its large and magnificent quilt collection. These fragile textiles are usually not on view but can be found in the museum’s online catalogue. Their origins span centuries, class, regions, denominations. What unites them is that they are all women’s work: often collectively made, sometimes the only permissible creative outlet for their makers. They are the product of long, patient hours, at once beautiful and intensely practical. Some quilts are abstract, some figurative; some contain recognizable, found snippets from the real world.

Nicholas Martin + Jessica Stone in Paris

This led me to think deeper about suffrage: also​​women’s work, frequently uncredited, oh-so-patient, intensely collaborative—a kind of quilting across history. “It was a continuous, seemingly endless, chain of activity,” wrote suffragists Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler in their history of the movement. “Young suffragists who helped forge the last links of that chain were not born when it began. Old suffragists who forged the first links were dead when it ended.” Susan B. Anthony (the heroine of our opera) was, among many other things, a collaborator, a coalition-builder. She had a deep understanding of political movements, which, like quilts, are made of disparate patches but held together by a greater design. And then something clicked: Wasn’t T ​ he Mother of Us All​itself​​a kind of intricate quilt, woven collaboratively by Stein and Thomson? It is history, reinvented. Not linear narrative, but dealing, like quilts, in patterns, repetitions: combining abstract patches with bits and bobs found, borrowed, quoted, remembered, invented. This was an immensely freeing moment for me and my team—it allowed us to toss out constraints of conventional narrative and invent a new set of aesthetics based on quilting. We looked at each scene ​ as a quilt​and tried to determine—did it

have a strict pattern, or was it more like a “crazy quilt”? How many patches were there, and were they simple solid​c​ olors or prints? How did they fit into the overall design? In rehearsal, this helped the singers concentrate on concrete tasks and embrace the fullness of whatever “patch” we were making—knowing that we would eventually sew them all together into a larger pattern.

“This was an immensely freeing moment for me and my team—it allowed us to toss out constraints of conventional narrative and invent a new set of aesthetics based on quilting.” During the weeks that I was preparing the staging of the 30 bodies, looking at the images of different quilts pinned to my wall helped me to conceptualize the initially puzzling space. The quilts became like colorful, rebellious maps that I could lay over the cold, hard marble of the Engelhard Court, diagrams of movement, ways of disrupting its genteel uniformity. The opera is about the messiness of lived political struggle, and yet

the final irony is that, in the end, Susan B. Anthony herself​b ​ ecomes a statue of white marble and gold. What happens, Gertrude Stein asks, when a fighter, a doer, a tireless worker like Susan B. becomes a mute stone icon, raised on a pedestal? What is lost of her struggle, her provocation, her inconvenience? In this way, the powerful quilts of the Metropolitan Museum collection became our master image, the key that unlocked the piece on all kinds of levels for me, and I am still under their spell and influence, even beyond making this one production.


Russ Rowland

Louisa Proske is a director of opera and plays, Founding Co-Artistic Director of Heartbeat Opera, and designated Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director of Oper Halle in Germany.


Mother of Us All at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, directed by Louisa Proske (ABOVE LEFT Richard Pittsinger, William Socolof + Santiago Pizarro; ABOVE RIGHT Felicia Moore + Chance Jonas-O’Toole) PHOTOS Stephanie Berger







Very early on in my life, I became obsessed with going into the theatre. My mother had been a professional actress before she met my father. She’d worked at the Cleveland Play House. And she got a major role in a touring company of The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman, but then that tour was canceled because a lot of theatres felt that material was just so SHOCKING. It is in fact, of course, a brilliant play. Anyway, around that time my dad proposed to her, and she decided to settle down with him in Warren, Ohio, and have kids. She had three, of whom I am the oldest. After World War II, people in Warren wanted to start a community theatre. They knew of my mother’s background, and so they came to her for advice. She helped them raise money to start it, and she gave them advice,

A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, directed by Elia Kazan PHOTO Photofest



but she also gave them the full measure of her talent. Every year until 1989, when she left Warren to live next to my sister and her kids in the Boston area, she either acted in a show in that community theatre—which was, and still is, called TNT (for Trumbull New Theatre, Trumbull being the county we lived in)—or she directed a show. The first few productions were rehearsed in the evenings in our living room. I and my brother would sneak downstairs and watch these rehearsals. I became determined to become an actor. One of the reasons for this was that I in those days had a terrible problem with stammering, and I found that when I acted, that problem pretty much went away. But the main reason was that I found that theatre was magical. So I began to read everything I could about theatre, about acting, about directing, everything. My parents had a lot of books around the house about all that, and I

devoured them. It all seemed so mysterious to me. And then I came across a book with articles about directing, and there it was: Elia Kazan’s notebook [published in Kazan on Directing], the notes he made to himself while preparing to direct A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t know how many times I’ve read those notes since then. He talked about the “spine” of each of the major characters. He analyzed the way every scene moved the story of the play forward. I first heard his name when my parents and I went to see the movie Pinky. Kazan, I later learned, was unhappy with that movie. Actually, I was knocked out by it. I was young, but I was obsessed with it. Decades later, I saw it at the Film Forum in New York, and I was still excited by it. When I saw it that first time and his name came on the screen at the beginning, my dad said, “I went to college with that man.” And it was very clear that he

admired Kazan enormously. (Later on, after I met him, my mother met him and downright fell in love with him. He had this literally instantaneous way with women. He was, from all directions, an irresistible force.) Then you add to that the movies that came after, like On the Waterfront, East of Eden, and Wild River. And I also got to see many of his stage productions. During the first year I was in New York, I was lucky enough to get a part in Jerome Robbins’ production of Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad by Arthur Kopit. The other two leading roles were played by Barbara Harris and Jo Van Fleet. Jo was a famously difficult woman in those years, though she and I, from early on, became friendly. I’d seen her several times a few years before, when I was in college, in Look Homeward, Angel on Broadway. I got standing room to that show several times just to watch her work. But, yeah, she was difficult. (She also had a wicked, angular sense of humor.) Halfway through the run of Oh Dad, in 1962, I got into the Lincoln Center Training Program. This was an eight-month course, eight hours a day, five days a week. It was understood that at the end of the eight months, half of us would be taken into the Lincoln Center company, of which Kazan was to be the Artistic Director. The first day of this was, of course, a meet-and-greet. And the moment came when I perceived that Kazan was crossing the room to introduce himself to me. I was petrified. Kazan. I was sure that I was going to stammer so badly that I’d be kicked out of the training program before

it even started. He came up to me, shook my hand, and said, “I’m Kazan.” I murmured something. The second thing he said was, “Why do you think Jo Van Fleet is so difficult?” And I found the words pouring out of me. How I was frightened of her. Frightened of displeasing her. How I also pretty much adored her. How her dedication to the work just knocked me out. How you always knew about her Elia Kazan that you could displease her suddenly and that if that happened, there would be rough sledding for a while. I talked and talked and talked, absolutely fluently. And—I still remember this—while I was talking on and on, I was thinking, “This is how he gets these performances out of people.” He knows the one simple thing to say to unlock you. I should add that Kazan directed Jo Van Fleet several times. No other director ever directed her more than once. They just couldn’t take it. Kazan could not only take it, he knew how to lift her to glory. Then, of course, I knew him after that, for the rest of his life. Not really, really well, but every time I did see him, he’d say, “Sit down, talk to me,” and ask me questions about myself and my life. You felt you could open yourself up to him. I also read his autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life. I think I’ve read that whole book about 40 times. Just

like I’ve seen almost every movie he made many times. I think he understood in his work the intersection of an actor’s needs and a playwright’s needs to a degree I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody else achieve, except for people who are clearly influenced by him. I try to pass on what I learned from him to actors I direct, the only problem with that being that while he knew the one sentence that could unlock you, I tend to talk on and on. I’m still trying to work on that. In 1952, at the height of the Red Scare, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He did, of course, name names of people who he’d met at Communist meetings in the 1930s. As the years went by, it broke his heart that he had done this. It was one of the few things that he never talked about. I would not have dreamed of drawing him out on the subject. I did know that he could not fully breathe unless he could work. He wanted to make movies all about America, because he thought America had saved him. And he could have made none of those if he had not named names. He’d be the first to say that that was no excuse. He was a ruthlessly honest man. And an infinitely curious man. Curious about people. Curious about everyone he ever met. He set a standard for me, as he did, and still does, for many people. Austin Pendleton is an actor, playwright, theatre director, and instructor.

Elia Kazan directing Karl Malden and Vivien Leigh in the film of A Streetcar Named Desire PHOTO Warner Bros/Photofest






I did eight Broadway shows as a dancer, and seven of them were originals. That’s where I learned what I liked and disliked about the processes of putting new shows together—I was a sponge. And those experiences informed who I became as a director. Crazy for You was my first Broadway show; Mike Ockrent was the director and Susan Stroman was the choreographer. At the time, I was completely starstruck about where I was and my Broadway dream having come true, and all of that. But I was struck by one thing that Mike did that has stayed with me as a director. On the first day, we had the meet-and-greet, and on the second day—instead of learning music and/or dance numbers—all the ensemble members came in for a half an hour alone with Mike. We just went into a room

with him, and he asked us to write little bios about our characters—even though we didn’t know what our characters were. I’m sure we all just wrote about ourselves; that’s all there was to go with. I told him my character was energetic and sort of a go-getter and wanted to please people. But then he started asking us questions about our characters as a way of getting to know us (and to figure out his staging and how to use us). He would say things like, “You might work in the town, sweep up after things. Maybe you’re the kid who helps everyone else out.” Or he would say, “Okay, you’re someone who likes to travel; you live out of town.” And he figured out that the out-of-towner would always enter from stage right and the people who worked in the hotel would be helping with transitions and setting things up, etc. That was fascinating to me, because it was

Crazy for You on Broadway, directed by Mike Ockrent + choreographed by Susan Stroman PHOTO Joan Marcus



Mike Ockrent + Susan Stroman in rehearsal for Crazy for You PHOTO c/o Susan Stroman

also a way of making things really specific for him and us, and even if the audience didn’t know what those specifics were, they could sense them. It was a great way of working, really; it was a great way for him to get to know people. But it was also so important in that it made us feel integral to the town of Dead Rock in the show and to the process.

“He was going to fulfill his vision, but we all felt part of it.” I try to do that naturally with ensembles, to make them feel like they are part of everything right off the bat, as opposed to, “Oh, you’re just dancers”—because I was one of them. I try to let them feel like they’re collaborating at the beginning, having a say, letting them create some things that are theirs, as opposed to, “Here are the steps.” Especially with original musicals, I want everyone to feel like they’re integral to the process and contributing to it.

Mike did that right off the bat with us. He was so respectful and listened to everyone. I think that that’s a way that I hopefully work too, and I strive to work. It’s not always easy, because there’s so much pressure, and especially being director/choreographer, you feel so alone so much of the time. It really was incredible to watch Mike and Susan creating an original musical together. I’d worked with Susan on the workshop of Kiss of the Spider Woman at SUNY Purchase before Crazy for You, and I was so excited to have my first Broadway show be with her. It’s not always easy to find a directorchoreographer team who work so well together in that way, where you don’t feel like you’re in two different shows. They were both so on the same page, seamless—we wouldn’t know where the scenes finished and the choreography and the numbers began. They were the perfect marriage of director and choreographer. And then, of course, it made total sense that they got married during the run of the show!

tune with who I was and am now. I like to create a very fun yet relaxed atmosphere— but where everyone works their butts off. It doesn’t mean it’s a lazy atmosphere. And sometimes—these days, especially—people misread that, because even though I like to create a light room, it’s all about the work and craft to me. I know exactly what I’m doing with it all, but I like to keep it light. It was a very exciting time working on Crazy for You. Mike kept the room so light but was very serious about the work and the comedy. He was going to fulfill his vision, but we all felt part of it. And isn’t that what we always dreamt of doing—creating something together? That’s the joy of what we do. Casey Nicholaw is a theatre director and choreographer.

I don’t really feel like I channel Mike—my energy is different than his was—I just know that I responded so well to the way he and Susan worked, and that is very in SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL



Frank Krejci, Sara O’Connor + John Dillon at Milwaukee Rep





As an educator for the past 13 years, I think about mentorship all the time. I tell my students that once they take a class with me, or I direct them in a student production, I am their “mentor for life,” and I mean it. Probably the most rewarding thing about being a professor is receiving that email out of the blue where a former student thanks you for something you did many years before. I received one of those last year—a grad student who had taken my class at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and who had struggled mightily with Shakespeare, told me that he had been accepted into an MFA program in classical acting and that Shakespeare had become his passion. So when SDC Journal approached me about writing something about my mentors, I leapt at the opportunity. I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sometime in my mid-twenties (at my age, exact years become a little hazy). The company I had formed in Los Angeles, Aleph, was hired by then-Dean Robert Corrigan to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Looking back on it, this was nothing short of amazing, as none of us had advanced degrees, but this opportunity led me to several further opportunities that changed the course of my life. The first of those was the opportunity to meet, work with, and eventually direct productions for the ensemble Theatre X. I owe Theatre X, and my colleagues in that ensemble (John Schneider, Flora Coker, Deb Clifton, John Kishline, Victor DeLorenzo, and Willem Dafoe) so much in terms of my development as an artist and a director. It was through my work with Theatre X that I met John Dillon and Sara O’Connor, the Artistic Director and Managing Director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater (MRT). Sara joined the Board of Directors of Theatre X and showed me how to be a strong leader. She was the first woman I had known in the theatre who wielded real power and strength. But it was John Dillon who gave me that first important job at MRT, and it was John who served as my mentor in so many ways for the next eight years I spent in Milwaukee. My work at Theatre X had been highly visual and what we would now call devised theatre. By putting me on a strict diet of plays from the canon of American realism, John taught me

how to appreciate structure and language. He also trusted me enough to have me direct on MRT’s mainstage. The first production I directed there was Of Mice and Men, the second one (I think) was A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t think either one represented my best work, but they were passable, and John always gave me constructive feedback and encouragement. There are some amusing stories about that production of Streetcar. I had known John Malkovich from the early Steppenwolf days, as Theatre X toured to Chicago when he and Gary Sinise were doing their early work. I’d asked John if he wanted to play Stanley Kowalski, and I’ll never forget his “audition,” sitting in the Steppenwolf bar with Gary, me, and a beer, and John deconstructing Stanley as we read through a scene. We decided at the end that he really didn’t want to play Stanley—although I’ve often thought we would have come up with a more interesting production of the play had he done so. My production of Streetcar also toured to Japan (more on that later). John Dillon, as Artistic Director, of course came with us to Japan. It makes me seem ancient, I think, but at the time, it was highly unusual, if not unprecedented, in Japan to have a full crew of women on our design team, plus a woman stage manager (credit John for this as well). I’ll never forget John, cool as a cucumber, in the production meetings, acting as the “gobetween.” I would say something to John, he would say it to the translator, who would then say it to the Japanese person for whom it was intended, and then back through the same channels to me. The meetings seemed to go on forever! John also, to his great credit, said yes to much more ambitious projects. I directed Brecht’s Mother Courage at MRT when I was way too immature as a director to do so. That production was a bit of a disaster, as somehow the turntable/wagon combination didn’t work, and we had to spend two days of tech dismantling the darn thing (with a full IATSE crew) and reengineering. I actually couldn’t believe John and Sara didn’t fire me on the spot! However, even with all of its issues, this production led to something later in my career. I went to see many performances of Mother Courage to try to figure out why I didn’t think it was working in the way Brecht intended. One of those performances was a matinee that was signed in ASL. Suddenly, with the presence of the woman using sign language performing alongside Rose Pickering, the MRT actress playing the title role, the play came alive for me. Many years later, when I was Artistic Director at Berkeley Rep, Timothy Near

how to stage the snowstorm where one of the characters dies, or where we worked on how to convey a locust attack or travel by rail and paddlewheel steamer. I don’t remember how John and I divided up directing duties on these productions—I don’t think we did. I think we just trusted each other in a way ensemble members trust each other. As I talk about these two productions, it is time to mention that John and Sara had assembled a remarkable team of creative individuals at MRT, and it’s hard to talk about John’s mentorship without mentioning the other people who were also mentors and collaborators (and who were all hired by John and Sara). Larry Shue was a company member and actor at MRT. He played the leading role in the aforementioned Dead Souls. John was also his mentor, recognizing Larry’s writing talents and giving him the space and time to write both The Nerd and The Foreigner (and also premiering them). Amlin Gray was the playwright-in-residence, writing not only Kingdom Come but also the Obie Award-winning How I Got That Story at MRT. John gave me the opportunity to direct the premiere of How I Got That Story. I know he loved the play and loved Amlin’s writing, but he gave me that opportunity. He also supported the development of my Rose Pickering, Janni Brenn + Peggy Cowles in work with Amlin on his adaptation A Streetcar Named Desire at Milwaukee Rep, of Cyril Tourneur’s The Revenger’s directed by Sharon Ott PHOTO Mark Avery Tragedy (The Revenger, in Amlin’s version). The path that John began when he gave me my first directing and I co-directed a production of The Good assignments started to come to fruition in Person of Szechuan, cast Freda Norman in the my collaborations with Amlin. I began to leading role, and incorporated sign language fully into the entire production, to much good really love language, to understand how it truly works, and how actors can use it to fully effect. That’s the thing with mentoring—often the real failures lead to something worthwhile express emotion. Without John believing that somewhere in that young director who down the road. knew how to create a bunch of wonderful John and I also co-directed twice. The first stage pictures lay a director who could was Tom Cole’s adaptation of Gogol’s Dead successfully direct a play as verbally dense as Souls, the second was Amlin Gray’s Kingdom Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (which Come, an adaptation of O. E. Rolvaag’s Giants I did in 2019 for American Shakespeare in the Earth. Those two collaborations were Center), my life as an artist would be among my favorite projects at MRT. I was fundamentally changed. proud of them both, and Kingdom Come was And then there was Japan. Both John and the first play I directed when I became the Sara had a deep interest in Japanese theatre Artistic Director of Berkeley Rep. Particularly with Kingdom Come, John allowed us the time and culture. Sara was the one who first mentioned to us at Theatre X that funding to develop the piece in much the same way I was available for a project related to Japan, had worked at Theatre X. We had workshops and she helped us obtain a grant that where we tried as a group to figure out Kingdom Come at Milwaukee Rep, co-directed by John Dillon + Sharon Ott PHOTO Mark Avery

supported our development and production of John Schneider’s A Fierce Longing, a play about the art, life, and death of Japanese novelist and playwright Yukio Mishima. MRT toured two productions I directed to Japan: the aforementioned A Streetcar Named Desire, and then Sam Shepard’s Buried Child. The wonderful actress Ellen Lauren, an MRT company member at the time, played the role of Shelley. Of course, Ellen’s future was to involve a deep collaboration with Tadashi Suzuki, SITI Company, and Japanese theatre. John invited me twice to be part of the group that went to Toga-mura to see Suzuki’s company in action. Those trips profoundly affected me in ways that are hard to express. To see Suzuki’s The Trojan Women in that marvelous theatre in Togamura made me understand deeply how a master director (Suzuki) can use space, time, duration, architecture (all those marvelous Viewpoints!) to create deep emotional effects. Those trips to Japan, all made possible by John and Sara, would also lead me to my interest in Japanese American culture and art, and culminate in my long partnership with Phillip Kan Gotanda at Berkeley and Seattle Repertory Theatres. Finally, John introduced me to Berkeley Rep (BRT), which was to become my artistic home for many years. He and the Artistic Director in Berkeley, Michael Liebert, co-produced American Buffalo, featuring Larry Shue and BRT company member Tony Amendola, with John directing. It was a fantastic production. John, with his typical generosity, told me that Berkeley might soon be looking for an artistic director and that I should apply. So not only did John give me a place to start as a director, but also he opened the door for me into the position that was to change my life as an artist. For that, and for everything he did for me that led up to that opportunity, I am eternally grateful. In these COVID-19 times, when we aren’t able to direct, when it’s so hard to collaborate in the ways we are used to, it is so good to look back and remember the creative times in one’s life, when many talented people were all working together. One of those times for me was in Milwaukee, at Milwaukee Rep, and with the mentorship of John Dillon. We all stand on the shoulders of others. Sharon Ott is the Chair and Artistic Director of the Department of Theatre at Virginia Commonwealth University.






I met Sharon Ott in 1989. That’s what I remember. She recalls our meeting years before when she was producing Execution of Justice, a play about the trial of the man who assassinated my father George and Harvey Milk in 1978. I blocked that out. But I remember my year with Sharon, the first of many, and how it was the first major pivot of my creative life. I came to know Sharon when I was struggling with my future while working as Joe Papp’s assistant at the Public Theater/ NYSF. After three years of being at one of the centers of the American theatre, I felt like I was on the path of becoming a New York producer. And that was not the plan. I had seen so many shows on and Off-Broadway over my tenure at the Public, gathered a million opinions about everything I saw, and finally I came to the conclusion—put up or shut up. So I thought: try to be a director. I called Sharon from my office phone at 440 Lafayette Street and asked if I could volunteer as an assistant director. She directed me toward the intern page, I applied, and I got in as a directing intern at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I packed up, said goodbye, endured Joe’s pleas not to leave, and moved back home-ish.

It was an incredible year. First up, I assisted Sharon in her second production (first done at Seattle Rep) of Frank Wedekind’s Lulu, featuring Justine Bateman (yes, Mallory from Family Ties) in the title role. It was an altogether magnificent, eccentric, and beautifully designed production, one that marked my understanding of how Sharon worked. She had an eye, to be sure. No one could compose a picture like Sharon. And for her, the figure, the text, the image—all were parts of a portrait, an image that lasted well beyond the moment, enduring over years of memory. I can still see the end of the production’s first act, with Justine/Lulu ascending John Arnone’s spiral staircase in the middle of the stage, with Jennifer Tipton’s stark downlight, in a prophetic image of her impending power and ultimate doom, all in one.

“All of the past teaches us about the path to our future.” I also assisted Sharon at the end of my internship on a production of The Winter’s Tale, which was performed at the cavernous Calvin Simmons auditorium in downtown

Jonathan Moscone with Joseph Papp the day he left the Public Theater to intern for Sharon Ott



Oakland. Shakespeare is a bit tougher than Wedekind to control through images, and it proved a rougher road of a process to connect the image to the word to the person to the extraordinary ambiguity and scale of Shakespeare’s emotions and thoughts.

So in there, I saw the valences of Sharon’s work—beautifully controlled on one end, and controlling on the other. Great and genuine all the way through, she succeeded and failed like all great directors do. And that was worth giving up weekly dinners at Hasaki in the East Village with Joe Papp, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and the like. Sharon was also one of the best artistic directors I’d ever known. She hired really, really well. Irene Lewis directed Shaw’s Man and Superman, and I learned my love for Shaw through Irene and how to stage the thought, how to land the joke, and how to keep the debate lively. Wow, what a great show. And I assisted Tony Taccone (my all-time favorite person in the American theatre) on Quincy Long’s The Virgin Molly. Tony was a great counterpart to Sharon (he was Associate Artistic Director at Berkeley Rep at the time). Tony cared far less for design than he did for dramaturgy and acting. He grounded me in the real work of directing: providing paths of forward movement through the sometimes gnarly but always beautiful process of

John Aylward + Justine Bateman in Lulu at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, directed by Sharon Ott PHOTO Ken Friedman ©1989, 2021

Charles Dean, Harry Waters Jr. + Stephen Spinella in The Virgin Molly at Berkeley Rep, directed by Tony Taccone PHOTO © 1990, 2021 Ken Friedman

relationships—with actors, crew, designers, and, ultimately, audience. My year at Berkeley Rep was due entirely to Sharon. She has remained a mentor and friend to this day, and I was so glad I could cajole her to direct Amy Freed’s delightful Restoration Comedy when I was Artistic Director of California Shakespeare Theater. It was one of the highlights of my tenure. Simply put, Sharon endures. She built a career, built a new one, and built another. She is always in the game, no matter what. She is constantly curious, always striving, an expert at her discipline, and a great educator. My life would not be my life—professionally, that is—without Sharon Ott. I am forever indebted to her. Every generation builds a better generation. All of the past teaches us about the path to our future. Sharon is a central player in my story, and the story of so many artists. I am lucky to have learned from her, to be her friend, and to share a little bit of memories of her. Jonathan Moscone is a theatre director and Chief Producer for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Charles Lanyer, J. Michael Flynn + ensemble in Man and Superman at Berkeley Rep, directed by Irene Lewis PHOTO © 1990, 2021 Ken Friedman





Influence flows through generations. For this special issue of SDC Journal, we invited three generations of Black theatre leaders—Woodie King Jr., Kenny Leon, and Jamil Jude—to come together (from New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, respectively) for a Zoom conversation. We are pleased to share their wide-ranging discussion, in which they talk about their craft and creative processes, giving back, institution building, and their own inspirations.



Javon Johnson, Tangela Large, Keith Arthur Bolden + Enoch A. King in Paradise Blue at True Colors Theatre Company, directed by Jamil Jude PHOTO Greg Mooney

ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS JAMIL JUDE is Artistic Director of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta.

KENNY LEON | I am grateful to be in this conversation with the two of you. Both of you hold a special place in my heart. It seems as though I’ve known Woodie King, personally and professionally, my entire life. Certainly, all of my professional life. I give Woodie—not just because he’s here—the responsibility for a lot of my personal success. He’s had so much success in his life. When I first started out, I had to go and read about who were the Black legends out there. For me, it was Woodie King and Lloyd Richards and Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. I’ve been lucky enough to really get to know those people and more. Woodie was one of the first examples to me of the power of the Black story or the place of the Black story in the broader community. Everything in my career has always been about how do we present Black stories to Black people, and also to white people?

WOODIE KING JR. is the Founder and Producing Director of Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre in New York City.

Woodie and Douglas Turner Ward and Lloyd and all those people were doing it. So that’s who I had to call up and inquire about and learn from. Woodie seems like he’s always been in my life as an expert inspiration. He continues to be in my life as an inspiration, in terms of, how do you combine activism with being the best artist that you can be? I had the fortune of working with him as a director. Long before I did A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, he directed me in A Raisin in the Sun at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. So I’ve known him as a director, as a friend, and as a leader. If you remove Woodie King from the American theatre, then there’s a huge hole in the American theatre. I think none of us would be talking about doing what we do if it weren’t for the work of Woodie. So I love him. I love you, Woodie King, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

KENNY LEON is the Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, and Senior Resident Director of New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company.

Woodie was also probably the first person I knew who was an artist and an administrator. Even at the Alliance Theatre, when they named me as Artistic Director, there are things that come with it that are administrative that I didn’t know anything about. But I can look at Woodie King and think, “Well, he knows something about it, he’s figuring it out. It can be done.” So I’ll just start off to say that he’s one of my mentors, whether he knows it or not. He’s an inspiration for me. I continue to be curious about what he’s going to do next. WOODIE KING JR. | I felt in Kenny Leon, from first working with him and meeting him, a vibe that is Atlanta. It’s an Atlanta vibe. There’s the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you listen, the way you talk to people. That’s very much what I look for, and

Kenny Leon on the set of Amend: The Fight for America (Netflix)



I find it in Kenny Leon. Whether he directs A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, directs at the Public or around the United States, he is going to direct a piece that has that vibe, that movement. That way of walking, talking, grooving. That is the language that we look for in African Americans. You’re not going to find it in drama school— especially, where you have white drama teachers. You are not going to find it in where you are being taught in a university, in a theatre department where everybody’s white and you say, well, maybe I got something. You go for what you’ve got but you hold on to what you know. If you walk down the streets of Atlanta and go into a convenience store, you see it, you hear it. Now you hold on to it as an artist and Kenny has been able to do that. So I am grateful. I just hope you make a lot of money and are directing what white people need. There’s nothing wrong with that. The people we knew at the beginning

of their careers—the Samuel L. Jacksons, the LaTanya Richardson Jacksons—you see now how it manifests itself into $5 million to do a commercial, $25 to $30 million doing a picture. Okay. If I direct this, I’m going to get at least $5 or $6 million if I’m at the top of my game. That’s what I’m working toward. That’s all fine. But what are you going to do with the $5 or $6 million other than buy a palatial mansion? What are you going to do with it? Are you going to put it back in a theatre? Are you going to put it back into a Spelman College? Are you going to put it back into the small theatre in Detroit or the small theatres in New York? That’s what interests me. JAMIL JUDE | One thing I’ve always loved about both of you is that you give back. As you mentioned, Mr. King, I went to a predominantly white institution. I didn’t really even know about the theatre. I was in theatre just because I got hurt playing football my freshman year; I probably would have never gotten into the arts had I stayed healthy. But that freshman year, I was in Urban Theatre,

Jamil Jude in rehearsal for The First Noel at True Colors Theatre Company PHOTO Lelund Durond Thompson



which was a student-led Black and brown arts organization in upstate New York. I never really got that formal white theatre education until my junior or senior year. In my first foray into the professional world, the first director I ever saw work was Kenny. So I didn’t actually get all the ways in which you get taught out of your natural instincts. But I also realized I didn’t get what I would come to learn from watching Kenny, from watching Charles Randolph-Wright, watching Marion McClinton, watching Valerie Curtis-Newton. It took me probably about five, six, seven years as a professional theatremaker to learn that, okay, this is how you take what it is that you already know inside you, just being a Black person in America, and share it as an artist and director and leader of a room. Once I saw that, and people were giving back while practicing their craft, the shift happened pretty quickly. Now people look to me as if to say, what is it that you can teach me and and give back at the same time? I’m always interested in listening to the people that I’ve

Woodie King Jr. + Ed Bullins c/o New Federal Theatre


Eddie Bradley, Tonia Jackson + Tiffany Denise Hobbs in King Hedley II at True Colors Theatre Company, directed by Jamil Jude PHOTO Greg Mooney

learned from—how do I show up and be a better practitioner in the moment? But also, not be so consumed with making that I don’t do the job that was done for me—and that’s giving back. KENNY | It’s interesting to me. Woodie, I don’t know how well you know Jamil. But one thing I learned from what you were doing, what you’ve always done at New Federal Theatre, is to really focus on institution building. To build a Black institution in America is really hard, and the rules are not the same. When I ran the Alliance Theatre, I could go to a corporation for X amount of dollars for production. When I started True Colors Theatre Company, I got the same actors, the same quality of work, but they would give me a lot less money to do it. One of the things for Black folks is we have to sustain our institutions, because even though it’s unfair, it gives us a shot, it gives us a place to do the work, it gives people a place to go. A lot of times, you’re trying to teach young folks, and sometimes they don’t want to hear you. But one of the things about Jamil—I’m not taking credit for his career—but when he was working for me as an associate, I was

like, “This guy has something.” I went to him early on and said, “Come play around with us in Atlanta at True Colors.” He said, “No, I’m going to Minnesota.” [In St. Paul, Jude worked for Mixed Blood Theatre Company and Park Square Theatre.] I said, “Okay.”

“If you take yourself wherever you go, that’s the greatest gift to the world. You’ve got to be your authentic self.” —KENNY LEON Then a few years later, True Colors was doing really poorly in terms of money in the bank. It was paycheck-to-paycheck, and some people said, “Kenny, you need to protect your brand. It’s time to leave the institution and just go on and do your Broadway or your film stuff.” I was like, no, it’s not time to go, and I stayed there and kept raising money, with a wonderful staff and board. When we had money back in the bank, I said, “If Black

institutions are going to survive in America, they’ve got to survive past the Kenny Leons and the Woodie Kings and the founders. They’ve got to have other people around that believe in them.” I was able to go back to Jamil and say, “Hey, man, it’s time for you to run this theatre if that’s what you want to do.” It timed out that it was, but I don’t know any other person that I could have gone to. I think the theatre would have died. We were able to hand it off, and he’s been there three or four years now. I guess what I’m getting to is that sometimes we talk about the white folks and the funders—yeah, we know that America is racist, we know that. But then the next part is, how do we maintain our institutions? How do we keep fighting for equal justice, equal financial justice? How do we keep encouraging our own people to believe in our institutions? We have to keep giving back to our institutions until white folks can catch up with why they should support our institutions as well. WOODIE | Jamil has to put his stamp on True Colors. He has to say, these are the plays I want to do, and he must in his own sense SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


argue with you, Kenny. He needs someone to argue off of. KENNY | It’s a beautiful thing with Jamil and I in the last four years. We’ve been able to keep a close relationship and a respect. He’s putting his stamp on the theatre, he’s doing plays certainly that I would not do. But he’s also able to bounce things off me. At True Colors, we developed a set of core values that will always guide us: boldness, laughter, respect, abundance. And a dedication to Black storytellers. Within those parameters, the leadership of the theatre can create whatever they need to create. That’s one thing about Jamil, he’s bold. He stood on the ceiling of what I did for 16 years and is building from that, whereas sometimes people don’t want to build on the ceiling of the person who came before them. JAMIL | I think there was some nervousness in Atlanta at the beginning, because we announced that I was going to transition into the Artistic Director position a year before it actually happened. So people were wondering, “What does it mean if Kenny leaves? Is Kenny leaving Atlanta? Can we still trust the organization?” It was in those first couple of years that we were able to show people the work is still going to be good. We’re still going to put out good stories, and we are still being led by those values that Kenny mentioned: boldness, laughter, abundance, and respect. We are putting the focus on Black storytelling— that’s what we do. We are in a Black

Knock Me a Kiss at New Federal Theatre, directed by Chuck Smith PHOTO Lia Chang



neighborhood in Black-ass Atlanta, and we’re going to tell Black stories. That’s what we’re going to put up on front. We’re not going to apologize for it, we’re not going to beat around the bush about it. I still remember my first day at True Colors: Kenny brought me on stage to introduce me to the audience after a performance of Holler If Ya Hear Me. There were 300-plus Black people in the audience. Up until that point in my career, only working in predominately white institutions, I had been told that Black people don’t want to come to the theatre like that—that you can’t program seasons or plays around Black people showing up in those kind of numbers. Immediately when I walked out on stage, I was like, “This has been a lie the entire time. You all just been lying. You just didn’t know how to tell a story in that kind of way.” That moment right there made me feel like, all right, if this is my audience, then the American theatre has to respond to this now. Whatever you’ve all been lying to me and lying to others about what the American theatre is, at True Colors we know that this is different. One thing that I’ve been really advocating for is that in a city like Atlanta, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the ones who commission and world premiere new Black plays. As opposed to what I feel like has been happening over the last 20 years, which is that Black writers are going to Yale and they’re going to Columbia or what have you, and then they’re getting commissioned by these predominantly white theatres

to write a play. The plays sometimes feel watered down or not really representative of the Black experience. But in our city and at our theatre, with the legacy and tradition that we have, we should be able to launch these careers and produce these plays. I’ve been really focused on that. WOODIE | You’ve got to find the playwrights who are speaking to those 300 people or more. Once you find the playwrights, you will do great productions, whether Kenny Leon directs them, or you bring in directors from somewhere else, or you direct them. That’s what’s going to define the longevity of True Colors. That’s what Kenny Leon did, that’s what we all do. It is the play, it is always the play. It is not the readings, it is not the open mic; you can do all of that, but it is third or fourth down the ladder. The play is first, the production of the play. JAMIL | Woodie, you’ve talked about this before, but what inspired you to start New Federal? What was the fire that burned, that said, here’s how we’re going to gather artists together and administer a theatre that now has gone on for 50-plus years? WOODIE | I was very, very much enamored with the Federal Theatre Project, which was run by Hallie Flanagan from 1935 to 1939 with money from the federal government. John Houseman and Orson Welles were part of that, and they did a production of something called Voodoo Macbeth [an allBlack version of Shakespeare’s play, set in Haiti] in 1936. And then out of the Federal

Elizabeth Van Dyke, Queenie Cavette, Linda Thomas Wright + Denise Marcia in the London production of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, directed by Avery Brooks + choreographed by Paula Moss PHOTO c/o New Federal Theatre

Theatre Project’s Negro Unit came the American Negro Theater in 1940. I didn’t want to call the theatre the Negro Theatre Project; I said it should be called the New Federal Theatre—a new version of what John Houseman and Orson Welles and Hallie Flanagan did in the 1930s. We would have these confabs and discussions and talks. I got in tight with the founders of the American Negro Theater, Fred O’Neal [the first African American head of Actors’ Equity Association] and Abram Hill. Those conversations were more than just hey, youngblood this and this and this; they got kind of deep. You must be able to read what is not being said. The American Negro Theater lasted nine years; the Federal Theatre Project ran from 1935 to 1939. So why did they fail? They counted on somebody, they counted on something. The American Negro Theater counted on Harlem’s Schomburg Center, which was part of the New York Public Library, for space. They couldn’t pay actors anything. So the first thing I learned, of course, was you’ve got to make a deal with the unions to use African Americans, and to pay people.

KENNY | Once I left the Alliance Theatre— which is a big LORT theatre, with mostly white leadership and white patrons—and started True Colors, I decided that I needed somebody who loves raising money as much as I like producing the plays. I felt like if I was going to start a Black theatre company, I wanted a managing director partner who really understood how to raise money and who loved it. That’s why I went out and got Jane Bishop, who used to be General Manager at the Alliance Theatre. Jane Bishop said, “Okay, Kenny, we’re going to have a healthy tension between the money and the art.” I think the biggest reason True Colors is still there is because we started with an artist and a business person. Jamil, what was the biggest challenge for you in taking over the theatre post-2000? JAMIL | I think that funding is always going to be an issue. Like you mentioned earlier, Kenny, the way in which corporations or individuals give to white theatres, and the way those same individuals turn around and give to Black theatres—it’s a small percentage. So having to deal with funding, and also ticket prices—how we have to

continue to do a better job of getting our audience—there’s a divide between what is accessible versus what is actually paying rate for the type of work that we do. One thing I pride ourselves on at True Colors is that we give audiences amazing production values. You’re going to get great actors, you’re going to get great scenic design, costume design, great lighting design. So how do we get people to pay the same money they’re paying at the Alliance because we’re getting the same caliber of artists? We’re working with the same people, we’re putting shows up in the same type of way, we’re not shortchanging you in any kind of way. So how do we get people to pay that way and also make sure that anyone who wants to see our work can see it? That’s a challenge. But I don’t really feel that challenge right now. I can’t wait to get back on live stage, because I think our programming is tight. I think we’ve got something really strong, and we can’t wait to show people what we’ve been doing during the pandemic. Woodie, you talk about the play being the thing. What was it like working alongside Ntozake Shange and Ed Bullins and other SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


playwrights of the middle and later part of the 20th century, when they were creating these new works? Can you talk a little bit about the craft of bringing these young writers of their time to the stage and working alongside them and helping them develop their craft? WOODIE | So, working with Ed Bullins is totally different than working with Ntozake Shange; it’s totally different working with Ron Milner and with J. E. Franklin, who wrote Black Girl. You’ve got to be able to adjust and modulate your voice. I had to do a lot of stuff to sit in a room with Ron Milner, to sit in a room with Samm-Art Williams, to sit in a room with these people and modulate. I think it’s for the good of the people walking in the door. When they have not spent time in the

community you are working in like you have, they don’t know those people. I know—I know those people. If you go back when Jimmy Baldwin was alive, you got to argue with Jimmy Baldwin to do it. “Man, come on,” you got to say. “No, no, no, this is the theatre, this is not the church you preached in as a boy and you’ve forgotten it. I know you’ve forgotten it.” Okay, so if you’ve been living in Paris, you’ve got to say it a certain way. I’ve read The Fire Next Time, I’ve read Go Tell It on the Mountain. So if he jumps to that, I’ll just jump to another paragraph in that same thing and say, “But you said in so and so, and so...Well, I’m not directing, Jimmy, Vinnette Carroll is directing it, and she was a girl preacher.”

Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, Denise Burse + Gilbert Glenn Brown in Dot at True Colors Theatre Company, directed by Kenny Leon PHOTO Greg Mooney



Okay, now. He’ll say, “Okay, you’ve got it.” So that way he can keep his dignity and still feel like he’s told me. Then, when the audience comes in and loves it, and there’s a standing ovation and all those things, he will tell the press and everybody, “Yes, I worked with Woodie, I told him what to do.” He won’t meet with Vinnette, the director, but the director made that happen. JAMIL | Woodie, I’m looking at the archives of New Federal Theatre, and I’m seeing that you did Suddenly, Last Summer in your first season. I’m imagining that you cast it fully with people of color? WOODIE | Yes. We did Suddenly, Last Summer in a carriage house in Detroit [before producing it in New York in St.

Augustine’s Episcopal Church, with the church transformed into a garden]. Tennessee Williams came down and saw that whole parish hall was flowers and foliage and growths and that garden. That’s what I think most impressed him, and the thrill of having done it in Detroit to success and then doing it in New York, and Tennessee Williams coming down to see it. I can’t tell you what it means when an author of that stature endorses something you’re doing. I’m not saying this because Kenny Leon is here. But if I could get Kenny Leon to direct Phylicia Rashad as Mrs. Venable, it would be one of the outstanding productions of the year, whether you do it with me or with True Colors or somebody else. KENNY | Sounds like a good idea! JAMIL | I haven’t read that play in a long time. Kenny, who are the artists that inspire you right now? KENNY | I like Donald Glover, I like Joaquina Kalukango, who was in Slave Play. I like Rob Demery, who plays MLK in the Mahalia Jackson film I just shot. And Danielle Brooks is a beast, man. She played Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing in Central Park, and she’s playing Mahalia Jackson, and she kills that. She was on Orange Is the New Black. So I like that whole generation of people. I like Denzel [Washington]. Denzel’s daughter actually is maturing into a very good actor. Denzel has his son, John David, but he also has a daughter, Olivia Washington, who was into theatre long before John David thought about theatre. I’m curious to see what she does next. The generation of people who are in that 27-40 range is a wonderful group of artists and they’re getting a lot of opportunities, like you saw John David and Zendaya do Malcolm & Marie. Now, people can have all kinds of opinions about that film, but they had an opportunity; two Black actors had the opportunity to do a film of that magnitude with Sam Levinson. It was just great. I want to see what they do five years from now, because in terms of actors who are working on craft and discipline—that’s why I love actors who’ve been trained on the stage. If you train for the stage—and I don’t mean you have to go to Juilliard; Sam Jackson didn’t go to Juilliard, but he came from that stage way of putting a story together and being somebody different every time out, and that’s why he loves to work all the time. His wife came from that tradition. I’m excited about those actors who want to learn how their bodies are different as they get older. Phylicia Rashad

still takes acting and singing lessons at 70 years old. I want to work with those artists.

worked with her on the The Underlying Chris at Second Stage.

So when I find young people like that, like Danielle Brooks and Joaquina Kalukango, they’re learning and training themselves to understand what they’re doing with their bodies and their voices so that Hollywood won’t just use them up. They’re also very particular about what they do, and they have the courage to say no. “No, I don’t want to do that, even though you’re paying me this kind of money. I don’t want to do that, I want to do this.” I understand there’s a need to make money, but you’ve got to balance that with your craft and serving your community with your art.

WOODIE | I just love her work. Kim Yancey.

Greatness can come at any age and any ZIP code. I look for great actors who are young, who are old, who are dark, who are light. I think we are best the more diverse we are, when we mix it up. I like actors who do a little bit of television, a little bit of film, and a little bit of stage. I like those multitalented actors.

“It took me probably about five, six, seven years as a professional theatremaker to learn that, okay, this is how you take what it is that you already know inside you, just being a Black person in America, and share it as an artist and director and leader of a room.” —JAMIL JUDE JAMIL | What about you, Woodie? Who has inspired you, who are the artists that are standing out to you right now? WOODIE | Well, DeWanda Wise, Orlando Miller, Michael Elsie. Those are young artists. The middle-range artists are Denise Burse Fernandez. You know her?

KENNY | Also, you look at the wonderful writers we have. Dominique Morriseau and Katori Hall, the mind of Jeremy O. Harris, the way he thinks and formulates things. There’s a whole generation of writers coming up that I’m excited about. I’m also excited about a lot of the older writers out there, Colman Domingo and people like that. JAMIL | Woodie, you spoke earlier about the play being the most important thing. And I know you’ve talked a lot about the importance of reading. WOODIE | Read, read, read. Read novels, short stories; it will tell you how to develop characters. I started reading everything, especially our major American writers— Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Jimmy Baldwin. You’ve got to read, read, read, read everything. I know people say, ”I don’t have time, I don’t have time.” You don’t have to read a book in one night. JAMIL | One of my inspirations is Jonathan McCrory, who runs the National Black Theatre. He was just saying, “Man, we spent so much time thinking about something that we want to do, as opposed to just doing the thing when we think about it.” I’ve been really thankful for Jonathan saying that. And, of course, Kenny has been in my ear; he said to me once, “You take you wherever you go,” and it makes more sense all the time. I have lost so much time in trying to be the leader other people want me to be or trying to show up in this room as a certain thing to try to sell something. KENNY | If you take yourself wherever you go, that’s the greatest gift to the world. You’ve got to be your authentic self. When I think about Woodie, I don’t know anybody like Woodie. When I say Jamil, I want to see something very specific. When I think of August Wilson, I see something very specific. You think of Aretha Franklin, Prince, all the great ones. They dug deep into being their true authentic selves. I think that as directors and as leaders in our artistic communities, we should keep striving to be our true, authentic selves because that would be a gift to the world.

JAMIL | Yeah, Denise, she’s going to be doing a virtual workshop with us on Tuesday. Kenny most recently directed her in a production we did here in Atlanta called Dot. Then he also






Recently, I sat in the gallery of an RTE (Ireland’s national broadcaster) sound studio as the sitzprobe for my production of Madama Butterfly was conducted by maestro Tim Robinson with our crack cast and the national symphony. This is always a joyful moment for the director. The timepressurized rigors of the “stage and piano” tech and the “stage and orchestras” lie imminently ahead, but in those moments, the responsibility lies completely with the conductor and the director can sit back, as if at a private concert, and let that gorgeous music, played and sung with consummate skill and feeling, thrill anew and come blazingly to life after the piano reduction of the rehearsal room. In a tea break between acts, I spoke to Tim about how uplifting I found it all, and he said, “Well, having such skilled players and singers makes my job easy.” This is how I feel about American actors, who consistently bear out for me the axiom that a director can only be as good as the actors they are working with. In recent years, I have been privileged to work with Sandy Robbins’ company, the REP (Resident Ensemble Players), which—like PlayMakers Rep at the University of North



Carolina or ART at Harvard—has a strong association with the University of Delaware. There, in recent seasons, I have directed productions of Juno and the Paycock, Waiting for Godot, The Seafarer, and The Crucible. The company comprises a permanent ensemble supplemented by freelance actors hired in from around the country, and a salient feature is that many of these actors were trained by Robbins in the well-loved PTTP training program at the University of Delaware, which was founded in Milwaukee in 1976 and moved east in 1988. Sandy Robbins is an inspiring Artistic Director and teacher/mentor (recently honored with the John Houseman Award for his services to the American theatre) and attracted back to his company highly regarded regional theatre actors who trained with him and made their names around the country. These include Steve Pelinski (Guthrie Theater), Elizabeth Heflin (Alley Theatre), Lee Ernst (Milwaukee Rep), and Kathleen Pirkl Tague. It has been my great pleasure to work with these and other highly skilled members of the Robbins company and associated artists who are engaged for individual shows and seasons. I can say, hand on heart, that as a director, having these acting forces combined with first-rate stage management, the very best

of technical resources, and unrivaled scenic, costume, and prop departments have allowed me to do, under the most supportive conditions, some of my best work in the theatre in recent years. From Sandy Robbins and his Associate Artistic Director, Sandy Ernst, down through the organization, “no” is not a word in the REP’s lexicon. The REP is not unique in the American theatre landscape. I know this not just from hearsay but also from direct personal experience. (I had, for instance, six great seasons at Milwaukee Rep under the inspired artistic direction of Joseph Hanreddy.) But it epitomizes all that is best in the American theatre and offers me, as a director, actors who prepare meticulously for every role, are fully focused and highly skilled, and, once they trust the director in question, are fully committed to delivering on their vision for the play in rehearsal. You might argue that all this is, or should be, axiomatic, but I have found in places like New York, Chicago, Toronto, London, and even Dublin that actors are pulled in many different directions—a filming day here, an audition there, a voice-over almost anywhere—so that the focus of those precious rehearsal hours (usually 120 in the

The Crucible at the REP, Delaware, directed by Ben Barnes PHOTO Evan Krape

room) can often be diluted to their detriment. There is something laboratory-like working in a great regional theatre with consummate professionals dedicated to a shared vision and a collegiate commitment to ensemble playing. In addition, like it or not, the fact that the viability of theatre production in larger cities like New York, London, and Chicago is dependent on “star names” that can go above the title results, more often than not, in outcomes that are artistically less coherent, satisfying, successful, and impactful. And, conversely, when productions from theatres like Steppenwolf or the British National Theatre or my own theatre, the Abbey Theatre (e.g., Dancing at Lughnasa) come to New York with intact ensembles, the results are often thrilling. In late fall 2019, I was in Delaware for casting and design meetings, and it coincided with the REP’s season opener, August: Osage County, directed by Jackson Gay. To come back to my opening simile, it was like watching a great orchestra at the height of its game. There wasn’t a note out of place. Decrying, as I do, recent trends in the Irish theatre away from text-based drama, this production simply renewed my faith in theatre and its power to move. For a foreign, English-speaking director, the American regional theatre offers the following to me: artistic freedom; support for, and fidelity to, the vision I bring, from everyone associated with the theatre I am working in (all hands, sometimes 100-plus people, show up on the first day of rehearsal for the director and design presentations); acting talent to die for; and the unwavering support from above and below. Therefore, it is not fanciful to say, from my experience at

least, that the American theatre, in its regional manifestations, is a true director’s theatre. I am, of course, grateful for all this and, curiously, humbled by it. Too often when you combine the role of artistic director and director, as I have done throughout my career, you easily lose sight of the joy of the rehearsal room, of the totally absorbing pursuit of the devil in the detail, or, to appropriate Wilde, the unrelenting in full pursuit of the unattainable. The politics and the personalities, the deadlines and the budgets, the public-facing encounters, the media scrutiny all serve to distract from, to even dilute, that energizing, kinetic transaction in “the room” that is at the heart of the best theatremaking. A former artistic director of the British National Theatre once told me that he forewent breaks from the rehearsal room to avoid being hijacked if he stepped outside—after I’d told him that I was once so assaulted by urgent matters requiring my attention on a tea break in the Abbey corridor that I literally forgot which play we were rehearsing for the first five minutes back in the room. But when, in my American rehearsal room, I am quietly reminded by my stage manager to pay attention to an overlooked sightline, or asked by a carpenter to adjudicate on the precise tilt of an anti-raked bed in the opening scene of The Crucible, or watch an actor in his sixties try to scale a high wall to escape the increasingly vociferous lunacies of Lucky in Waiting for Godot; or when an incomparable props master like Jim Guy lines a drawer with just the right personal period bric-a-brac even though only the actor playing Arkady in A Month in the Country will see it, or the father of American sound

designers, Michael Bodeen, finesses a sound cue, caresses it even; or when Matt Richards, already knowing where the light will fall when we move to the theatre, asks that an actor come two steps downstage in order to be in it—to experience all this is to be reminded of the joy of what we do, the collective care and expertise that goes into it, the building of detail upon detail to achieve something that is at once architectural and evanescent. It is to be brought back again by my American colleagues to the joy of theatre and to experience afresh something that for the quiet creators is a credo and for the audience of lovingly created theatre is a feeling that, in spite of all, art matters. If there is a caveat, a postscript, a quibble, it is this: why, beyond the few celebrated exceptions, is the regional theatre so invisible to the national media and the producing elites in the larger cities? The theatre I have been writing about here at the neck of the Delaware isthmus is 40 minutes from Philadelphia, an hour from Washington, DC, and less than two hours by Amtrak from New York. But for all the attention it receives from these places, it might as well be on Mars. The loss, I would argue, is theirs. Ben Barnes is an Irish theatre and opera director, and former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre.

Michael Gotch, Steve Pelinski + David Anthony Smith in The Seafarer at The REP, Delaware, directed by Ben Barnes PHOTO Evan Krape



Little Resources, Lots of Heart



Probably the greatest shaping influence upon me as a director was my time spent in the Chicago theatre scene, over a period of nearly 20 years. When I first moved to the city in 1986, theatre in Chicago was still on the rise nationally. Steppenwolf was performing in a 200-seat theatre on Halsted Street at that time, and everyone in Chicago’s theatre community drank at a bar across the street called the Gaslight. It was this sense of community, of people making work for local audiences with local talent, that heavily inflected my growth as a director. I was also able to see work of every genre and aesthetic flavor, since the financial barriers to entry were very low at the time. My own aesthetic (which has never been naturalistic) was allowed to flourish in the many storefront theatres where risks were taken constantly, with very little resources but lots of heart. People discussed and debated work, and there was a constant conversation about What Made Great Theatre. I was fortunate enough to work at many different theatres, and in many different styles, from new plays to classics, with an incredibly diverse and talented range of collaborators. I learned something from every room and every experience in those formative years, even from the failures and the flops. This is why I recommend to young artists that they find a rich, theatrical community to grow their artistry. There really was no better way for me to uncover who I am as a director than in the kind of environment that Chicago provided in my early career. Curt Columbus is Artistic Director of Trinity Repertory Company and Artistic Director of the Brown/Trinity MFA programs in Acting and Directing.



The Steppenwolf ensemble on the Chicago El platform, 1980s PHOTO Lisa Howe-Ebright

Peggy Roeder, John Mahoney, Tracy Letts + Mary Beth Fisher in The Dresser at Steppenwolf, directed by Amy Morton PHOTO Michael Brosilow

BREAKING BARRIERS to Family-Friendly Theatre BY ADDIE


My artistic trajectory coming out of graduate school was inspired by the words of one of my professor’s kids. As this child left my thesis production, The Good Person of Szechwan, he looked up at his mother and innocently asked, “What is capitalism?” I heard my professor chuckle and, after hugging the members of our cast goodbye, she and her kid began to discuss how the mismatched Mr. Potato Head symbolized the inequalities of our world. That’s when I decided to dedicate my career toward creating all-ages theatre. What was Mr. Potato Head doing in a production of Good Person, and why were young children attending a Bertolt Brecht play? Let me rewind. If you’re a person who’s met me, you’ll know that Jack Reuler has had a tremendous impact on my life. I spent two incredible years as a director and National New Play Network (NNPN) Producer-in-Residence at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. There, I apprenticed with Jack (Founder and Artistic Director) to learn his thinking and practices in and around community-engaged theatre. He taught me to analyze productions with a specific lens—to approach every project with the questions, “Who’s here?” “Who isn’t?” and “What might be the barrier(s) to access?”

The Good Person of Szechwan at Brown/Trinity Rep, directed by Addie Gorlin-Han PHOTO Mark Turek

At one point in my Mixed Blood tenure, I was tasked with inviting neighbors to a particular series we were producing with them in mind. I was set up for success thanks to Mixed Blood’s Radical Hospitality model—Jack’s revolutionary approach to providing no-cost tickets to half the audience every night. You’d think knocking on the door and inviting people to a play for free would have some allure. It did. However, as I went door-to-door inviting folks, I remember struggling to field the question, “Can I bring my kids?” “Oh man, probably not to this one,” I’d honestly reply. This has since stuck with me as a barrier to access I had not foreseen, another reason why people can’t afford to attend the theatre. I later noted my professors in graduate school at Brown/Trinity often toggling between which parent could attend a rehearsal and, at times, our final productions. In response, I curated my thesis show to serve as a family-friendly play. The production featured six women who utilized costume and object work to represent each of the 26 characters. They split roles among themselves through swapping costume pieces and, when necessary, grabbed basement props that became the characters themselves: for example, a “moppet” (moppuppet) became The Foreman; a vacuum with scuba goggles became Grandpa; and the immortal Mr. Potato Head became Child in this retelling of Brecht’s tale.

I was delighted my professors had brought their kids. I considered this a success in terms of accessibility, but I had forgotten how smart kids actually are. I’m now over drawing a hard line between children’s and adult theatre. We talk down to children and expect too much from adults. Children are brilliant and curious beings, and if we expect them to rise to the occasion and topic at hand, they will. Meanwhile, adults could use some growing down. We go to the theatre to re-access our inner child, to re-encounter a time of imaginative world-building, and to allow ourselves to—once again—emote and feel. I used to distance myself from anything that could be perceived as children’s theatre or playing pretend for a living in order to be taken seriously as a theatremaker...yet...isn’t imaginative play at the heart of what we do? And isn’t that a big part of why we do it? It certainly is for me, and it’s all thanks to that incredible kid for reminding me why. Addie Gorlin-Han is a director, producer, and educator whose work blurs the boundary between children’s and adult theatre.






As a bilingual theatremaker from Miami, my heart beats in service to the community that shaped me. Some of my most lasting artistic and cultural influences come from the people around me and those I’ve worked with. Growing up in Miami, I was surrounded by an environment that relished life and celebrated who I was, making me feel I could live without compromising my cultural identity. This freedom and assurance of self was further encouraged by my grandmother, who was a major influence in my upbringing. Orphaned at age five, she was a strong, playfully serious woman who always emphasized the importance of family, education, and how we should each work to improve “our little slice of the world.” Her perseverance, hope, and indomitable spirit gave me life, and her tenacity was something I sought to emulate in my work. Initially, my journey into theatre began as a joyful escape and a way to connect with others, an avenue for making my own “little slice of the world” a better place, and a space to celebrate what, and who, I loved. My grandmother made sure to never miss one of my plays, no matter the distance. Although my work was primarily in English—and she spoke very little of it—she always made an effort to congratulate me, commenting on the costumes or how handsome an actor was.

Tatyana-Marie Carlo + her grandmother



I sadly knew, though, that however much she wanted to support me, she wasn’t able to fully participate in the theatrical event or engage with the thematic material itself. It was my desire to bridge this linguistic gap with my grandmother, and connect with her through an art form that I felt was so powerful, that was the primary catalyst for my interest in bilingual theatre. That catalyst eventually sparked an opportunity to join the creative team at MicroTheater Miami, a primarily Spanishlanguage theatre housed in El Centro Cultural Español (CCE Miami), a cultural center that serves the surrounding Hispanic community. There, in collaboration with Executive Director Jorge Monje, I not only developed the theatre’s first English-language season but also uncovered and expanded my own understanding of Spanish-language theatre. In the process of developing work in both Spanish and English, MicroTheater Miami showed me bilingual theatre’s wider outreach. By adding an English season, our audience grew, with more multigenerational families coming together to watch plays and connecting afterward because of it. I saw the potential bilingual work has for both increasing theatre’s cultural impact and facilitating human connections within my own community. As a director and theatremaker, I felt this was a true lightbulb moment and an affirmation for me on my artistic journey to

keep moving forward in a way that served my people. In addition to witnessing the reach and impact of bilingual theatre firsthand, I found that working in MicroTheater Miami came with unexpected serendipity. The open floor plan and open work culture of CCE led to opportunities to work with the glorious women who ran that organization: Mayte de la Torre, Mildred Cabezas, Veronica C. Alvarez, and Ena Columbie. In a predominantly female space, I saw empowered women leading compassionately and effectively, and excelling in their fields, all while making space for others. These brilliant, powerful women worked with one another seamlessly, considering every idea in a room, including my own, and I didn’t even work for them! They had a way of making everyone feel heard and valued, and I was inspired after seeing the benefits of this trust in their nonjudgmental collaborative process. I sought to emulate the way they ran their organization in my own artistic process by guiding creative spaces as a director with an openness, vulnerability, and safety that allowed ideas to thrive. With respect to my own theatremaking, I believe that every voice matters. Trust matters. By trusting every idea, impulse, or glimmer of a suggestion from my community of collaborators, I seek to embrace a process

Vanessa Elise, Amber-Lynn Benson, Rei Capote, Marcela Paguaga + Icela Marliese in Real Women Have Curves at Main Street Players, directed by Tatyana-Marie Carlo PHOTO Ashton Rey

Tanta Bulla...¿Y Pa’ Qué?, a co-production of Rhode Island Latino Arts and Trinity Rep, directed by Tatyana-Marie Carlo PHOTO Genoa Films

that allows every artist the space and time to exist in the rehearsal space, creating a nuanced perspective about the work. As a director, my role is to filter these ideas in a coherent and meaningful way. This approach is particularly effective when producing bilingual theatre, where it is imperative to create a space where each person has a personal stake in the production, particularly if we’re doing work that will reflect a greater community. The creative process is just as important as the end product and is inextricable from the experience of theatre as a whole, especially in light of how a particular community receives the work. If we take care of the culture we are inhabiting and sharing with our audience, respect its customs and traditions, the art we create resonates more deeply than something with no flexibility for inside perspectives. Work that is more in tune with a community’s pulse allows for deeper and more relevant discussions to be had, especially about particularly difficult issues. By creating work that is intimately of the people, you allow for a vulnerability that breaks down walls, helps us explore taboo cultural subjects, encourages personal investigation, and challenges our assumptions in the context of our community. On a larger scale, I also see bilingualism as a rebuttal to the dominant cultural hegemony that has historically policed people like me. Though the United States doesn’t have an official language, speaking a foreign language in public was once considered dangerous and even illegal. Growing up, my own mother would receive letters from her school expressing the harm that speaking Spanish in the home could cause. And while we’ve

begun moving forward, vestiges of a system imbued with censorship and discrimination still manifest to this day. Policing language, whether it’s intentionally systemic or through unexamined assumptions, is a form of erasure that denies people their culture and heritage, and, sadly, is usually a symptom of a more deep-seated prejudice. However, I saw how I could challenge this prejudice through supporting and creating work that uplifts my community, and with the foundations I built at MicroTheater and CCE, I was determined to pursue a career that centered Latinx bilingual artists.

“It was my desire to bridge this linguistic gap with my grandmother, and connect with her through an art form that I felt was so powerful, that was the primary catalyst for my interest in bilingual theatre.” During my graduate school journey at Brown/ Trinity, I was vocal about my artistic intentions and eventually found myself in contact with Marta Martinez, the Executive Director of Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA), and the former Associate Artistic Director of Trinity Rep, Tyler Dobrowsky. Together, both RILA and Trinity Rep were reenvisioning their Teatro en El Verano partnership program, a

touring, bilingual summer production that I ended up directing. Here, I applied the ethos I cultivated in Miami and found once again that each collaborator’s unique expertise, sense of self, cultural understanding, and artistic contributions allowed for more robust and nuanced theatre. I was particularly inspired to see how cultural expertise in Marta’s oral historianship enabled community-specific bilingual theatre to thrive. As someone deeply tapped into Providence, she resonated with the soul of that community and facilitated the creation of truly transformational art. This furthered my belief in how bilingual theatre must be approached collaboratively by its very nature. Oftentimes, relying on an institutional auteur’s limited or biased understanding to guide a show comes off as a shallow or self-aggrandizing display of diversity to an audience who transparently sees a veneer of culture without a true commitment to that community. It is difficult to put on a Latinx bilingual play authentically without involving Latinx people. Rather, by employing a democratic forum of ideas, guided and led by a cultured, patient, and intentional director, a safe space is created for intimate work to be done. I believe this type of work is not only an artistic endeavor but also essential for our survival. Though I was essentially an outsider, the Latinx Providence community took me in as one of their own, and that solidarity is the reason I stayed in Rhode Island after graduate school. It made me reflect on how we survive as a community. There is something to be said about having a safe space in a world SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


where you are constantly “othered.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the communal experience of “othering” is also part of the reason for solidarity. I know my grandmother must have felt that, and perhaps this is why she kept an open home to all in her community, despite struggling herself. Her compassion was informed by a world with much suffering, and by caring for her own “little slice of the world,” she sought to heal her community. I guess this is also what I am trying to do in a way, with my own art. My theatremaking is both an expression of hope and an extension of my grandmother’s sacrificial love for her community. In the same way she sought to bring people into her home and create a family, I seek to bring people into the artistic process and create something that contributes to communal healing. More satisfying than the work itself, the friendships and relationships I built at RILA made Rhode Island feel like home for me. That is how being with my grandmother felt. We could be anywhere in the world, and she always felt like home to me. Sadly, on November 16, 2020, we lost our family’s matriarch. While having only completed second grade herself, she gave us the greatest education we could’ve received. She taught us that community is a collective striving, a fight to make our little slice of the world a better place. It’s listening to all the voices, not just the loudest ones in the room or those with the largest seat at the table. Community is knowing that you aren’t alone, and it’s more than engagement: it’s about commitment. Commitment to change, commitment to growth, and commitment to uniting our individual paths toward a common goal. Theatre can be a celebration of life and joy. I’ve made it my goal to uplift, uncover, and challenge cultural conventions; to awaken change, to yell out loud, and to make noise in spaces where people who have never crossed paths before begin to brush shoulders and engage in deep dialogue around their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. And by carrying on my work and bettering my “little slice of the world,” I know my grandma is still home with me. ¡Sí Se Puede! Tatyana-Marie Carlo is a proud Puerto Rican stage director from Miami, breaking boundaries and redefining the standards of the American theatre.



EL PODER DEL TEATRO BILINGÜE Como una teatrera bilingüe de Miami, mi corazón late al servicio de la comunidad que me formó. Algunas de mis influencias artísticas y culturales más duraderas provienen de personas que me rodean y con quienes he trabajado. En Miami, donde me crié, estuve rodeada de un ambiente que disfruta la vida y celebra quién soy, permitiéndome vivir sin sacrificar mi identidad cultural. Esta libertad y sentido de confianza en mí fue inculcado y animado por mi abuela, quien fue gran influencia en mi crianza. Huérfana a los cinco años de edad, era una mujer fuerte, con un humor juguetón pero serio, y que siempre enfatizó la importancia de la familia, la educación, y cómo deberíamos trabajar para mejorar nuestro “pedacito del mundo”. Su perseverancia, esperanza y espíritu indomable me dieron vida, y su tenacidad es algo que intento emular en mi trabajo. Mi trayectoria en el teatro comenzó como un escape lleno de alegría, y una forma de conectar con otros, una ruta para hacer de mi “pedacito de mundo” un mejor lugar y un espacio que celebra qué, y a quién, amo. Mi abuela se aseguró de nunca faltar a una de mis obras, sin importar la distancia. Aunque mi trabajo era primordialmente en inglés—y ella lo hablaba muy poco—siempre hacía el esfuerzo de felicitarme, comentando sobre los vestuarios o cuán guapo era un actor. Tristemente, siempre supe que por más apoyo que me quería dar, ella no era capaz de participar por completo del evento teatral, o de entrar de lleno en la temática del material. Era mi deseo cerrar la brecha lingüística con mi abuela y conectar con ella a través de la forma artística que consideraba tan poderosa. Este fue el primer catalizador de mi interés por el teatro bilingüe. Este catalizador eventualmente me brindó la oportunidad de ser parte del equipo creativo de MicroTheater Miami, un teatro primordialmente en español, albergado por el Centro Cultural Español (CCE Miami), un centro cultural que está al servicio de la comunidad hispana circundante. Allí, en colaboración con el director ejecutivo Jorge Monje, no sólo desarrollé su primera temporada en inglés, sino que también descubrí y amplié mi propio entendimiento del teatro en español. En el proceso de crear trabajos tanto en inglés como en español, MicroTheater Miami me enseñó el amplio alcance que ofrece el teatro bilingüe. Añadir una temporada en inglés, hizo crecer nuestra audiencia, y más familias multigeneracionales comenzaron a ver nuestras obras juntas y a conectar al salir. Vi el potencial que tiene el trabajo bilingüe para aumentar el impacto

cultural de un teatro, y facilitar conexiones humanas con mi propia comunidad. Como directora y teatrera, siento que esto fue un momento de esclarecimiento y afirmación en mi travesía artística para continuar en ella al servicio de mi gente. Además de presenciar de primera mano el alcance e impacto del teatro bilingüe, encontré que trabajar con MicroTheater Miami me ofreció momentos de serendipia. La apertura de los espacios y la cultura de trabajo en el CCE, condujo a oportunidades de trabajo con las mujeres magníficas que operan la organización: Mayte de la Torre, Mildred Cabezas, Verónica C. Álvarez y Ena Columbine. En un espacio predominantemente femenino, vi a mujeres empoderadas liderar con compasión, eficacia, y triunfando en sus respectivas áreas, mientras abrían camino para otros. Estas mujeres brillantes y poderosas, trabajaban unas con otras de forma impecable, tomando en consideración cada idea ofrecida, incluyendo las mías cuando ni siquiera trabajaba para ellas. Tenían la habilidad de hacer sentir a todos escuchados y valorados, y me sentí inspirada al presenciar los beneficios de esta confianza en su proceso colaborativo, sin juicios. Busco emular la forma en que manejaban la organización en mi propio proceso creativo al guiar, como directora, espacios creativos con la receptividad, vulnerabilidad y seguridad que permiten que las ideas florezcan. En cuanto a mi propio quehacer teatral, creo que cada voz importa. La confianza importa. Confiar en cada idea, cada impulso, o hasta el destello de una sugerencia de mis colaboradores, busco acoger un proceso que ofrezca a cada artista el espacio y el tiempo de existir en un lugar de ensayo para crear una perspectiva de trabajo matizada. Como directora, mi rol es eventualmente filtrar estas ideas de forma eficaz y coherente. Este acercamiento es especialmente eficaz al producir teatro bilingüe donde es imperativo crear un espacio donde cada persona tiene un interés personal en la producción, particularmente si hacemos trabajo que refleja a una comunidad mayor. El proceso creativo es tan importante como el producto final, y es inextricable de la experiencia teatral completa, especialmente al tomar en cuenta cómo una comunidad particular recibe y responde al trabajo. Si cuidamos la cultura que habitamos y presentamos a nuestra audiencia, con respeto a sus costumbres y tradiciones, creamos arte que resuena con mayor profundidad que algo sin flexibilidad para perspectivas internas. Un trabajo que está en armonía con el pulso de una comunidad, da paso a discusiones más profundas y relevantes, en especial sobre asuntos difíciles. Al crear trabajo que es de

la gente, damos paso a una vulnerabilidad que derriba muros, a explorar temas culturalmente tabús, incentiva la investigación personal, y reta suposiciones en el contexto de nuestra comunidad. A gran escala, también veo el bilingüismo como una refutación a la hegemonía de la cultura dominante que, históricamente, ha controlado personas como yo. Aunque Estados Unidos no tiene un idioma oficial, hablar un idioma extranjero en público, en algún momento, se consideró peligroso y hasta ilegal. Mi propia madre recibía cartas de la escuela hablando del daño que puede causar hablar español en el hogar. Aunque hemos comenzado a avanzar, los vestigios de un sistema empapado de censura y discriminación aún se manifiestan al día de hoy. Monitorear el lenguaje, sea intencionalmente sistémico o a través de suposiciones examinadas es una forma de borradura que niega a la gente su cultura y herencia y es, tristemente, síntoma de un prejuicio mucho más arraigado. Sin embargo, puedo retar este prejuicio al apoyar y crear trabajo que eleva a mi comunidad. Con los cimientos que construí en MicroTheater y CCE, estaba determinada a perseguir una carrera que ponga enfoque a artistas Latinx bilingües. Durante mis estudios de maestría en Brown/ Trinity, expresé mis intenciones artísticas y finalmente me encontré en contacto con Marta Martínez, la Directora Ejecutiva de Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA) y el, entonces, Director Artístico Asociado de Trinity Rep, Tyler Dobrowsky. Juntos, tanto RILA como Trinity Rep estaban rediseñando su programa de colaboración, Teatro en El Verano, una producción rodante de verano bilingüe para la que terminé dirigiendo. Aquí, practique el espíritu que cultivé en Miami y descubrí una vez más que la experiencia única, el sentido de sí mismo, la comprensión cultural y las contribuciones artísticas de cada colaborador dan paso a un teatro más sólido y matizado. Fui particularmente inspirada al ver cómo el dominio cultural en el trabajo de Marta como historiadora oral abrió paso a que un teatro bilingüe de comunidad fuera próspero. Como alguien profundamente conectada a la ciudad de Providence, ella fue alguien que resonó con el alma de la comunidad y facilitó la creación de arte realmente transformador. Esto impulsó aún más mi creencia en que, por naturaleza, el teatro bilingüe debe trabajarse en colaboración. A menudo, confiar en la comprensión limitada o parcial de un autor institucional para guiar un espectáculo resulta como una muestra superficial o auto engrandecedora de diversidad para una audiencia que ve de manera transparente un barniz de cultura sin un verdadero

compromiso con esa comunidad. Es difícil presentar una obra de teatro bilingüe Latinx de manera auténtica sin involucrar a personas Latinx. Más bien, al emplear un foro democrático de ideas, guiado y dirigido por un director culto, paciente e intencional, se crea un espacio seguro para realizar un trabajo íntimo. Creo que este tipo de trabajo no es solo un esfuerzo artístico, sino también esencial para nuestra supervivencia. Aunque era esencialmente una forastera, la comunidad Latinx de Providence me acogió como a uno de los suyos, y esa solidaridad es la razón por la que me quedé en Rhode Island después de mi maestría. Me hizo reflexionar sobre cómo sobrevivimos como comunidad. Hay algo que decir acerca de tener un espacio seguro en un mundo en el que constantemente estás “ajeno”. No tengo ninguna duda de que la experiencia comunitaria de la “otredad” es también parte del motivo de la solidaridad. Sé que mi abuela debe haber sentido eso, y tal vez por eso mantuvo un hogar abierto para todos en su comunidad, a pesar de su propia lucha. Su compasión fue informada por un mundo con mucho sufrimiento, y al cuidar su propio “pedacito del mundo”, buscó sanar a su comunidad. Supongo que esto es también lo que estoy tratando, de hacer de alguna manera, con mi propio arte. Mi teatro es tanto una expresión de esperanza como una extensión del amor sacrificado de mi abuela por su comunidad. De la misma manera que ella buscó traer gente a su hogar y crear una familia, yo busco traer gente al proceso artístico y crear algo que contribuya a la sanación comunitaria. Más satisfactorio que el trabajo en sí, las amistades y las relaciones

que construí en RILA hicieron que Rhode Island se sintiera como estar en casa para mí. Así se sentía estar con mi abuela. Podríamos estar en cualquier parte del mundo y ella siempre me hacía sentir como en casa. Lamentablemente, el 16 de noviembre de 2020, perdimos a la matriarca de nuestra familia. Aunque solo había completado el segundo grado, ella nos brindó la mejor educación que pudimos haber recibido. Nos enseñó que la comunidad es un esfuerzo colectivo, una lucha para hacer de nuestro “pedacito del mundo” un lugar mejor. Se trata de escuchar todas las voces, no solo las más fuertes, o las que tienen el asiento más grande en la mesa. La comunidad es saber que no estás solo, y es más que participación: se trata de compromiso. Compromiso con el cambio, compromiso con el crecimiento y compromiso de unir nuestros caminos individuales hacia un objetivo común. El teatro puede ser una celebración de la vida y la alegría. Mi objetivo es mejorar, descubrir y desafiar las convenciones culturales; despertar el cambio, gritar y hacer ruido en espacios donde personas que nunca se han cruzado antes comiencen a rozar los hombros y entablar un diálogo profundo en torno a sus esperanzas, sueños y aspiraciones. Y al continuar con mi trabajo y mejorar mi “pedacito del mundo”, sé que mi abuela todavía está en casa conmigo. ¡Sí Se Puede! Tatyana-Marie Carlo, orgullosa boricua y directora escénica de Miami, rompe barreras y redefine normas del teatro estadounidense.

Tatyana-Marie Carlo ensayando Los últimos días de Judas Iscariote (The Last Days of Judas Iscariot) en Brown/Trinity Rep





When looking at my career, without a doubt the person who had the biggest impact on me was Kent Gash. I have had the great privilege to work with Kent, both as an actor and as a director. When I first auditioned for Kent, I was immediately taken with how he spoke to me. He gave very specific notes, but with a care and respect that I wasn’t used to. After getting the gig and beginning to collaborate, it was abundantly clear that Kent’s rigor, curiosity, and depth of understanding of the text would make working with him a joy. As an actor, I felt taken care of and free to explore character choices. Some were successful, and others were not as successful, but Kent provided laser-sharp focus and asked the questions that allowed me to go deeper into the world.


Another facet of Kent’s work that I admire is his ability to fluidly move from one genre to the next. His artistic voice is felt in the classics, musicals, and new works. To see a Black man lead a team of creatives through beautiful, complex, and stunning works with grace and clarity was something that had a profound impact on me. Lastly, watching the influence Kent has had on the future theatremakers/performers as the Founding Director of NYU’s New Studio on Broadway is something that also resonates deeply for me. Kent is giving back and changing lives through art. Theatre changed my life and has given me more than I will ever give it. To be able to aid young artists on their journeys and continue to make theatre at the highest levels makes Kent Gash someone whom I and many others owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Kent Gash directing Judith Roberts in Coriolanus at Shakespeare Santa Cruz PHOTO Steve DiBartolomeo

Carl Cofield, a New York-based director and actor, is the Associate Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem and Chair of the Graduate Acting Program at NYU.

Alexandria King + Ava McCoy in Antigone at Classical Theatre of Harlem, directed by Carl Cofield PHOTO Richard Termine





The loss of Ann Reinking hurts quietly in my heart today. Until her loss, I didn’t realize how much she is in my brain, in my soul, my spirit, and my work, and I am so lucky to have known her briefly. Before it becomes a reality that she is gone, I want to get this all down so I remember, and so everyone knows. While she is being remembered for the exquisite dancer she was and the choreographer she became, I thought it was important to put down in writing the impact she had on so many members of the theatre community through her apprentice program for high school and college students, the Broadway Theatre Project in Florida. This program shows so much about her character and her lasting impact. I now work as a director and choreographer in theatre and film, and I am currently focused on creating works of comedy. The night before Ann passed, I had the impulse to write her and thank her for pointing me in this direction, as I was beginning to have some distinct success. Working with her showed me where I should go at the impressionable ages of 18 and 19—at the apprenticeship’s final performance, I performed a big comedy scene and I realized her guidance made that possible. Her values and teachings are fully a part of me, and she taught me lessons I hope to carry on in my work, leading by example on set or in a rehearsal room. These include a commitment to excellence, demanding this of oneself and others; backing away when necessary to let an actor shine; and creating damn fine transitions.

“She was one of us, experiencing what we were experiencing emotionally; though she was a director, she was always somewhat of an ensemble member—always a dancer.” When I went to the Broadway Theatre Project, I was challenged, humbled, pushed to my limit. I hadn’t been around that level of dance excellence before, and I met people from


all over. I would say, “I’m from Chicago— the city!” in a never-ending and fruitless competition with the daring musical—the reason why, of course, we were all there. For our culminating performance at the cavernous and gargantuan hall that was the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, I got the opportunity to act in Charles Ludlam’s humorous riff on Medea and play the titular role. I remember cracking up a room of people during rehearsal and especially Ann, who was hilarious herself, and this was great encouragement. Annie—as she was known to those who worked with her—knew quality when she saw it. She was a regimented artist in that—well, technique is freedom, and Annie brought this poise and confidence with her wherever

Ann Reinking Rose Eichenbaum

she went. The demands of training in ballet offered her a perspective and clear lens of what was hard work and what wasn’t. This, combined with an unadulterated sense of class and kindness, was how Annie made her impact on so many of us. Annie called upon her colleagues to come to Florida and work with us or for a Q&A. In the period I attended, I took dance classes with Gwen Verdon and heard Stanley Donen speak about filming Singin’ in the Rain, a conversation that has stuck with me to this day as a filmmaker. We heard from Marilu Henner, James Naughton, and Jeff Calhoun—and I remember feeling the vibrations of Gregory Hines’ footfalls at his master class. It was one of those hypersurreal out-of-body experiences, and I told SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL


myself, “Don’t ever forget this.” It’s incredible that Ann not only influenced us but also brought her community of artists to teach us in aspects and ways different from her own: this was a lifelong gift and speaks to her generosity of spirit. I hadn’t talked to Annie in some time, but I have worked with so many members of the faculty and apprentices that, in truth, I felt like I had. The last time I saw her was when I had the honor of assisting her at Broadway Under the Stars in Bryant Park. It was a truly magical experience. I watched as Annie led the room with grace and danced fluidly with Bebe Neuwirth. She communicated with dancers best, because this is what she was, but she was also a tremendous actress and knew how to let a performer do their best work. When Ann Reinking singled me out at the audition for the Broadway Theatre Project, her blue eyes piercing me with their very being, and told me I had “a beautiful body roll,” I thought, here is the keeper of the legacy telling me my improv body rolls are flawless and I can do this, in the storied 890 Broadway studios, no less. As an 18-year-old, this was everything. That’s the power she had: she was a massive pro with a legendary history who was committed to helping young people. She could see you, and you knew you had something to offer. She gave me confidence in myself, and I saw her do that for so many other young artists as well. She also taught me how to lead a room. She would be firm and gently demand we show up, fully; every time we walked on stage was an opportunity to tell a story and use our technique to uplift or change an audience.

She did not take it for granted and instructed us very clearly not to as well. Sometimes, she would be very definitive about this. If she felt we weren’t delivering on a song or performance, she would come to a rehearsal and look at us with her blue eyes and remind us this material has already done its work; it had already “won its Tonys,” it had already been celebrated, and we needed to step up in order to meet the material—that it wasn’t the material’s problem, it was us. And she was right. When I meet a piece of text now, I treat it with the respect it deserves. Ann was also very maternal—she would cry while we sang an emotional ballad, take a tissue out from her purse, and dab her eyes with it. I appreciated that she was so unabashedly emotion-forward in this way. She was one of us, experiencing what we were experiencing emotionally; though she was a director, she was always somewhat of an ensemble member—always a dancer. She made it clear that dance was not a selfish endeavor. It’s not about you; it’s about the beauty you can bring to the story already being told, and the way in which you fit into it. I mourn not only for Annie but for the values she instilled in all of us, because I think, in the moment of selfies and 60-second flashiness on social media, the opportunity to be selfless might be, to paraphrase the Roxie monologue, “passing us by.” Ann had high standards and if she thought you had it, she brought you in the room with her; if you didn’t, she didn’t, because it wouldn’t be fair to anyone. She taught me to be equally demanding of my peers, maybe sometimes too demanding (but really, what else are we doing here?). She did not play

Jessica Redish + Ann Reinking

around. She only seemed to be rattled when she felt like people would mess up—not just that they made an error but that she thought they weren’t trying or, more so, that they had more to give. So we would give. Otherwise, her graceful demeanor would ingratiate herself to those who knew her. I now try to merge her standards with her kindness and communicate my demands through humor. I learned that from her too. The last time I saw Annie was after the Broadway in Bryant Park experience, at a restaurant across from the park. All I remember is eating cheese, drinking wine, sitting with Ann and the artistic team, and watching her heartily laugh and crack herself up over what, I don’t remember, as cast members shuffled in and out. She would gently take their hand and thank them, and go back to enjoying herself with the behind-the-table personnel who sat in plush chairs over dim candlelight in this night of post-theatre, low-key intellectual, and craftinspired reverie that only can happen in New York. May we all be remembered for such a beautiful legacy. I know her physical being is gone, but her spirit lives on in so many of us and the dancers she touched. Thank you, Annie, for all of it. Jessica Redish is a director, writer, and choreographer.

Jessica Redish + Ann Reinking at Broadway Theatre Project




Jeff Vespa



A fragrant, warm summer’s eve in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Wild boars grunt in nearby foliage. A relaxing Italian dinner with artists. As Dan says in Patrick Marber’s play Closer, “It was the moment of my life.” In art, we live for these moments. Connected. Aware. Fully vested with performers moment to moment. These choreographers and experiences indelibly etched moments on my body art:

FRIDAY NIGHT, MAY 1, 1992 “Pooh! Poooooh! POOH! Throw down the sock!” (She kept a key to the building without a doorman in a balled-up sock.) I’m going to a rehearsal in Pooh Kaye’s Soho loft. New York City is on edge in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. My day job had released us early in anticipation of protests against police violence against an African American man without holding those accountable responsible. I feel lucky to be going to rehearsal instead of going out on the town. We prepare for Pooh Kaye’s The Illusion of Wholeness, “a melee of racings-

around, handstands, dive-overs, crawl-unders, high hoists of a leg, straddle-legged jumps… performed with fiendish glee,” at P.S. 122 (as critic Deborah Jowitt wrote in a piece titled “Serious Evils” for The Village Voice in 1992). Kaye’s engaging choreography ferociously raced through my brain and body. Safely ensconced in a dance rehearsal, I received little pay, but I was spared a world of violence. Tired and exhilarated, I cautiously walked toward home amid shattered glass from broken windows on Sixth Avenue in the West Village. Even then, nearly 30 years ago, I realized my vulnerability as a woman and my privilege as a white person. This is a moment of my life.

1993–1994 Elizabeth Streb. Need I say more? No, but I will. I love to fly. I love heights. What a joy! In Free Flight at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage and the Joyce, I hurled myself in a swan dive repeatedly off a scaffolding to fall onto a crash pad without hitting my shaved head on the front-row seat and rolling fast enough so the 200-pound man

behind me wouldn’t land on me two seconds later. As an apprentice of Elizabeth Streb/ Ringside, I had no health insurance. But no matter. I could do 70 push-ups a day and run the rack—that is, lift all of the free weights up and down in a gym. Decisively badass. I could even walk Avenue D in the East Village, before gentrification. In a concert preview on The Today Show, I flipped backwards nohanded to land on my taut stomach. After the opening at the Joyce, I read our review in the day traders’ room at the brokerage on Exchange Place where I worked during the day. This double life was worth every moment. Working for Elizabeth made me feel energized and present, with enlivened molecules coursing through my veins in vivid color. This is a moment of my life.

1992–1993 Bertram Ross taught me to send a serpentine ripple up my spine at the Mary Anthony Studio. This training in Graham technique was applied to good effect in JoAnne Tucker’s choreography with the Avodah Dance Ensemble on and around bimahs (altars) in

Artemis Preeshl in New York in 1994, with her head shaved to perform with STREB in Free Flight at the Joyce Theater PHOTO Kymm Zuckert



to its founders’ creative methodology, which involves a hybrid of three artistic disciplines, dance/theater/media (the Troika), in cooperative artistic interaction (the Ranch). Troika Ranch produces art that values live interaction—between viewer and viewed, performer and image, movement and sound, people and technology.” In a pilot project that anticipated Electronic Disturbance, an opera singer sang live at the Electronic Café in Los Angeles as we pounded out electronic rhythms in a simulcast at The Kitchen in New York. Invigorating radicals. Heady stuff made human by fast footwork, we listened attentively even as the tentative connection occasionally wavered. What a thrill to be in two places at once! This is a moment of my life.

Artemis Preeshl, + Duane Ellis in All About Chairs, choreographed by Artemis Preeshl for her first concert in 1991 PHOTO c/o Artemis Preeshl

Jewish synagogues from New York and New Jersey to West Palm Beach to Nashville and Chicago. Mrs. Tucker’s choreography raised awareness of the different experiences of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish peoples in I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a dance in memory of children’s poetry from the Terezín concentration camp, in the Berkshires, and In the Garden and Sephardic Suite at Columbia University and in Westchester. She had an uncanny way of bringing Old Testament characters to life. For example, Deborah’s strength in “Binding” brought this heroine of the Torah into contemporary Nashville. On Shabbat, circling hands over candles, reciting the blessing, and covering the eyes as soon as the candles were lit, inspired gratitude for blessing. This is a moment of my life.

1992–1996 Virtual Sex meant something very different in the 1990s than in Zoom-based culture in 2021! A celebration of love in the Meatpacking District clubs, I created this racy choreography with male-identified partner Duane Ellis, and later danced this topless piece with female-identified partner Kendall Always, in No Holds Barred at the Merce Cunningham Studio. Brian Eno’s “Broken Head” (1978) pulsed to the vamp as the dancers did “slide and tumble, slide and stumble.” No matter which gender, actors



carried each other’s body weight in their arms and on their torsos. Dancers respected bikini boundaries and opened gates for simulated sex in skimpy panties. Live, not virtual. This is a moment of my life.

EARLY 1990s The DREAM Team danced for five miles down Fifth Avenue. Comprising dancers from many companies throughout New York, the Dancers Responding Eagerly to the AIDS Mission Team performed and taught phrases from repertory to each other—live, in person, and in front of many paradegoers. There is no greater thrill than learning in public from the best exponents of each technique. Without any rehearsal, we shared and embraced each other’s dances for love. Giving art through our physical presence raised awareness about HIV and AIDS in support for artists in our communities. This is a moment of my life.

1991–1992 0 1 1 0 1. Cutting-edge technology moved us literally in tandem with music on one coast and dance on another. During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021, simultaneous performance in two different places is common. But in the early 1990s, Dawn Stoppiello transformed computer code into choreography for Troika Ranch. “The name Troika Ranch,” she wrote, “refers

I dedicate this piece to those downtown performers who lacked the benefits of covered union work. When healthcare is tied to full-time work, artists who want to make art no matter the economy may choose to go without coverage because making art is essential to life. I chose to work for these choreographers because I loved their work. Performance expresses urgent societal needs that might not receive remuneration sufficient to live, but live we must. Make art we must. Art is life. Art is love. Art gives meaning to my life. I gained neither fame nor fortune in New York, but I savored every minute as the sidewalks hummed under my feet, propelling me like a moving walkway toward the next gig. Yes, I remember walking in the chilly March wind from midtown to Tribeca for lack of subway fare. And I remember meeting Arthur Miller at Tavern on the Green after opening night of the late, great Brian Dennehy’s performance in the revival of Death of a Salesman. Moments such as these were made possible in part by supporters of nonprofits and the talented choreographers for whom I had the privilege to dance. I cherish these and many other moments that opened my heart to the Big Apple community. New York, you will always be my second home. I learned something else along the way. Now is the moment of my life. Now. And now. In the spirit of Judson Church, every movement is dance. Connected as we are through art and life, we are dancing now—together. Dance on! In the words of Elizabeth Streb, “Finish.” Artemis Preeshl directs on stage and screen, coaches text, choreographs, and teaches script analysis, research methods, and performance.


This past fall, we were proud to publish a special expanded issue of the SDC Journal Peer-Reviewed Section (PRS). The section featured powerful and insightful essays from directors and teachers, representing a variety of educational institutions, candidly discussing the past, present, and future of directing and theatre as a whole as we grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent, renewed calls for racial justice. These mentors, teachers, and artists offered timely reflections and, in some instances, an invigorating call to create change in the field and forge new legacies of increased equality and inclusion for future directors. A regular PRS reader, however, may have noticed that the Fall issue did not include our usual book review. As a result, we have dedicated this issue’s Peer-Reviewed Section to two book reviews, both of which are in keeping with the overall Journal theme of legacies by considering books about influential directors. As directors and artists, we draw inspiration from our colleagues’, mentors’, and students’ work in the rehearsal and performance space as well as their work on the page. We hope that these two book reviews on new directing-related resources will offer inspiration and insight to further fuel our practices as we look ahead to the slow emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic and our future collaborations. In that spirit, we are also proud to celebrate the work of SDC Members in higher education this academic year by sharing photographs of productions directed by Associate and full Members affiliated with the Peer Review Board. (See p. 70.) These represent some of the innovative protocols undertaken by directors faced with the challenges of training theatre artists during the pandemic.


SDCJ-PRS BOOK REVIEW Contemporary Women Stage Directors: Conversations on Craft by Paulette Marty METHUEN DRAMA, 2019. 304 PP. $26.95 PAPERBACK

In Contemporary Women Stage Directors: Conversations on Craft, Paulette Marty interviews twenty-seven women directors from the United States and Great Britain, selecting directors of varied generations, ethnicities, and classes—with diverse aesthetics and creative processes. Although the title refers explicitly to craft, the book communicates general directorial principles, rather than nutsand-bolts examinations of specific techniques. The strength of the book is the passionate, erudite descriptions of the challenges posed by concerns related to identities such as race and gender in theatre production processes. The book achieves important and needed recognition of the powerful work of women directors in professional theatre. Rather than focusing on directors individually, Marty presents her findings thematically in seven chapters. The reader is invited to engage with ideas under broad headings: Choosing Projects; Engaging with Scripts and Ideas; Conceptualizing the Visual and the Acoustic; Collaborating in Rehearsal; Building a Career; Navigating Gender, Race and Ethnicity; and Theater Today. In the conclusion, Marty

summarizes key findings, returning to significant quotes from the previous chapters as a way of representing the content shared across the responses. A theme that emerges in Marty’s collated interviews is that women directors generally make their own work outside and alongside the “new old boys club” of commercial theatre in order to force change (211). The book opens with a brief description of each interviewee— her country of origin, background, and theatrical achievements to date—which assists the reader in following the many ideas created by interweaving director responses in each thematic chapter. The disadvantage of this structure is that the substance of what were clearly expansive conversations with each director is somewhat diluted. The content becomes broad rather than deep, a collection of brief anecdotes and general comments rather than an in-depth analysis of processes. Additionally, the book lacks an acknowledgement of successful women directors in other Englishspeaking countries; directors working in Canada, South Africa, and Australia, for example, are not mentioned, and the reasons for limiting the book’s scope to the USA and the UK are not articulated. While the book chronicles many differences in the directors’ approaches, there are several commonalities among the women, such as an emphasis on deep collaboration with actors, a strong visual aesthetic, and a vibrant, sometimes radical questioning of text. Considering this, it may have been more useful had the interviews been presented with more detail, such as discussing specific techniques one could borrow for the rehearsal room. Instead, Marty presents statements that inspire in a general way: “I like to create a process where everyone feels we’re here to fail big,” (134) and “the actor must own the vision for the play” (143), or “we’re all constantly doing research and bringing it into the room” (81). The one exception to this broad examination occurs in Chapter 3, “Conceptualizing the Visual and the Acoustic.” Here, Marty includes directors’ descriptions of scenic moments, providing concrete specificity regarding design



practice, such as KJ Sanchez’s use of drumming—using both actor bodies and multiple material objects and surfaces (95). An important aspect of the experiences addressed in the book are the obstacles to professional recognition that the women describe; we learn how interviewees manage challenges which arise from working in a field largely dominated by white men. In Chapter 6, “Navigating Gender, Race and Ethnicity,” Marty describes the difficulties women face when they are given opportunities based on outcome, not potential: “Men tend to get promoted on promise, women on results” (212). To achieve any “results,” however, women directors must first be hired. This creates a catch-22 situation when theatre companies do not, statistically, hire women directors—thereby limiting the experiences that a director can include in her resume in order to be considered for a job. Marty argues that these employment challenges increase further when the director is a person of color and a woman. Leah Gardiner illustrates this point: “Now I’ve been in it so long; I understand how racism and sexism work in the American theater. If you’re of color and you’re a woman, your experience is very different and that’s the way it is” (213-14). Overall, the interviewees express the desire to be appreciated as directors foremost, rather than constantly having to be highlighted as a “woman director” or a “Black director.” Contrary to the argument that women of color have a more challenging time being employed as directors, Marty points out that Young Jean Lee has had opportunities because of her ethnicity and gender: “I think it has been actually a bit easier for me because of my ethnicity and gender,” Lee says. “Luckily, as this example from Lee shows,” Marty writes, “sometimes being female and non-white can be a career asset” (215). In her commentary, Marty appears to present this feature of Lee’s career as a lucky break for the artist, rather than discussing it as an aspect deserving deeper examination and critique. Paulette Marty’s consolidation of wisdom, advice, and commentary from the interviewed directors provides a welcome addition to the field in growing understanding of women in professional theatre. Although at times broad rather than deep, as the title suggests, the book is a collection of dialogues rather than an inherently scholarly project. With that in mind, Contemporary Women Stage Directors: Conversations on Craft presents fascinating conversations with women directors, creating a broad picture of their contribution to contemporary theatremaking. In these terms, the book was a useful general read, setting the stage for further and much-needed analysis of performance work done by women directors—who are simply not awarded the attention they deserve.


NOTE: The directors featured in this book include Maria Aberg, May Adrales, Sarah Benson, Karin Coonrod, Rachel Chavkin, Lear deBessonet, Nadia Fall, Vicky Featherstone, Polly Findlay, Leah Gardiner, Anne Kauffman, Lucy Kerbel, Young Jean Lee, Patricia McGregor, Blanche McIntyre, Paulette Randall, Diane Rodriguez, Indhu Rubasingham, KJ Sanchez, Tina Satter, Kimberly Senior, Roxana Silbert, Leigh Silverman, Caroline Steinbeis, Liesl Tommy, Lyndsey Turner, and Erica Whyman ( contemporary-women-stage-directors-9781474268530/).



SDCJ-PRS BOOK REVIEW Directing Shakespeare in America: Historical Perspectives by Charles Ney THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, BLOOMSBURY, 2018. 248 PP. $110.00 HARDCOVER

Put any two theatre practitioners in a room, ask them to discuss Shakespeare, and a debate will invariably ensue. No other dramatist elicits as many divergent opinions about how the text should be handled, how the plays should be performed, or how far the plays may be conceptually bent. Charles Ney’s Directing Shakespeare in America: Historical Perspectives epitomizes this contentious debate, illustrating—through the examination of approximately fifty directors’ approaches to the Bard—“two opposing methodologies to directing Shakespeare” (217). At one end of the spectrum are the purists, honoring the author’s intention and endeavoring to perform the plays in a way that is “akin to the original context” (218). On the other end are the conceptualizers, using “every theatrical practice at one’s disposal [to bring] Shakespeare’s work alive for present-day audiences” (217). Indeed, as Ney contends, “The history of directing Shakespeare in America has been a fractious one” (221). Historical Perspectives is a prequel to Ney’s first Directing Shakespeare in America book, Current Practices, published in 2016. While Current Practices focuses on prominent Shakespeare directors of the 21st century, Historical Perspectives examines directors from the mid-19th century through the end of the 21st century. The former contains information gathered primarily through first-hand interviews, while the latter relies on director’s notes, second-hand interviews, and critical reviews of productions. The book serves as an ode to the directors who have come before us, comprehensively and scrupulously documenting their work with Western Theatre’s most prolific playwright. In purely biographical fashion, Ney studiously profiles each director, cataloguing their influences, ideologies, rehearsal processes, theoretical approaches to and handling of the text as well as their work with designers and actors. Ney asserts that having directors see the work of another director “has, for the most part, been out of the question” (221), and this book serves that purpose, giving a glimpse into the rehearsal rooms of some of America’s most prominent stage directors, allowing the reader to “see what previous generations have achieved” (221). The book is divided into seven chapters, starting with the historical rise of directors in American Theatre and their struggles to become a relevant part of the profession. Chapter One highlights the “First American Directors between the 1870s to 1940s,” covering such luminaries as Augustin Daly, David Belasco, Arthur Hopkins, Orson Welles, and Margaret Webster. Chapter Two focuses specifically on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, from its founding in 1935 by Angus Bowmer up through Henry Woronicz’s tenure. Likewise, Chapter Three focuses specifically on the Old Globe, covering its directors from the 1930s through the

1990s. Included in this chapter is, incongruously, Tyrone Guthrie, whose career started around the time of the Old Globe’s founding yet who had no affiliation with the institution. Chapter Four covers the (now defunct) American Shakespeare Festival, documenting the work of John Houseman, Jack Landau, Allen Fletcher, Michael Kahn, Gerald Freedman, and Peter Coe. Chapter Five covers the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, starting with its founder Joseph Papp and further covering some of its more preeminent directors, including Stuart Vaughan, Gerald Freedman, Gladys Vaughan, A. J. Antoon, Wilford Leach, and JoAnne Akalaitis. Chapter Six is a hodgepodge of “the major players” (147) at the Colorado, Utah, New Jersey, and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals as well as Shakespeare & Company, American Players Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and the Shakespeare Theatre Company. As a bookend to Chapter One, Chapter Seven documents all “other” directors who don’t squarely fit into a particular Shakespearean organization, featuring regional theatre directors like William Ball, Liviu Ciulei, Garland Wright, and Mark Lamos. Also covered are directors who worked primarily in New York, namely John Houseman and Stuart Vaughan of the Phoenix Theatre, Ellis Rabb of APA, directors of the Classic Stage Company and Julie Taymor of Theatre for a New Audience. What is most evident in Historical Perspectives is that Shakespeare’s plays seem to be a kind of bellwether for a director’s current philosophy, voice, style, and handling of text. As an example, when Michael Kahn first started directing Shakespeare, he was most “interested in interpreting and reworking Shakespeare’s plays for their relevancy and contemporary issues” (95). As such, Kahn’s early work took many liberties with the text and seemed to have a palpable directorial stamp on it. For his 1969 production of Henry V, Kahn interpreted it as an anti-war play and set it in a playground where “the games of this play are the games of war, of conquest, of power, of betrayal and of love—games played every day in the playground” (97). For the opening prologue, the company wore “well-worn tee-shirts and dungarees” and played basketball, Frisbees, and percussive instruments to introduce the world and concept (97). Later in his career, however, Kahn’s approach to Shakespeare shifted dramatically as “he realized that his thoughts and impressions were not as appealing as Shakespeare’s” (103). In a 1977 interview with Ralph Berry, Kahn mused that he is “no longer

sure that the director’s job in Shakespeare is to interpret it” (103). Kahn’s philosophical shift exemplifies the very debate that many directors of Shakespeare grapple with in this book. What Historical Perspectives has in meticulous presentation and attention to detail, it seems to lack in overall organization. Chapter One starts at the very first North American directors of Shakespeare and works its way chronologically, yet Chapters Two through Five are organized by Shakespeare venues and organizations. Chapter Six then “paint[s] a broad picture” (147) of directors at penultimate “Shakespeare Festivals and Theatres” and Chapter Seven is a rather ragtag “Other Shakespeare Directors and Theatres.” It is neither clear why Ney chose to present these directors in this fashion nor why one Shakespeare organization has an entire chapter devoted to it over another. As it is organized, though, the book serves as a comprehensive resource for scholars and directors devoted to exclusively studying and/or producing the Bard’s canon. Likewise, any artistic director at the helm of the estimated “two hundred Shakespeare theatres and festivals in North America” may find some insights into how some of the major Shakespeare organizations were founded and grew (149). Additionally, for any directors taking a more ad hoc approach, looking to test their mettle by throwing an errant Shakespeare play into their directing repertoire, this book has an index that categorizes by organization, director, and production, making it an invaluable, pre-production research tool for directors and producers to learn of some of the best (and worst) choices and approaches to particular productions. Overall, Historical Perspectives is an intriguing peek into how directors of Shakespeare’s plays in North American have, throughout history, approached and conceived of productions. The book illustrates some of the best directing practices—from a broad, macrocosmic, philosophical viewpoint all the way down to a microcosmic examination of moments in particular plays. Throughout the book, Ney eschews commentary, giving an objective, academic representation of these directors and their work with Shakespeare, leaving the ultimate debate about how to do Shakespeare up to the reader.


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS Published by Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), the Peer-Reviewed Section of SDC JOURNAL serves directors and choreographers working in the profession and in institutions of higher learning. SDC’s mission is to give voice to an empowered collective of directors and choreographers working in all jurisdictions and venues across the country, encourage advocacy, and highlight artistic achievement. SDC JOURNAL seeks essays with accessible language that focus on practice and practical application and that exemplify the sorts of fruitful intersections that can occur between the academic/scholarly and the profession/craft. For more information, visit:




Company by George Furth and Stephen Sondheim, directed by David Callaghan, choreography by Carl Dean, April 2021, University of Montevallo, AL PHOTO Stewart Edmonds


In the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Sonita L. Surratt and Tasia A. Jones, March 2021, Purdue University Department of Theatre PHOTO Melodie Yvonne


Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tony Kushner, directed by Ann M. Shanahan, April 2021, Purdue University Department of Theatre PHOTO Melodie Yvonne



East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Tina Howe, directed by Kathleen M. McGeever, September 2020, Northern Arizona University PHOTO Ben Alexander



The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Leigh Wilson Smiley, March 2021, University of Maryland PHOTO David Andrews

Nell Gywnn by Jessica Swale, directed by William Lewis, February 2021, Purdue University Department of Theatre PHOTO Melodie Yvonne




Even in this harrowing year, directors and choreographers found ways to make things, to say things, and to connect with people in their communities. That tenacity is worth celebrating, and in that spirit, SDCF hosted its fourth annual awards ceremony on February 8, 2021. It was a live-streamed event, with everyone participating remotely from their homes, yet it still felt lively and intimate. And as it reached toward the future, when we’ll be back in rooms together, the evening honored our rich history and the ceremony also acknowledged the field’s present refusal to bow before our pandemicimposed isolation. Jack O’Brien launched the evening with a showman’s pizzazz. As he welcomed the at-home audience from his living room, with a cozy fire crackling in the background, he often leaned conspiratorially toward his webcam, like a friend who was speaking only to us. “I knew that the Foundation would think I have enough gravitas to get through


the awards properly and maybe—who knows?—get a laugh or two,” he intoned. “Don’t hold your breath.” After drolly quoting Berowne’s lament from Love’s Labour’s Lost about being expected to make people smile, O’Brien acknowledged just how much the theatre community has been facing. “What’s the choreographic term?” he asked. “We pivot. We pivot and in doing so refresh whatever’s before us. And out of that refreshment come tonight’s awards.” From there, Mark Brokaw, SDCF’s President, arrived on screen, noting that the evening’s honorees would “point to the heart of the Foundation’s mission to foster, support, and promote the craft of theatre directors and choreographers across all phases of their careers, whether that’s by recognizing Members’ extraordinary work, honoring their legacies, or promoting emerging talent.” He stressed that the Foundation was just as committed as its Members to pressing forward, noting its creation of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund and the Lloyd Richards New Futures Residency for BIPOC directors and choreographers.

magic on her social media posts—directing, choreographing, conceiving, and even editing her work. Her attention to storytelling and emotion speaks for itself.” Rose herself then delivered an impassioned speech. “When I created A Little Light in March, I was truly feeling like I was trying to find my way out of complete darkness,” she said, thanking the 54 performers who collaborated with her. “It is completely humbling to know that the work I’m doing alone in front of a computer screen can still translate to a larger audience.” Next, Pamela Berlin, Chair of the Callaway Award Committee, introduced the Joe A. Callaway Awards, which recognize excellence in direction and choreography for the most recent Off-Broadway season, and announced that the finalists were Knud Adams, for his direction of The Headlands at LCT3, and Les Waters, for directing The Thin Place at Playwrights Horizons. In Adams’ video, he

Then it was time for the Breakout Award, given annually to a director or choreographer who has had a “rising star” moment in the last 12 months. As he introduced the award, SDCF Trustee Dan Knechtges noted that this year, the selection panel evaluated work that was presented online as well as in physical space.

Jenn Rose

Knechtges acknowledged this year’s finalists—James Alonzo, Ines Braun, Joshua William Gelb, and Ellenore Scott—before announcing that the winner was Jenn Rose, whose noteworthy work included the short film A Little Light, which she directed as well as choreographed. Knechtges read a statement from Jerry Mitchell, who wrote, “During this pandemic, myself and millions of others have been able to watch Jenn’s

Danya Taymor




Jack O’Brien

Mark Brokaw

Dan Knechtges

Benny Sato Ambush

Pamela Berlin

Sam Gold

Susan Stroman

Bill Rauch

Camille A. Brown

Neel Keller


Accepting the award, Taymor said, “It is a dream to be recognized by my fellow directors like this. I was alone, hiking on a mountain in Colorado [when I learned I was receiving the Callaway Award]. In that moment, I felt the embrace and recognition of my peers, who ceaselessly inspire me. I have to admit: I cried a little. I didn’t know how good it would feel to be embraced by you all, and I didn’t know how much I needed the hug.” With a nod toward one of her inspirations, and one of this year’s Callaway finalists, she added, “I have to give a special shout-out to the great Les Waters. Thank you for the deep, early education in what it means to be a fearless director.” Travis Wall

wistfully recalled getting to shoot on-location projections for the production, adding that he hoped that type of in-person collaboration would return soon. He also thanked the committee for including him: “Because this was my first season working Off-Broadway and my first season as a full SDC Member, it’s very encouraging,” he said. In his video, Waters made a point of thanking his two assistant directors on The Thin Place: Emily Moler at Actors Theatre of Louisville and Joan Sergay at Playwrights Horizons. Sam Gold arrived next to introduce Danya Taymor, who won the Callaway Award for directing Heroes of the Fourth Turning at Playwrights Horizons. “Danya, what a feat that beautiful production was,” he said. “It was a very ethereal, beautiful thing that you made. It felt like a very specific, confident artist was at the helm.”

Pirronne Yousefzadeh

Susan Stroman joined next, and with obvious affection, she recalled working with Travis Wall when he was a child actor in her Broadway revival of The Music Man. She noted that his work on MCC’s The Wrong Man, which earned him a Callaway Award for choreography, more than made good on the promise he showed as a youngster. “His work on [this production] was smart, fresh, contemporary, and weighted in the art of storytelling,” she said. An ebullient Wall acknowledged that The Wrong Man was his first major work in the theatre, and he thanked his director Thomas Kail for “letting me be me.” He joked that when Kail offered him the show, he replied, “I’ll pay you to do the job. Just let me know your direct deposit [information], and we’ll take care of all that.” Wall also thanked his associate choreographer, Kate Harpootlian: “My support system. My rock. The girl I would go to when I’d start crying, ‘Is this the worst thing you’ve ever seen?’ She was there to

Carol Dunne

help me along the way, and I can’t thank her enough for that. I felt like I was home when she was next to me.” Then came striking archival footage of the late Zelda Fichandler. She was speaking to an audience at the 2011 Fichandler Award ceremony at Arena Stage about how regional theatre directors showed up to speak to communities who didn’t even realize they wanted to listen. “We had to insist on it for their own good, but really for our own good,” she recalled. “And sometimes it still feels like we’re selling a bill of goods to an overscheduled public, texting and emailing away. But mostly we’ve been successful. We did it. Nobody called on us, and we came.” Benny Sato Ambush, a member of the selection committee for the Zelda Fichandler Award, arrived to describe the many ways that both Fichandler and Arena Stage had changed his life for the better. Then Bill Rauch, Chair of the Fichandler Award Committee, came on screen to acknowledge the finalists for this year’s award, which specifically honors artists who have contributed deeply to the regional theatre. Notably, all three finalists—Carol Dunne, Seema Sueko, and Pirronne Yousefzadeh— put civic engagement at the center of their work. Rauch observed that Dunne and her team at Northern Stage “have ignited the economic rebirth of downtown White River Junction,” the small Vermont town where the company was founded in 1997. He also highlighted her guidance of the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle, which takes a national purview as it fosters a network of femaleidentifying artistic directors. Next, Rauch praised Sueko, who has created coalition-building artistic programs

Seema Sueko



across the country, for her “compassionate, values-[based] caretaking” of projects and communities. He said his own work had been enhanced by collaborating with her firsthand while she was Deputy Artistic Director at Arena Stage. Yousefzadeh—the Associate Artistic Director and Director of Engagement at Geva Theatre Center—was noted not only for the remarkable breadth of her directing projects across the country but also for her efforts as a co-founder of Maia Directors, a consulting group for artists and organizations engaging with stories from the Middle East and beyond. Rauch said that as a leader, she asks essential questions about where we are going as a field. He added, “You are the kind of artist, Pirronne, who will inspire the answers.” In a pre-taped statement, Sueko summed up the spirit of the award by saying, “Zelda Fichandler famously referred to the nonprofit American theatre organization as an instrument of civilization. These artists, I believe, are doulas of humanity. Carole’s artistry has ignited economic recovery. Pirronne has nourished tenderness with her work, and Kamilah Forbes [this year’s winner] has reorganized, restructured, and reimagined the landscape of American theatre.” That theme of deep connection was echoed by Camille A. Brown, who introduced Forbes. Remembering when they worked together in 2011, Brown said, “I was blown away by her insight and so proud to see a Black girl in her position, doing her thing.” She then spoke directly to her friend, saying, “I feel blessed that your schedule is so full, but you still make time to come to my rehearsals to give me feedback. You always make time for friendship. I lift you up always.” Next, a short film memorialized Gordon Davidson and his enormous impact on the regional theatre, and this served as a moving transition to the Gordon Davidson Award, which is given to a director or choreographer for lifetime achievement in the regional theatre. As he discussed the award, committee member Neel Keller remembered his own long nights (and early mornings) talking to Davidson about productions they were bringing to the stage: “I knew it was a rare honor to be able to share those moments that so beautifully revealed his undying enthusiasm and unshakeable faith in our art form.” Jack O’Brien returned to present the Davidson Award to Seret Scott, whom he first met in the late ’80s when he was Artistic Director of the Old Globe. He recalled that she immediately struck him as a “loving,


Kamilah Forbes PHOTO

Lelanie Foster/HBO

intelligent, witty woman who was deserving of every possible opportunity,” and he added, “When you see someone achieve something that you recognized [was possible] at the beginning, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished.” (Scott’s full acceptance speech appears on p. 77.) With that, it was time for O’Brien to end the evening, and he returned to Love’s Labour’s Lost, quoting, “After the songs of Apollo, the words of Mercury are harsh. You, that way: we, this.” And then, with a warm look delivered directly into the camera, he added, “Be safe. Goodnight.” SDCF would like to thank all the presenters, the Breakout Award Committee, the Callaway Award Committee (Pamela Berlin, Chair), the Gordon Davidson Award Committee (Sheldon Epps, Chair), the Zelda Fichandler Award Committee (Bill Rauch, Chair), Ellie Handel (Producer and Director), Sarah Bierstock (Scriptwriter), Sophia Handel (Video Editor), Caroline Ragland (Broadcast Manager), and Dani Cattan (Program Associate).




I am humbled to be standing and Zooming with you all today. My love for the theatre grew in the halls of Howard University, and at that time, we built a community, we built a theatre, in a Black space, a space in which we each were heard, seen, affirmed, and reflected. Many times, we were in an empty black box with our ideas for the world and how theatre can change the world. It was a beautiful cocoon, a cocoon of possibility. It was also at this time that I was introduced to the world of Zelda Fichandler, through her artistic home, Arena Stage. I was in awe and affirmed by the notion that theatre

creates community, or truly, COMMUNITY creates theatre. Zelda’s work in the creation of the Living Stage was a manifestation of nexus of theatre as a social change agent, in community, in real time. My thoughts, dreams, and visions on the campus theatre were being actualized less than two miles away from me. This was mind-blowing. I studied, modeled, and took note of the world, safe space—space for transformation and realization that was built in the halls of these spaces. So, to stand, sit, Zoom before you today is truly an honor. Especially at a time in which the notion of home and safe spaces has been challenged by the world around us. The notion of safe space. In my work, I work daily [for] the voices of Black and brown people to feel safe, the bodies of Black and brown people to feel safe. This begins with the work on stage, but it does not end there. It should not end there. I challenge us all as we move forward to continue to push boundaries, to vision possibilities, to create safe spaces, and in some cases NEW SPACES where we all are seen, heard, and affirmed and safe. Thank you to the SDC Foundation, thank you to my mentors, thank you to my community, thank you to my collaborators. Thank you to the work of Carol Dunne, Seema Sueko, and Pirronne Yousefzadeh—we all stand here together today with deep gratitude. Thank you. KAMILAH FORBES is an esteemed awardwinning director and producer for theatre and television. She currently serves as the Executive Producer at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. In her diverse body of work, Forbes is noted for having a strong commitment to the development of creative works by, for, and about the hip-hop generation. A Howard University alum, she has won awards for both directing and producing, including a Tony Award, a Peabody Award, the 2019 NBTF Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award, and an NAACP Image Award. Perhaps what stands out most about Forbes’ work is her ability to intricately weave together contemporary art and culture in the works she curates and produces.

Kamilah Forbes directing Between the World and Me for HBO PHOTO Idris Solomon/HBO

This Root 100 award winner and Sundance Fellow’s most recent projects include directing the sold-out, world-premiere theatrical and television adaption of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ New York Times best-selling novel Between the World and Me.



Seret Scott PHOTO Amanda Crommett





It’s an honor to be the recipient of the Gordon Davidson Award for Lifetime Achievement Directing Regional Theatre, and that this honor comes from my peers at the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation—my peers— makes it even sweeter. I’ve had a single passion in my life—theatre— and so to be recognized for doing what I dearly love is beyond…words. Over the years, I’ve had the support of many, many people, and they made a huge difference in my artistic growth.

Melany Bell, Audra Alise Polk + JoAnna Rhinehart in Crumbs from the Table of Joy at Old Globe Theatre, directed by Seret Scott PHOTO Craig Schwartz

Seret Scott + Charles Newell in rehearsal for for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf at the Court Theatre PHOTO Joe Mazza

As an actress at the Free Southern Theater, Gilbert Moses and John O’Neil represented to me the essence of regional theatre as we performed in rural communities in 1969 during the Civil Rights Movement. Paul Weidner directed me in my first regional play as well as the first play that went from a regional Hartford Stage to Broadway with me in it, My Sister, My Sister. And later, working with Oz Scott in for colored girls.... The Negro Ensemble Company, New Federal Theater, and New Heritage Theater were exceptional Off-Broadway stops along the way. As a director, playwright Nancy Fales Garrett and Arvin Brown offered me my first regional directing job at Long Wharf Theatre. Not long after that, director and friend Sheldon Epps saw something in my early work and recommended me for a directing job in San Diego, where I was to meet Jack O’Brien, the Artistic Director. Eleven Old Globe shows later, I’d say it worked out pretty well. The opportunities! Nothing to say but “Thanks, Jack…just thanks.” The late Steve Albert, then Managing Director at Chicago’s Court Theatre, suggested to Charles Newell, Artistic Director, that they meet me… Several productions later, Charlie, the staff, and I are still having a fine time at it.

Melany Bell, Audra Alise Polk + JoAnna Rhinehart in Crumbs from the Table of Joy at the Old Globe, directed by Seret Scott PHOTO Craig Schwartz

Along with those artistic directors, three extraordinary women inspired me greatly. Filmmaker and best buddy Kathleen Collins, visual artist and mentor Sara Penn, and the most phenomenal woman I know, my mother, Della Beidleman Scott. Her story will be told. SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL FOUNDATION SECTION


By example, these women gave me the vision to tackle anything. And lastly, but really firstly, the warmest, most loving, heartfelt thanks I can give would be to my amazing, thoughtful husband, Amos, and my kind, smart son, Scotty. None of the directing work that I’ve done over the past 30 years would have been possible without their support, faith, and belief in me. I love you both so much. And to my colleagues…it’s changing out there, but we’re ready. SERET SCOTT has directed a dozen productions at the Old Globe as an Associate Artist. Off-Broadway, she premiered Mujeres Y Hombres at New Victory Theatre, and directed Birdie Blue and Zooman and the Sign for Second Stage Theatre, Yohen for Pan Asian Rep. Regional credits: Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth, Studio Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, South Coast Rep, Tribute Productions, Court Theatre, Studio Arena, A.C.T., Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Denver Theatre Center, PlayMakers Rep, Crossroads, Alliance, Indiana Rep, Alley, Philadelphia Theatre Company, National Black Theatre, New Mexico Rep, Tisch-NYU, and Juilliard, among others. She directed workshops for Roundabout Theatre, Pacific Playwrights, O’Neill Theatre Center, New York Stage and Film, Sundance, New Harmony, and she is a former Director in Residence at New Dramatists. Seret authored Second Line, produced by Passage Theatre, NJ, and Atlas Theatre, Washington.

for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf at the Court Theatre, directed by Seret Scott PHOTO Michael Brosilow



Lizbeth Mackay in Faith Healer at the Old Globe, directed by Seret Scott PHOTO Craig Schwartz



Our Bob Avian has left us to join all those unbelievably talented directors and choreographers we have lost. He was a kind, gentle, and caring man. Always there to calm the waters, always offering an encouraging word, always patiently clearing confusions. We all have our stories, as Bob touched all of us. He gave me well over 50 years of friendship and mentorship, in and out of the studio. So many laughs and so many tears together. So many stories to tell and retell. A lifetime together. My heart hurts from this loss.


Bob encouraged my forming National Asian Artists Project and, along with his husband, Peter Pileski, continued to support us to have a voice in the theatre. If you want to peek into Bob’s life, pick up a copy of his book, Dancing Man: A Broadway Choreographer’s Journey. His life reflects theatre history that we will miss. I will always think of him with loving spirit. Tony Award-winning choreographer, director, and producer BOB AVIAN (1937–2021) created some of Broadway’s biggest shows over the past 60 years. Born in New York,


Avian began his Broadway career dancing in a variety of productions, including West Side Story and Funny Girl. While touring with West Side Story, Avian met Michael Bennett, and the two collaborated over the next two decades on such landmark works as Promises, Promises; Company; Follies; A Chorus Line; and Dreamgirls. Avian was also a producer on Dreamgirls. With Bennett, he received Tony Awards for Best Choreography for A Chorus Line and Ballroom, and he was nominated for Best Choreography for Miss Saigon and Sunset Boulevard, both of which he also choreographed on London’s West End.

Baayork Lee + Bob Avian c/o Baayork Lee SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL



San Francisco. Sometimes one is lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and it can change the rest of your life. That happened to me. It was at the coffee shop in the Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco, the home of the exciting Actors Workshop. The downstairs coffee shop was a hangout for actors and artists. One day when I was sitting there alone, feeling isolated and lost, Ruth Maleczech and Lee Breuer flew in, shining through a cloud of cigarette smoke, radiating energy and excitement. They seemed so glamorously authentic. I was 23 years old, as was Lee. Recovering from quitting a PhD program in philosophy at Stanford, I was determined to follow my longtime dream of becoming a “real” actor—however, I was not sure what it meant besides being on the stage in “normal” theatre productions, like in college. I had seen Lee’s production of Genet’s The Maids, with Ruth as Solange, in a church balcony with parachutes as costumes and scenic environment, which was strangely beautiful, and I had heard about them as artistic adventurers, especially Lee, who at that time was the wonder-guy young director of San Francisco. I introduced myself to them, and they were so open. Lee was brimming with ideas, most of which I didn’t even



understand, but I knew I wanted to be part of that world—whatever it was. San Francisco was a place to be: Happenings, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, and the Electronic Music Center—all these people making new work. Ruth and Lee were in the center of this scene, and Lee was not only a participant but also brilliant at discussing it. I was dazzled by Lee’s ideas, which came nonstop. He could talk about anything and had a thoroughly original way of seeing the world, especially literature and theatre. I was thrilled to be asked to work with Lee as an actor with Ruth. Lee’s method as the director was turbulent, intellectual, physical, and emotional—innovative and open to everything from Happenings to Stanislavski. I have especially fond memories of a workshop with Lee on Antigone, using emotional memory as a mechanism. I got so carried away and threw a chair out the window— luckily, no one was on the sidewalk. Of course, Lee loved it. I am grateful for those early days of working with Lee, which form the foundation of what has become a life in theatre.


Director, writer, and educator LEE BREUER (1937–2021) is renowned for his career in experimental theatre, one that took him from Off-Off-Broadway to Broadway and around the world. Born in Philadelphia, in 1970 Breuer co-founded the Mabou Mines theatre company in New York with Ruth Maleczech, Philip Glass, JoAnne Akalaitis, and David Warrilow, serving as its Co-Artistic Director. With Mabou Mines, Breuer created numerous productions in partnership with the Public Theater and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, receiving multiple Obie Awards for writing, performing, and directing. One of Breuer’s best-known works, The Gospel at Colonus, was nominated for both a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Other works include Mabou Mines DollHouse, Peter and Wendy, and La Divina Caricatura. Breuer was a recipient of the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (French Ministry of Culture), the Helen Hayes Award, and Bunting, Guggenheim, Fulbright, and MacArthur fellowships.

Lee Breuer Maria Baranova



I’ll never forget walking into the studios at Radio City Music Hall one morning during our rehearsals for Follies, and there was Marge Champion at the barre, leading the ladies in a warm-up. She was 82 at the time, and the ladies she was teaching included Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey, Betty Garrett, Carol Woods, Jane White, and Polly Bergen. Beneath her petite stature, her crystalline beauty, and her perpetually girlish smile, Marge was sharp, smart, and discerning, and she was clear and commanding as she took the ladies through the barre. Marge was playing Emily Whitman, and her dear friend and dancing partner, the equally legendary Donald Saddler (who was 83), was playing Theodore Whitman. They actually auditioned together. I still can’t believe that Marge and Donald auditioned, but everyone was happy to come in for Stephen Sondheim. They sang a chorus of “I Won’t Dance” and then they did just that—they danced. At the end, they crossed their arms, held hands, and

Marge turned into Donald—right, left—and as she turned and their arms unwound, she did the most beautiful fan kick with her right leg. The whole room gasped and then burst into applause. You can bet that fan kick became part of the choreography that they did eight times a week for six months at the Belasco Theatre. I always loved seeing Marge at any event, any opening night (and she was always there; she was everywhere) because I knew I would get a big hug and a wonderful and enthusiastic dose of encouragement. Marge was one of our great ambassadors of the theatre, a passionate cheerleader for choreographers, dancers, and all theatre artists. How perfect that her name was also who she was—an indefatigable champion of the arts.


Actress, dancer, and choreographer MARGE CHAMPION (1919–2020) is celebrated for her renowned career across stage and film and for her staunch support of the arts. Born in Los Angeles, Champion worked as a dance model for Walt Disney Studios (including serving as the real-life model for Snow White) and danced on Broadway, making her debut in What’s Up? in 1943. In 1947, Champion met dance partner and husband Gower Champion, and the two performed in dozens of movie musicals and television shows throughout the ’50s as well as on Broadway with Make a Wish in 1951. Throughout her career, Champion was also a choreographer, working as an assistant choreographer and associate choreographer on several productions. She also choreographed for TV, winning an Emmy Award for Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. Champion continued to perform well into her later years in film and on stage, appearing in the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies. She was still dancing in her 100th year.


Marge Champion + Donald Saddler in Follies PHOTO Joan Marcus SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | SDC JOURNAL




I first met Joan Micklin Silver in 1981 when we served on a committee to find positive, upbeat songs about women for a NARAL benefit at Circle in the Square. We searched for weeks and found only songs where women were bemoaning the loss of their men: “He loved me, he left me, and now I feel terrible about myself.” How could this be? We were shocked. Soon, Joan called me up with a challenge: could we develop a musical revue about women that was funny and honest and showed that women did not need men to define ourselves? We met two to three times a week with a myriad of writers to solicit short, upbeat, humorous pieces about women. The first batch of songs and scenes we got back were still about losing men! We couldn’t believe it. Undeterred, we pressed on. With Joan, you always kept your eyes on the prize. She never made lists: if you had a call to make, she would pick up the phone and make it then and there. You left a meeting with all of your work completed. Over two years, we gathered a collection of scenes by mostly up-and-coming writers, many of whom are now successful Hollywood



writers (i.e., Marta Kauffman and David Crane, Winnie Holtzman, Richard LaGravenese) about friendships, sisters, a parent-teacher meeting gone awry, moms attending a male strip club, etc., which we shaped into the musical revue A…My Name Is Alice. Codirecting a project is rarely easy, but with Joan it was a joy. We formed a collective with our amazing cast (Roo Brown, Randy Graff, Mary Gordon Murphy, Alaina Reed, and Charlayne Woodard) to shape a positive and comedic picture of women in the 1980s. In the basement of the Women’s Project in 1983, we were “discovered” by Frank Rich of the New York Times. We moved to the Top of the Gate a few months later, and the rest is history. I was not totally aware of what a trailblazer Joan was in the film industry when we first met. I did not know that in the mid-1970s, she wrote and directed Hester Street and then independently distributed the film with her husband while rearing three daughters. She did the same for several other films until Warner Brothers finally produced Crossing Delancey in 1988. She was humble and rarely talked about the challenges she faced. It was part of the job, and she did it.


In the face of an entertainment industry that still does not make it easy for women, much less mothers, she was a trailblazer. Joan taught me to move ahead with grace and assurance to accomplish what we knew we could. Today, we stand on the shoulders of women like Joan. Director JOAN MICKLIN SILVER (1935– 2020) is recognized for her career writing and directing for both the stage and film and for breaking barriers for women directors. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, she moved east and began her career as a music teacher and writer before turning to directing, creating several short films. To overcome restrictions set for female directors, Micklin Silver founded Midwest Films with her husband and directed Hester Street, her first feature, which received wide acclaim and multiple awards. She went on to direct numerous films, including Between the Lines and Crossing Delancey. Micklin Silver also directed for the theatre, conceiving and directing the musical revue A…My Name Is Alice with Julianne Boyd. ABOVE Joan PHOTO

Micklin Silver United Artists/Photofest

SDC LEGACY DOUGLAS TURNER WARD 1930–2021 Actor, writer, producer, and director Douglas Turner Ward, a pioneer of Black theatre, is celebrated and beloved for nurturing the works and careers of Black artists through his company, the Negro Ensemble Company. Born in Burnside, Louisiana, Ward moved to New York City and began acting and writing in the ’50s and ’60s, making his Broadway debut in A Raisin in the Sun in 1959 and earning acclaim for his two one-act plays, Happy Ending/Day of Absence, in 1965. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities for Black actors, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 1966 titled “American Theater: For Whites Only?” which led to a grant from the Ford Foundation to establish a Black repertory theatre company. Ward co-founded the Negro Ensemble Company in 1967, which has gone on to produce numerous critically acclaimed, award-winning productions and support the careers of many actors and directors, including Debbie Allen, Laurence Fishburne, Phylicia Rashad, and Denzel Washington. Ward, serving as the company’s Artistic Director, directed and acted in a number of plays himself. He directed and produced The River Niger in 1972, which moved to Broadway in 1974 and earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor and won the Tony Award for Best Play. He won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Direction of a Play for A Soldier’s Play in 1982, which was revived on Broadway in 2020. Among his many accolades, Ward received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, and in 1996, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

A theatre evolving not out of negative need, but positive potential… A theatre whose justification is not the gap it fills, but the achievement it aspires toward… The main goal of the Negro Ensemble Company is to develop a theatre of excellence. PHOTO




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