Directorial Statement

As a stage director, I draw from a diverse theoretical and practical background that spans the dramatic arts, performance studies, community-development, disability studies, my own performance training in acting and movement for stage, and  teaching acting at the university level. I find the label of theater auteur appropriate because I develop a specific vision for every production I lead and am heavily invested in every aspect of the work. Perhaps paradoxically, however, I also embrace collaboration with others who will bring their own experimentation and ideas to the table. In other words, I begin every project with significant dramaturgical work that leads to a clear and developed idea.  I then share that vision with sufficient clarity and support for my fellow artists to expand and enrich those ideas. For me this focused synergy is one of theater’s greater rewards. 

Each project brings discoveries that I would not have been able to make by myself while at the same time allowing me to pursue a distinct vision.

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Perhaps because I enjoy collaboration so much, I consistently focus on the process as much as the final product of any production. Opening night is always exciting and brings a sense of fulfillment for everyone involved. But openings are also the bittersweet end of a journey that is rewarding in and of itself. If I am working with students, I continue to give notes after opening night, often until the end of the run. But the intimacy and discovery of rehearsal is equally as magical for me as that which comes after the house opens for the first time.

 

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Various theorists and practitioners have influenced me as director. In my earliest work, I identified strongly with Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski, and the 1960s western theatrical avant-garde that sought, through incredible discipline, commitment, and group work, to strive for what Peter Brook dubbed the “Holy Theater,” a powerful performance event that seeks through aesthetic moments experiences that seem unavailable in everyday life. Having trained as an actor myself, I was deeply invested in the idea of extreme actor commitment and saw Ryszard Cieslak’s performance in Grotowski’s The Constant Prince akin to that of a secular priest or an Artaudian martyr willing to sacrifice himself for the audience. Working with a small group of actors, I chose intimate arena settings, long periods of improvisation and physical exploration, and texts from playwrights such as Jean Genet that explored the darker and more extreme sides of humanity.

 

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Later, I became interested in reaching out to a broader audience, specifically people who might feel a sense of trepidation or uncertainty with live theater due to its marginalized position in popular entertainment. This was, in part, motivated by a friend who one day politely declined to attend a performance with me. He explained that theater was foreign to him and that he was afraid that he “might not get it.”  Keeping this in mind, I sought to bring aspects of other forms of popular performance into my productions while holding onto theater’s potential for critical engagement. In essence I wanted to create a theatrical event where, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, one may leave one’s hat on. I therefore sought out spaces that might be more welcoming and texts that would be legible to people unfamiliar with theater.  After Hollywood began to critically discuss and represent U.S. involvement in Vietnam War with films such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Born on the Fourth of July, I staged John DiFusco and the original cast’s Tracers in an outdoor amphitheater on a Memorial Day Weekend, where I drew in first-time audience members with free admission and live accompaniment by a popular local rock group.  Some local veterans attended every performance. During intermission, people felt free to play hacky-sack on stage and socialize with one another is a manner that one might see in a park or music festival.

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As digital technology exploded the possibilities of multi-media performance, I began experimenting with how video, sound, and computers can not just compliment the materiality of the stage and live bodies of the performers, but reshape the performance text in multiple and even competing registers. While a graduate student at New York University, I spent much time researching The Wooster Group. I spoke with its company members and spent much time in The Performance Garage’s archives. I was struck how director Elizabeth LeCompte’s seemingly random aesthetics fit together so well, leaving a strong impression in my mind. I began asking, What are the necessary strategies and ingredients of successful postdramatic work where the aesthetics are not unified but nevertheless seem to belong? I am convinced that even though a theatergoer might not know why one postdramatic performance works while another appears to be an unjustified, sloppy amalgamation of whatever elements happened to be available at the time, effective directing in postdramatic theater requires adequate time to develop each aesthetic choice with utmost care and specificity.  This sort of theater also relies upon a single directorial vision. The director may, like a magpie, collect ideas and texts from others. But in the end, she places her firm, unique stamp on all aspects of the work. My first postdramatic production, Guru, drew from The Wooster Group’s strategies in order to share an autobiographical experience of my current questioning of theater practice and theory at the time. With my mentor Richard Schechner represented onstage and also literally present in the audience, I drew upon LeCompte’s own transgression of earlier work by The Performance Group and similar 1960s downtown theater practitioners. Since then I have continued exploring postdramatic strategies in productions with texts by Georg Büchner, Gertrude Stein, and Martin Crimp.  

 

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Most recently, I have been exploring ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodation as a powerful aesthetic tool that can push the entire theater event in new, compelling directions. For example, with Crimp’s Attempts on her Life, I included an audio description project for the blind. Headsets with verbal description and additional sound-design were provided to over 10% of the audience, both blind and seeing. This audio description did not attempt an objective or “neutral” description of the events on stage, but drew attention to the fact that any telling of events is necessarily editorial and can capture only part of reality because we all see and experience things uniquely. This idea was, in fact, perhaps the play’s main point.

 

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No matter what genre I choose, I work with the performance space through the lens of environmental theater. To date I have worked in outdoor amphitheaters, intimate arenas, black box, thrust, and proscenium stages, cafés, abandoned buildings, riverbeds, and a large traverse configuration. For me, space is often the main impetus for choosing the dramatic (or otherwise) text, themes, and other production components. At the beginning of every production, I find myself sitting alone in the empty space, letting it speak to me and suggest possibilities.

 

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When developing a vision of a production, it is of course vital to consider the interests and strengths of my fellow artists, as well the larger community in which we are to produce the work. Regardless of the central written text or performance space, I start my project by addressing the most important question of any production: why create the work at all?  In this sense I consider myself a dramaturge as much as a director.  I approach each project by analyzing the greater socio-historical, cultural, political, and institutional contexts with which the work must engage. What current hermeneutics will an audience bring to the piece? What social and cultural values, concerns, and expectations will impact their expectations and inform the text itself, which might have been created in a different context with different influences?

 

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Because I have trained as an actor, dancer, and physical performer and continue to teach acting to others, I consider myself an actor’s director. The performer remains central to my work even when the acting style moves far away from psychological realism. Working with university students is particularly rewarding because of their passion, open-mindedness, and willingness to take risks.  When possible and in line with a theater’s or department’s goals, I usually choose ensemble-based projects because they afford the greatest sense of ownership and community for the cast.

 

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This ensemble-based approach extends to my design team as well. Given ample time, I seek mutually influencing experimentation between the performers, the designers, and myself. This requires flexibility--particularly earlier in the process--and excellent communication and facilitation skills. When done with care and attention, such collaboration can lead to rewarding discoveries that I mentioned above. For example, in my production of Gertrude Stein’s What Happened, the set designer introduced three extremely long pieces of white cloth that hung down from the fly loft all the way to the floor. Seizing upon this offer, I asked that the long swaths remain uncut so that they could extend throughout the space and even to the back of the house. This fabric ended up as a literal through-line of the piece, driving much of the blocking, many wonderful actor choices, the video work that played off of the uneven surfaces, and the concept for the opening scene, which featured sounds of a powerful cataract and the image of white cloths billowing through space.

 

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As an auteur with a broad background in academic disciplines and theater practice, personal performance training and experience in teaching others, strong interpersonal, facilitation, and leadership skills, and a commitment to in-depth dramaturgical work, I bring a well-rounded passion to the art and craft of directing.  I share a specific, personal vision with my production team and cast and then value the work-in-process, which always expands and develops my original idea. Regardless of the text or subject matter, once I take on a project I find myself immediately engrossed in the work at hand, deriving joy from both the myriad details and strong interpersonal communication and teamwork that every successful production requires.