Choosing a Directors Life
by Velina Brown
How does one set up a life as a director? How does one make a career? The answers to these questions are not exactly obvious. So, I’ve gathered the experiences of ten directors from different backgrounds, at different points in their careers to share choices they’ve made and things they’ve learned along the way. Their answers paint a fascinating and varied picture of a director’s life in America.
I think readers will be looking to get some good advice from you on how on sets up a life as a director. Let’s begin with,
What is the best piece of advice YOU ever got about creating a directing career?
Mark Jackson (Director/Playwright/Performer):
It’s not who you know. It’s who wants to work with you again.
Laird Williamson (Director/Playwright)::When you are starting out, be sure to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Whether the chance is in a small venue, a low paying venue, or if you can afford to do it, a free venue. It declares you as a Director. It identifies you. It gives you the experience you need in working with actors and honing your craft. You never know where it might lead, but the more seeds you plant, the greater the the possibilities will be in the future. Also realize that each theatre artist with whom you come in contact may potentially be an employer, the source of a recommendation, the link to another job. So guard your karma and treat every one honorably. I would also add that I once read that "What the theatre needs is more loving directors". I can't remember who said it, but I have tried to be guided by it.
Jon Tracy (writer/director):
Joy Carlin told me long ago, when I had no resume, to direct anywhere I could, no matter what the size of theatre while taking Assistant Director gigs at large houses. This way I'm building resume at one, contacts at the other and education at both.
Susannah Martin (Freelance Director,Theatre Educator and Shotgun Company Member): I don't know that I've ever gotten any advice on creating a directing career. There is no map for creating a career like this. I got a little advice when I was, 23-24 from a director whom I was assisting. She told me to seek out training opportunities - she told me to go to grad school - because she said that's where connections were made. I did go to grad school eventually, but I waited longer to do it than she would have recommended and so I made different kinds of connections than she was talking about.
Christine Young ( Director, Dramaturg, Assistant Professor and Theater Program Coordinator at University of San Francisco):
That's hard to answer. Even though I've had some wonderful teachers throughout my theatrical career, I never quite found the mentor I was looking for. More than advice, I think I've found inspiration in the theater-makers who have come before me, which helps me remember why I choose to engage in an activity that is so resource-intensive, so time-consuming, and so often under-valued (at least financially) in American society. My directing notebooks are stuffed with quotes from great artists like Oscar Wilde, Anna Deveare Smith, Haley Flanagan, Anne Bogart, Bertolt Brecht, Stella Adler, John Patrick Shanley, and Martha Graham.
Evren Odcikin (Director, Literary Artistic Associate/Golden Thread Productions):
Before I moved to San Francisco, I interned at the Trinity Repertory Company. I somehow finagled my way into an interview with Paula Vogel (who was the head of the playwriting program there at the time) for the members newsletter. I told her that I was about to move to San Francisco, and I was really worried about how I was going to build any contacts from the ground up. She said, "You just email and call the artistic directors. Tell them that you are new in the area and are looking for work." I told her that felt really forward and almost rude. She responded with "Everyone who is in a position of power knows what you are doing. But how do you think they got where they are. They called someone who met with them for coffee and gave them an opportunity. There is nothing to be ashamed of. This is how the business works. Most of them won't respond because they are too busy, but a few of them will and then you have connections." That advice really helped me get my career off the ground. I didn't pretend to be anything other than what I was (a young, smart, ambitious director) and what I wanted (an opportunity). I emailed anyone and everyone in the Bay Area when I moved here. Out of 20 emails, Patrick Dooley, Melissa Hillman and Larry Eilenberg responded. I told them I was willing to do anything to get started and within three months of moving here, I was employed at the Magic, assistant directing at Shotgun and had run lights for Impact. I met other artists from those gigs and within six months I was directing a production.
Chris Smith (Development Director at the Center for Ecoliteracy , pursuing Venture Theatre projects, Playwrights Foundation Board Member) :
To be honest, I did not get a lot of advice about a directing career, in part because I never attended a graduate program. I simply arrived in NYC with the passion to pursue theatre and the belief that I should be directing. I volunteered at a number of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatre companies and created opportunities for myself. My big blessings, as a developing professional director, were the writers and actors who I had a chance to collaborate with. They did not necessarily give directing advice, but they helped me continuously hone my craft through their own pursuit of artistic excellence. What emerged is a vision where one of a director's most important functions is to try and get the best work from everybody around them. And it generated a genuine spirit of exploration. As playwright Frank Gilroy used to say, "best by test." The other constant note, which was born in the crucible of the New York developmental theatre scene, is to work for pace and keep productions flowing and moving. Its true for productions and for a career path.
Ellen Sebastian Chang (Founder of Life on the Water, Director, Writer, Creative Consultant and General Manager FuseBOX):
I am a self taught, drop-out, learned on the "job" type. Therefore, when I decided to switch from lighting design to directing I took my own personal advice, "Fuck it! I'll make my own work." Which began with "Your Place Is No Longer With Us" in 1982 a performance work created to take place in a private home and serve a meal to the audience at the end of each performance. Jack Carpenter was my lighting designer and overall creative partner which included helping me sew dozens of pieces of women's lingire into a guaze maze -- I had all the visual, and spoken words of the performance piece but when it came time to work with the actors I turned to Jack and said very quietly, " I am a little scared and I don't know what to do." He said what I know now is the best advice always "Trust yourself but then he also said this is stage left, stage right upstage, downstage, which you can learn from a book." I didn't have a career. I made work, performance, and life. I think the what I have learned over the years is that directing is about continuing your ability to develop and deepen your perspective. Directing is about a maintaining a great level of curiosity that must include a strong desire to communicate effectively with a wide range of personalities and personnel.
Michael Butler (Artistic Director, Center REPertory Theatre):
Be very thorough in your work, and very prepared to talk about it.
Leigh Fondakowski (The Laramie Project, The People's Temple, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, Casa Cushman, Spill, member of Tectonic Theater Project):
The best piece of advice I ever received was from my first directing teacher, Kevin Kulhke. I had become rather disheartened by the proliferation of naturalistic scenes in the class, and wondered if theater was really for me. I was more interested in a theater that had less to do with naturalism, and more to do with expressing ideas that could not be expressed in film or on television. Kevin suggested that instead of giving up on the theater, that I create the theater that I loved. He recommended going to see avant-garde artist Reza Abdoh who had created a piece in an abandoned warehouse in the meat packing district in New York -- now home to exclusive boutiques and shops -- but back in the 90's it was still a gritty place full of slaughterhouses for the beef industry. Reza's piece was called "Quotations from a Ruined City," and it was as abstract as pieces come. It was about AIDS, it was about death, it was a social critique about the loss of our humanity, but it was also a piece that profoundly celebrated our humanity. It was highly physical and highly visual, with very little text. I sat in the audience at the end of the piece -- not literally understanding what I had just seen, but emotionally understanding it, to the point where it was hard to get up and leave the space, even after the entire audience had filed out. The piece foretold the end of the world, and so in my heart and my mind, when the piece ended, the world had ended, too. It was a surreal night afterward walking the streets of the city, contemplating the power of what I had just seen, but also its content. It wasn't literal content (I couldn't tell you the names of characters or lines they spoke), but the content was the overall experience. Form (movement, energy, visuals) had become content. I knew that I wanted to explore this relationship of content and form, and that theater was the best medium to do it.
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?
The DIY approach is great schooling. So DIY. Just don’t always DIY. Looking back I see that I could have benefitted from mixing it up with one or two more conventional routes among the various DIY routes I was traveling in my twenties and early thirties.
As your work progresses and you gain more control over projects you take on, avoid accepting a project that does not strike a spark in you, whether it be an ethical theme, a political point of view, a vision of the world or any other catalyst which might stimulate, invigorate and propel your entire approach to the project. I have made this mistake of taking a job just to take the job or for the prestige on several occasions and the process and the results were less than stellar. Unless the play lives in your gut and your heart, the result is likely to be disappointing and not representative of your work to a potential employer, critic or the public.
No matter what you're doing on any level at any time, take care of your body.
What kind of career do you want? What kind of theatre do you want to make? Where do you see yourself working? How do you see yourself working? Who do you want to work with? What theatre makers do you admire? Look at them, follow them, see how they did it. What is your process? What do you want it to be?
Know that any kind of career you have as a director is valid - but you should choose what kind of career that is. I had an advisor in graduate school who asked me, "Do you want to direct classics and more traditional scripts at regional houses? Or do you want to be making and devising your own work?" I looked at her and said, "Why can't I do both?" And thus, this is the kind of career I have been charting for myself for the past 6-8 years. Granted, I was in my early 30s when she asked me. How I wished someone had asked me that question when I was in my early 20s!
Believe in yourself. In my experience, confidence and persistence are the two main characteristics that distinguish people who have careers in theater versus people who have left the theater for other pursuits. There are lots of talented and creative people in the world, and there is always going to be someone who seems cooler or more like your image of an artist than you are. Forget about that. Just make your work, figure out the financial piece in a way that's tolerable for you, and focus on what stories you want to tell.
Evren Odcikin: Keep great records of your reviews, photos and videos of your productions. Archiving your work is incredibly important for you to apply to positions and grants.
Continuously work to communicate clearly and always try to keep a sense of humor.
Ellen Sebastian Chang:
I wish someone had told me to go to NYC and sit at the feet of Ellen Stewart of La Mama, to seek her out as an Art-Mother. She was a seminal creator, thinker and iconoclast that looms large in my spirit jar. This is one of my regrets that I did not seek her out.
Well, I didn’t really start out as a director. My path was an odd one: I started out as a musician, then went to drama school, for acting, worked as both musician and actor before starting a company, which led to writing, directing, designing and producing (had to, there was no one else) and then, only after all that, did I start directing in regional theatre. So maybe someone should have told me to focus more? I liked my eclectic path though so I don’t think that would have worked on me. I definitely could have been better at paying attention to how the business works though.
I had the good fortune of meeting director Moises Kaufman early on my path. I was assisting Moises in church basements and small rehearsal studios while he worked on new work by Naomi Izuka (then an unknown playwright), David Greenspan, and other downtown artists. He had started a fledgling company called Tectonic Theater Project, and I was also helping to run the company. We would joke at the time that we were "the theater of schlep," doing everything ourselves, carrying our props and costumes and set pieces around in our back packs and on the subway. Moises then turned his hand to both writing and directing and his "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" became a huge hit in New York. It was the first time in the company's history that we had any money in the bank. What that experience taught me is that you can make the work that you love, and still strike a chord in a commercial market, and that that is not necessarily a bad thing. Finding a commercial home for your work means that more people will see it, and it also means that you can have money to continue to make more work. With the proceeds from "Gross Indecency," we were able to travel to Laramie, Wyoming, in the aftermath of the brutal beating and death of gay university of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. It was by example, rather than through words, that Moises taught me not to fear commercial success, and that art and commerce do not necessarily need to be at odds. Before "Gross Indecency" I always thought about directing as something that I would always do, but never as something that if I applied myself wholly to it, could actually support me financially, that I could forge and sustain a viable career as a theater artist.
How do you feel about 5 year, 10 year etc plans?
I’m 100% in favor of long-term plans. I’m currently in the middle of my second 10- year plan. The first 10-year plan was Art Street Theatre, the fringe company I founded in 1995 when I was relatively fresh out of undergrad and nobody had any evident reason to hire me. Art Street allowed me to both develop and demonstrate what I could do. It was originally a 5-year plan, and became a 10-year plan because we got on a good roll. In those second 5 years I also started getting hired by other local producers. So in 2005 I shifted fully into my second 10-year plan, freelancing. Having specific long-range goals helps me to make choices along the way to shape my career toward those aims. It’s worth noting that flexibility is always part of the plan. I see my career as a protean thing that needs shaping, pushing, and room to grow organically.
I have never gotten involved in projections of where I wanted to be in so many years or what I want to have achieved by a certain moment in my history. I don't know if this was any kind of detriment to my progress, but I never really thought of it as a Career. Maybe that's just dumb, but I just went ahead and did it without a lot of thought about where it was leading. I think projections can potentially bind the artist up in unrealistic expectations and install a constant monitor that is continually measuring one's progress. I believe one's head can be best occupied with other matters.
I wish that I was better at making them. I'm such a moment-to-moment person. One of the hardest things for me is learning how to think/envision that far ahead. I'm adapting. But it's taken along time. Regardless, I think it's really important to set big goals - even goals that feel unattainable - and then try and figure out how to meet them.
I've never had much of a long term plan. I always thought I should have one, but it's just not how my mind works. When I look back at my career, I realize that there have been many different phases, but I can't say I really planned any of them, except for grad school. Getting my MFA in Directing was a conscious choice, one that I made with the notion that I might one day want to teach at the college level. I am in fact now teaching full-time at the University of San Francisco, so I guess some part of my young director's brain knew I wanted to eventually teach.
They are essential. I think it's hard to create them when you are first starting out, because you have to just say yes to everything. But once you find yourself at a place when you no longer can sustain that kind of output, it's important to sit down and make a plan. They will help you in making choices that serve you and your career.
The great thing about long range plans is that they help you "aim high in steering," by which I mean not over correct for little jogs or over react to minor setbacks.
I think, looking backward, artists get defined by certain parameters of their work -- she's great with naturalistic plays, he's the one for whacky non-linear, so and so is not good with comedy, or classics, or star-driven vehicles -- and consequently the choices of the range of material a director works on is important. Developing clarity about working with a style and a variety of artistic techniques, and creating a trajectory for your body of work that reflects what compels you are important to consider. They help a director do one of the hardest things: say "no" to a project that may be offered to them that does not align with their vision of their strengths and interests.
Having said that, life is a continuous serious of opportunities. Defining a "north star" to guide you is great, yet a long range plan that projects a series of tactics -- like "by this year I'll be here and then I'll go there and then I'll get invited to that big company" -- quickly becomes meaningless.
The important exception is for directors who are generating their own work and considering either putting together a theatre company or self-producing. This is a route I strongly encourage for those with the fortitude to pursue it. Choosing the material you are most passionate about directing and making it happen is a powerful form of directorial expression. In putting together a theatre, long range plans and long range vision are vital. In recognizing the need to present your own projects, the producer side requires a lot of strategic thinking and allows the director side to be in the moment and working more concretely and specifically with the artists toward opening night.
Ellen Sebastian Chang:
I think dreams that become goals are important, very important, along with a dogged passion, determination and an understanding of what the plan needs to be to manifest those dream goals. The plan is what will get tweaked along the path of the dreams. I said when I was 21 that I wanted to have my own theater before I turned 30. LIfe on The Water opened two months after my 30 with the great Spalding Gray. Once you have a dream that you are determined to create then you open yourself to become in alinement with the people/partners that will aid you in manifesting that dream into the physical world. But if you mean plans like a business plan, or strategic plan I've done those with and for organizations but for the human spirit of the artist I think you need to be a bit more "crazy" and free inside yourself to really become inspired that latter stuff for me is creatively soul crushing.
Michael Butler: The same way I feel about journals. Great idea but I could never get anything down on paper.
I have been rigorous about writing 5 and 10 year plans. I have also been rigorous about creating vision statements and the like, at least once per year, to remember who I am and what to what I am aspiring. The main thing though, is to be awake enough in your life to allow life to lead (in spite of what you plan). There is a major degree of uncertainty in the life of an artist, and this must be enthusiastically embraced. The major projects in my life: The Laramie Project, The People's Temple, Casa Cushman, and Spill, all came to me in various ways. The work found me. I didn't go out seeking the work. Now, I do think there was a relationship to all the planning that I did, in that I was prepared to say yes when those projects came, because they were each, in their own way, in line with my artistic vision and aspirations, which is to make work that formally moves the medium forward, and to make work that is part of the dialogue about important social, current, and historical events. I knew enough to say yes because those projects spoke directly to my vision. I did a lecture series in 2010 with Finnish architect Juhanni Palaasma, and one of the things that he said was that he never planned, he always "lived life by the ear," and that he would always say "yes" to anything that he had never done before. When I thought about it, I realized I do both: I let life guide me toward my work, and I make sure that my vision for the future is clear.
How much of what you've done so far was part of a long-term plan?
Everything. Each project and experience is one part in a continuum of work. Also, every show I write or direct is a potential door to another gig. Producers want to know you can do the job, and the best way to show them is by doing it. Certainly the time I spent living in Berlin was quite consciously a means toward preparing for the future. I was there to learn how different artists and organizations were bringing dance and theatre together under one roof, which is directly related to my third and fourth 10-year plans.
I have tried to look back on my work to analyze whether I have ever had a long- term plan. I think not. I did have the objective of working in the theatre in San Francisco, which I achieved. Other than that, my decisions regarding where my work would be headed next were dictated by personal artistic priorities. I usually felt more productive in venues that fostered actual acting companies instead of those jobbing in their actors from outside. I believe that the work in such companies has the potential to be fuller and deeper, with more of a sense of ensemble than a cast of essentially strangers who find themselves spending a great deal of time and energy adjusting to each other and trying to develop mutual trust. So, if there was indeed any kind of plan, its path was dictated by where I felt I could do my best, my most fully realized work.
It all is. And there is no was. I'm still very much on a plan and have a long way to go.
In terms of some of the shows that I've directed and some of the companies that I've worked at, I don't know that they were "long term plans" but they were wishes, they were goals. I still have a lot of goals that I'd like to meet. But recently I've really been re-evaluating what the way is towards those goals. My career has been a mix of projects pursued and created traditionally and projects pursued and created non-traditionally. Lately, I'm thinking more and more about the non-traditional way towards my goals. The world is changing rapidly - and theatre is being forced to catch-up. The non-traditional path seems to be on the forefront of that change.
My long term plan can pretty much be summed up as "live a life in the theater." When I was younger, I had hopes I could have a regional directing career, which hasn't and most likely won't happen. But now I realize that this choice was motivated more by an idea of the kind of artist I wanted to be rather than by an awareness of the kind of artist I actually am. I like being rooted in a local community and working with people I know. I also chose to have a family, and in doing so have learned the valuable and incontrovertible lesson that no person can be in two places at the same time. So I've made less theater at this point in my 20-year career than I thought I would, but I also plan to keep making theater for another 25 years, so I figure I'll catch up at some point!
Evren Odcikin: I am someone who likes to keep all his options open and I feel this has kept me from formalizing my plan through my first 10 years in the Bay Area. I am in the process of putting together my first official long term plan and the process in itself has been hugely helpful.
Chris Smith: When running theaters, as an artistic director or associate or producing a series, a great deal of the thinking and planning includes a long range vision. I have been blessed with the opportunity to create directorial projects within those companies and series for myself, which have included a "north star" guide (in my case a dedication to working on new plays and with emerging writers) and a plan to develop and work with particular artists. That has been an invaluable component of my artistic life. As a freelance director, most of my energies go into cultivating relationships with artists and companies and the long range planning simply includes being mindful of that cultivation and identifying opportunities. As a freelance director one also needs a portfolio of plays and projects to be able to pitch, so the notion of identifying some specific work you are interested in pursuing over the next couple of years also makes good sense.
Ellen Sebastian Chang:
My life is a testament to my lack of a long term plan but also a testament to my passion to make work on as much of my own terms, vision, and ethics as possible. I am drawn to what I am interested in and what is interested in me and yes you do need to be organized, keep the discipline of a schedule, and balance your check book.
Ha! Define long term. 2 years? That’s what I used to think. Planning has been very important as an artistic director, but being available and flexible was always more useful for me as a free lancer. I would periodically try to plan my career but mostly I went where the work took me.
Leigh Fondakowski: The pivotal moment for me in my career came when Moises Kaufman, the artistic director of Tectonic Theater Project, called all of us into his office to discuss going to Laramie, Wyoming after Matthew Shepard was killed. He didn't say, "let's go write a play about this." He said, "Do we as theater artists have a role to play in the national dialogue about what happened to Matthew Shepard?" The whole project was based on the proposition of that question. I think questions like these have always driven my work. So in terms of a long-term plan, I think it's important to develop questions that are meaningful to you, questions that your work is then an answer to.
When did you know you were a director?
I always knew I was an artist. But by high school I knew I was headed toward directing and writing, mainly, while keeping a few toes in acting.
Susannah Martin: The very first time I directed: when I was a senior in high school. It was immediate. The world made sense in a way that it never had before.
Christine Young: I directed my first play (The Imaginary Invalid) when I was 16 for my high school's student-run theater group. I really liked theater but when I reached college, I was torn between continuing to act and direct and rowing for the college crew team. During my first semester I was invited to a talk given by South African playwright Athol Fugard. I had no idea who he was! Fugard was preparing to direct one of his own plays for the first time. He read excerpts from his famous notebooks, which contained a stunning mix of observations about daily life in South Africa, scraps of stage directions and dialogue, philosophical questions, and a passionate inquiry of his characters. I had an absolute conversion experience during the 2 hours I spent in his presence, and I knew from that moment on I wanted to spend my life in the theater.
I had been doing theater since I was 5 as an actor. I was good at it, but could feel myself hitting a wall. Senior year of high school. I directed a tiny little Beckett parody and everything clicked. I realized that all of the thoughts and instincts I were having as an actor, which seemed to hinder my spontaneity on stage, actually served me really well as a director. I love process and am obsessed with finding out and supporting the working style of different people in the room. That has been my passion since that production.
I went to a conservatory training program in Connecticut at the O'Neill Center in my junior year of college. I had an epiphany that I was not inclined in pursuing a professional career as an actor and that directing was the culmination and expression of my interests. I had never directed before, but the next year I created projects for myself and have continued to do so for several decades.
Ellen Sebastian Chang:
Time spent working with the craft. After 30 years of creating and directing first my own work and then finally moving into directing the work of others I will accept the title but still know I have so much to learn.
Evidently long after several other people knew. It took me a while and I worked my way into it gradually. No A Ha moment, sorry to say. But working with great directors like Andrei Serban, Liviu Ciulei and Garland Wright had an enormous impact on my sense of how creative directing could be. And of course, there’s nothing like starting your own little company to push you in that direction. We were touring India with a rock musical we wrote and circumstances kind of forced us to direct ourselves.
I was a poet and short story writer in college. A group of students on campus were putting together a student one-act play festival and they asked me to submit a play. Having never written a play before I took a crack at it, and the result was a pretty didactic play, a scathing critique of the Roman Catholic church. I couldn't find a director who would take it on (it really wasn't very good), so I took some books on directing out of the library and determined to direct it myself. Once I got into the rehearsal room with the actors, I realized directing was in a way like being a poet, only the poetry and story telling happened through theatrical elements -- lights, sound, space, blocking, emotion, sets, costumes, etc. -- instead of through words. All of my artistic instincts took over and through the art -- or craft -- of directing, I was able to rewrite the play with more subtly and depth. I then went on to study directing, but I believe the craft of directing is something that continues to develop over one's lifetime.
If your current self could say something encouraging to your 23 year old self what would you say?
Stick your neck out farther. Walk off more cliffs. If you’re going to fail—and you will —fail big so that you hit the dirt harder and bounce up higher.
Laird Williamson: Hmm... Interesting. Don't be daunted by failure, actual or perceived. Be ready to bounce back. Be resilient. Don't take it to heart. The universe is imperfect, Impersonal and Impermanent.
In directing, you need to know the history of everything so you can spend your life finding their connections. So stop smoking pot and open a book, the library's big.
I feel like Polonius: To thine own self be true.
Find collaborators - find people that excite you - that inspire you - that keep you going on the path of making work - that push you forward. No one is going to hand you anything. But if you have people - or a person, even - that inspires you, that you want to create something with, then you will make work. And you will keep moving forward in your career. The resulting career may surprise you, or not be what you planned - but it will speak clearly to who you are as an artist and a human being.
Do something you really want to do when you are in your early 20's! Start a theater company; travel; study with a master theater-maker even though you have to sleep on someone's floor; make crazy, wild art. So many of the students I teach are worried about the practicalities of their lives and careers. This is natural and necessary. However, at the same time, there is a freedom you have when you are young to experiment, to try crazy things even though you might fail, to believe you might be the person to do what everyone has found impossible. This freedom is temporal, part of a particular phase of one's life. In our early 20's, my husband David Gluck and I toyed with buying a crappy warehouse space in the then unrenovated 3rd street neighborhood and transforming it into a theater. Instead, we went to grad school, which was an incredibly valuable and useful experience. But by the time we returned to San Francisco in our 30's, rents had radically changed and we were no longer people who thought we could live in a building with no heat or running water! Some part of me has always regretted that we didn't spend at least a few years pursuing that crazy scheme.
No, you will not "make it" when you're 30. This will be a long road. Don't hurry. Just focus on building your craft and making connections. You cannot make opportunities happen for you. All you can control is how ready you can be when those opportunities arise, so you can take advantage of them.
Chris Smith: Life and art are what you make of it. Do not wait for someone to give you permission to pursue your talent. And please do not forget to take care of your friends and family along the way.
Ellen Sebastian Chang:
I would have insisted that I attend a university "stay in school" since school is as much about making connections as it is about the education of the art form. But if I was talking to the 23 year old me I probably would not have listened anyway. And here I would be.
Michael Butler: Stick it out. Purserverance, persistence. Sometimes that’s even more important than talent. There are a lot of talented people out there. And a lot of them drop out. Just stay in the game.
This is advice I would give to my 23 years old self, and the advice I still give my 43 year old self: celebrate the success of others. Determine to find and develop community: deep friendships and artistic partnerships and collaborations. Surround yourself with artists who both challenge and inspire you, like minded artists with whom you share both an aesthetic and social vision.
It is still true today that women work less than men -- both as directors and playwrights -- and that women and people of color are still underrepresented in the narratives of our time. There have been moments when jealousy at others' opportunities or frustration about inequality have eaten me up inside, but I have to remember in those moments to celebrate the success and opportunities of others, that I am part of the success of others (particularly people I know or have worked with) because we are part of a larger community of theater artists working at this moment in history. When I think about inequality, I think TV and film are more advanced than theater in terms of representation, but instead of letting this allow me to become disillusioned, I have to use it as fuel to make the work that I love and believe in. I have come to realize that with a little creativity and a lot of perseverance, I can always find the money, space, time, and collaboration to make my work. It hasn't always been easy, but by thinking outside the box about partnerships with institutions and non- traditional ways to fund the work, I have -- and continue -- to make a body of work that is meaningful to me, and hopefully of service to the world and to the medium of theater.
There is inevitably an incredible amount of rejection and disappointment in this profession, but we do it because we must, because to not do it is not an option. When we are in the thick of tech (that dark night of the soul when you doubt everything) Moises and I still call each other and say: "Remind me again why I do this?" And the answer always is: "Because you are making a thing of beauty, and the world needs more beauty."
Beautiful. Each one of you has a very unique story and journey that you are on as artists. I think the main message is there is no one way to go about the director’s life. But if it is one’s hearts desire, as you say Chris Smith, “ Do not wait for someone to give you permission...” one must simply do it. Thank you all so much.