Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
CP: Hello Jeremy! Thank you for being part of the inaugural DirectorSpeak off-shoot: DirectorShorts! You get to set the tone for this series – I hope you’re up for the challenge!
JB: Me, too! I’m sure it will be great. I’m ready, so fire away!
CP: Excellent, let’s jump right in. Was there any one incident or point in your life that convinced you that directing was what you wanted to do?
JB: Yes, indeed. It was in 1989, when I saw a a gardening cart behind my grandparents’ house and thought “that should be a stage.” We could wheel it around, and it created an elevated platform anywhere we wanted. In turn, anywhere one could imagine in the whole world is a place where you could roll up in a cart and perform a play, the way the mummers would roll into town. “Any landscape is a natural arrangement for a battlefield or a play, that one must write plays” and imagining this cart in a variety of landscapes is what led me to creating plays. Ever since, I love a good cart, and all objects contain the potential to be theatrical, especially if they have wheels, or a particular function or a strong sense of actual-ness, and especially if they are placed in a new setting but retain their original function or form. I once did a play in an open garage, where the audience looked out onto a parking lot and an actual car driving around was a part of the staging. In life, cars can be very boring, but as a part of that very small play, to have a car driving around was thrilling. It was like Miss Saigon.
CP. What do you do to keep your artistic batteries charged?
JB: Long walks. I like to pace around, and that’s the whole fun of living in New York – being able to walk nowhere and not think of anything. The way Walt Whitman was the strolling poet, I used to joke about how I wanted to be the strolling theater person, encountering all of humanity and letting each passing stranger be an inspiration. the cell, where we are doing Peter/Wendy, is the perfect neighborhood for this. It’s inn Chelsea, so you’re surrounded by lots of good people and strange neighborhoods, including one of the only windy roads in Manhattan – those blocks between 8th and 9th just north of 23rd street, and the high line. And in turn, people on such walks walk past the window of our stage and unbeknownst to them make little cameos in our play.
CP: Do you have “dream” production that you want to do? Or a dream venue?
JB: I’d like to do most of the things I’ve done before, doing them again with huger budgets in big spaces with large stages. I plan to do my “Leaves of Grass” show (that I created with the cell) in a giant pool of milk in a huge space somewhere, like the armory. I want the audience to be able to see the floor. I hate back walls and would love to perform in bigger space, where instead of a back wall you can have a back abyss, and where characters can emerge from seemingly nowhere. In a strange way, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done was a ten minute play by Dipika Guha at The Old Vic in London, which was the biggest proscenium I ever worked in, something like 40 feet up and lots of depth. Though I only had a hundred pounds budget and no designers, by buying out the corner balloon store of helium balloons, and letting them drift in the space on really long strings, there was a bit of a string forest that was created. I’d like to go back there and play the same games but do bigger longer plays with more money.
CP: If you could do another job in the theatre besides directing, what would it be?
JB: I would be a designer. The reason I am a director is because I want to be a designer but can’t decide between sets, lights, costumes and sound.
CP: What do you look for in a play that you’d like to produce?
JB: I look for something that will be both a surprise and familiar to an audience. Having their baggage gives you a more exciting place to start. While it is our job to tell the story, if people already have a sense of what the story might be, you can tell the story in an unexpected way, and then you have the double experience of the actual story and the story of the tellers. For example, everyone that comes to Peter/Wendy knows the character, the idea, the events – but what we do is create a totally new vibe that is specific to the evening, to the music, to the performers and holds surprises that are hope are quite moving and exhilarating.
CP: Let’s talk about teams. Do you tend to work with the same team, or do you like to bring in new colleagues?
JB: I LOVE working with new people, but I rarely work with someone only once. I hate goodbyes.
CP: You have participated in several directing programs – how was that experience for you? Would you encourage other directors to do them?
JB: Yes indeed, each of the programs that I have participated in has introduced me to a whole world of new people. This has created new opportunities, and new people to be huge fans of, as well as exciting collaborations. I recommend the Drama League Directors Project and the Soho Rep Director’s Lab – both led me to unanticipated, but really exciting delights. The most important part was meeting other directors – to this day we follow each others’ work and call each other for casting recommendations or to vet certain opportunities. That’s really the value of it – the part that keeps on giving forever. On the other hand, the actual experience of each of these programs is so fun. With the Drama League, we went on a week long retreat with actors to the Berkshires to work on Shakespeare and talk shop. To work away from the city was so fantastic. And with Soho Rep, we sat around a table with Jenny Schwartz and Ken Rus Schmoll talking about plays on Sunday nights for a year – nothing could be better.
CP: Your bio mentions your affinity for festival and site-specific work. What is it about them that draws you?
JB: I just like working with space, any space, and seeing it for what it IS. Even if I’m working in a theater, I find it important to deal with the specificity of the actual space. Instead of trying to transform a space into something else, I try to use the existing space to its fullest idiosyncratic form. For example, the cell where we are doing Peter/Wendy is not a particularly typical black box space. The ceilings are soaring, the walls are white, and there’s a giant glass door in the middle of everything. Each of these features becomes a cornerstone for the event and design and suddenly, I can’t imagine doing the play anywhere else. Hopefully, the audience can feel that the event is created specifically for the room – an for that moment and that person and that night.
CP: Have you ever, or would you ever want, to expand your directing into other mediums, such as film, tv, webisodes, opera…?
JB: Indeed! In fact, I have had the privilege of working on a movie lately and can’t wait to make more. I have made operas and web videos. It’s the complete opposite process. Film is based in images and it’s all about taking a million years to push up a hill and then it’s over and lasts forever. In plays, it’s more like you are just pushing all the time and it’s never over and it doesn’t last forever.
CP: In a general sense, what are the traits that you most admire in actors?
JB: I like people who are risk takers, open-hearted, and are willing to dive in first (even before thinking). The cast of Peter/Wendy is astonishingly that way. Very fortunate. Between Josh Kelley, our casting director, and Kira Simring and the cell, I think we found the most magic people in New York.
CP: Well here we are at the end. Thank you for participating. Now’s your chance to turn the tables and ask me a question!
JB: What’s your favorite story?
CP: Hummm…. my favorite story. Probably John Synge’s “Riders to the Sea!” I adore the combination of myth, magic and the mundane, and no one does it quite like Synge!