Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
CP: Let’s start off with a question for the two of you about Planet Connections. PCTF is all about using theatre to encourage awareness and change in the world. How do you feel about this connection between art and community?
WM: Like most people, I wrestle with whether I’m doing enough for the community. Doing this project gave me the chance to make theater for the benefit of a larger community.
MvS: I think most artists hope their work can affect positive change, whether on an individual or institutional level. Normally, our influence sparks self-reflection at best. Probably more often, it’s negligible. But Planet Connections is great because we can contribute directly, in-kind, and help raise money while promoting awareness. Theater is a great place to spark discussion, and when a worthwhile cause is the centerpiece of that discussion, it’s really an honor to be part of that.
CP: Wendy, I’m told that “Community Service,” as it’s name implies, challenges the need for community service information on college apps. Do you feel that people have lost sight of the original intent behind doing community service?
WM: Yes the play touches on why we do community service, and how we demand it of our young people when we don’t always do it ourselves. Some teen-agers do community service with an eye towards their college applications and some come to it more authentically. It’s possible to start in one category and move to the other.
CP: What is your feeling about using theatre to affect changes in our society?
MvS: Well, sometimes it can be a preaching to the choir kind of thing. Successful change must lead to demonstrable results, and on an immediate level PCTF accomplishes that. But also, in a long term way, the event turns the audience into a community in action. The social component of PCTF, in addition to the plays, sparks worthwhile discussion hopefully spurred by the plays. And that’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. I think theater has the power to subvert expectation. Classic dramatic narrative is a lesson in causality, which is a human generated patterning for social interaction. When the audience’s experience contains an element of surprise, their patterning is interrupted and they are challenged to understand the discrepancy. That right there, that’s the moment you can change someone on an individual level. If the play is successful enough, and the issue immediate enough, to have that effect on a larger group of audience members, that can contribute to a shift in our very culture.
CP: As the Artistic Director of Studio 42, you are no stranger to interrupting an audience’s pattern. How has this position changed your relationship to work and to the theatre community at large?
MvS: I’m also grateful for the amazing plays that have come across my desk running a company whose mission is to produce what we call the “unproducible.” That’s not the only kind of work I do as a freelance director. But they are beautiful, surprising scripts I might not otherwise have been able to work on, and they really are deserving pieces. The company is my way of proving to the community that these are worthwhile projects, by actually doing them.
CP: Wendy, you’ve worked with lots of different types of directors. What trait do you love most about directors you’ve worked with?
WM: I love directors who challenge me to fully realize a given play, who challenge me to grow as a writer, who participate in the process of deciding what stays and what goes. I like directors who know how to read a script and don’t just shrug and leave it all up to me.
CP: As a fan of the use of production values in theatre, I love your statement, “…I do still draw on the principles of design when I’m directing.” [ Can you elaborate on how those principles support your directing, via production and staging?
MvS: Oh sure, well, so I used to study graphic design before directing. And part of design thinking is to take end-user experience into account. By that, I just mean thinking about how the audience receives the drama from their first glance at the marketing to their discussions with others after the show. Yes, a play must be truthful and specific and all the things we focus on in drama school. But for a play to have real meaning, it often requires careful immersion in the world. The world is an ever evolving place, just as our experience of it evolves. And the production itself must evolve along with events of the play. So all of this is just an overblown way of coordinating a beginning, middle and end that create the most satisfying journey for the audience. Part of the beginning involves our expectation of the play before we arrive. And part of the end involves our feelings after leaving the theater. That all has to be part of it. And the world of the play has to be vibrant and supportive of (or in contrast to) the values of its characters, if the production can transport us wholly from A to B.
CP: Thank you both very much for taking the time to do this interview. I wish you many broken legs at the Gala!