Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors


I’ve been fascinated by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for years. It’s one of those bucket list items for me. But I’ve been warned that directing there was unlike directing anywhere else. So, inspired by Articulate Theatre Company member Katrin Hilbe, and ATC friend Joan Kane, I decided to reach out to a few “Fringe-Bound” directors and find out just what goes on ‘across the pond’ in the pressure-cooker theatrical event known as Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Some of these directors are old hands at EFF and some are first-timers. Read on to delve into the minds of these Festival Directors! — Cat Parker

MEET THE DIRECTORS: (click on the names for bio and show info)

Katrin Hilbe
Martha Wollner
Joshua William Gelb
Joel Polis

Joan Kane
Scott W. Slavin
Luke Tudball
Antony Raymond
John Clancy

Jessi D. Hill
Cindy Sibilsky
Peter Michael Marino
Padraic Lillis

CP: What surprises/challenges have you faced during the process?

John: The festival is always a physical challenge.  It’s a long month and we usually only take one day off.  And it’s a walking town, even though it’s practically vertical, up and down, up and down.  I’m always surprised how exhausted I can get just two weeks in.

Katrin: The struggle for audiences is hard and relentless. You have to constantly have flyers with you, talk to people, network, be out and about, and not let yourself get disheartened by small houses. The average of the Fringe is 4 people per show. We did better, but we never got past half full. We had a serious drama, and 2/3 of Fringe shows are comedies with a student audience in mind. There are also a lot of returns who over the years build up a following. Never mind that there are plenty of names out there that can draw audiences. In addition to that you have the special seasons, i.e. this year for instance it’s a New Zealand festival, last year I saw amazing productions from the Brasilian season and the South African season, and they don’t have the same limitations than the regular Fringe show has. Real tech time as opposed to your 4 hrs, no 5 min. set-up, 5 min. strike, no minimal rep lighting plot etc., so already their production values are a different ballgame. These shows are state funded. Then you got the Traverse theatre with its own festival programming, which also doesn’t follow the Fringe model.  It is not a level playing field, but the audience doesn’t necessarily know that. You are competing with 2999 other shows… That said, I’m again taking a piece with a serious subject matter, that’s just the way I roll.

Joel: In the 2005 season at the Festival, I had ten days to rehearse a 85 page, 2 character play about the poet Ezra Pound, called Pound of Flesh and to learn, rehearse, and mount 2 other plays. I’m not as young as I was this morning so learning 2 new plays (I had memorized the POUND script before I arrived), was…..let’s say “challenging.”  But, my muscle memory kicked into gear and I got the job done. And for sure, “The Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes”, a staple of the festival and the Festival Theater Company, was fantastically fun.

Scott: Having not been to the EFF before, I can’t speak to the challenges I’ll face there this August. But in preparation for the EFF, the two biggest challenges have been cutting a third out of an 85 minute script to make it work in our 60 minute time-slot, and scheduling my time and energy to effectively manage both the artistic and business sides of producing in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival while also holding down a 50 hour a week full-time job (as Executive Director of New York City solo theater company All For One). To sustain an atmosphere of freedom, play, and creative discovery amidst such a packed schedule in a New York City has been a real test of will, commitment, and passion. As a result of taking on this feat, I’ve already learned a tremendous amount in just about every area of production planning and rehearsal (and expectation) management. I’ve become a wiser and, I believe, much more valuable and forthright collaborator as a result.

Joan:  Audiences in the UK react to different things than those here. Last year, when I attended other productions, I noticed that audiences liked physical humor and when they are quiet it is because they are listening intently. I suspect they have longer attention spans for theatre there too.

Joshua: Firstly, the exchange rate is absolutely outrageous right now. I mean, the pound is almost twice the dollar; so imagine doubling an already offensive budget and you’ll start to understand my frustration as a producer/director. But I won’t bore you with the travails of fundraising for non-profit theater. I will merely say that trying to book group-tickets with our airline has been akin to a french farce and on several occasions I have considered drug-dealing to make up for certain deficits. What’s been positively surprising is the amount of people coming out of the blue to tell me that they’re going as well, or they know someone who’s going, or they’re backpacking through Europe for a couple days and want to grab a drink at such and such pub. The sense of community already feels overwhelming and we’re not even there yet. I feel a tremendous solidarity with so many of the state-side artists about to make this crazed journey. Of course, that solidarity mostly manifests itself in re-tweets.

Luke: First of all, there are always challenges. If there aren’t, I think you are either not working hard enough or you are doing the wrong show. That aside, it shouldn’t be like constantly banging your head against a wall just to make great art. I think that really it’s all about knowing that the show you have chosen to do is challenging to you, but at the same time, within your reach. In Edinburgh, everything can be a challenge. From just physically getting your set up in time to start the show, refocusing the lights and so on, to having enough energy to do all your shows, see other shows, go flyering and attend the multitude of other Fringe-related events. You just have to hit the ground running and stay positive, and I think that if you do, you can overcome almost anything. As far as surprises go, I think the two biggest things are your fellow performers and the amazing audiences. People act and react at the Fringe like nowhere else. Chance meetings can result in lifetime friends and colleagues and if you are open to experience everything the Fringe has to offer, it’s like a wonderful treasure chest which is yours to revel in.

Anthony: Every play I direct is an organism in itself, and like every organism it’s completely different.  The surprises that arose in this particular show came to be because it is a solo performance piece.  And having to tell a story about a specific time and place with only one actor is very unique. Also, the Fringe is a theater machine.  It’s set up to run show after show all day and all night.  Each play must work within those predetermined parameters.  Sacrifices must be made continually with the technical aspects of the show, which allows you to focus more on where the heart of the piece is and how to transfer that to the audience.  It challenges you to be a better, more creative storyteller because you don’t have the time or luxury to take short cuts.

Jessi: As a self produced venture it’s been challenging to take the producer/marketing hat off in the rehearsal room sometimes.  We’ve had to get strict with ourselves about leaving the business at the door and just letting ourselves rehearse without worrying about logistics.  We now have a system down that works.

Peter: It is expensive. You pay all of your Festival, advert and venue fees over a long period of time way before the Fest starts. Then you factor in housing, transportation, food, drink, postcards, posters, street team, etc. Before you know it, you’ve spent $8,000-$15,000. Or more! If you do the Free Fest or Free Fringe you make cash every day at the end of your show. If not, you could wait until October or later to get your box office payout – after taxes and fees. It can be quite a shock. Do not go there to make money. You will not. Unless you are famous. And then you still won’t make a whole lot of money.

Martha: Because we have been performing before audiences for a while, the challenge is to stay alive and fresh, learning more and more about the journey of the play.

Cindy: Tom Stoppard said: “Let me explain the nature of the theatre business: it is one of insurmountable obstacles and imminent disaster. Strangely, it all turns out well.” As Producer and Director I have had my share of heartaches and disappointments: monster egos, cancelled tours, loss of key company members, internal issues that destroy the show and morale, investors pulling funding and more. But on the worst days there is still nothing else I would rather be doing.This present production of 666 DSM has been a joy! Douglas and I get along so well and love exploring ways to make the show better, more meaningful and entertaining. There’s a unquestioned trust between us, which makes working together a pleasure, and the success of the show possible.

 Check out their responses to these questions:

Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe before?

What are some changes you’ve had to make to your production in order to take it to festival?

What makes it worthwhile for a director to have a production at the festival?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about taking a show to EFF?

In such a dense field of theatre, how do you get your production to stand out?

Bonus question – what one food, drink or establishment do you look forward to trying/visiting the most?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: