Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors

Is it worthwhile?

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

Peter: Great question. I admired any director who was there for the duration of the festival. And there were many. There are SO MANY opportunities to network there. You can pitch your work and yourself to so many organizations and theaters from around the world. It’s really what it’s all about. The production you directed can take off in a million different directions because of the people you meet there. You might even be offered other directing or development opportunities while you’re there. A director must really be a part of the show – from handing out postcards, doing interviews and being at the show, to following the press and getting press, and mostly seeing other shows. To me, I was incredibly inspired as an artist by the shows I saw. It made me a better director. I take more chances now. I think even more outside the box. Seeing the work of directors and writers from all around the world is something you don’t get anywhere else. If you’re serious about being an artist in any discipline, the Edinburgh Fringe is the best training ground.  Period.

Martha: Every production is a chance to have a learning experience. For The God Box, A Daughter’s Story, the festival is an opportunity to travel a show that has been touring US, cities, and have the experience of playing to an international community day after day.

Cindy: I usually work on big scale, big budget musicals, which are great and certainly have their place, but it has been really nice to get back to the bare bones heart of theatre: great writing, thought provoking themes, memorable characters, humor and drama. The goal is for the show to tour US, UK, and hopefully a Fringe run in London. The most exciting thing about the festival is the audience. They are such a mix of every kind of person from all over the world. I’m excited for it to be a different show each night depending on their responses.

Katrin: You get a European credit, you get to meet a zillion people from all walks of theatrical life who may prove viable contacts for future work, not only in Europe but in the entire Commonwealth and the US, as there are plenty of US companies doing the Fringe every year as well. And people will now be looking at your resume, if you’ve successfully done the Fringe, and by successfully I mean survived and managed to get some fun and games out of it, they will know you can do anything. Aside from that, you (hopefully) will make a point of completely stuffing yourself with theatre, ideally things out of your geographical and stylistic comfort zone. The EdFringe really blows your horizon’s mind (is that a valid metaphor?) and is incredible inspirational input.

John: Edinburgh audiences are the most astute and discerning you’ll ever play to.  They see so much and they are there expressly to see new and challenging work.  The same can be said for the press.  Year after year they see the best new work from the English-speaking world, so they have a broader and deeper appreciation than any other group of critics I know.

Joel: Playing the festival will provide theater goers, actors, directors, and producers from around the world, the opportunity to see our work, to become aware of our playwright, Allen Barton, our producing agency, the Skylight Theater Company of Los Angeles, our actors, Michael Yavnieli and Jeff LeBeau, and myself. We are sharpening the script even further for productions in London and NY. And it will just be damn fun rubbing shoulders with all the other mad theater people from around the world.

Joan: The audiences make it worthwhile for a director to have a production in the Fringe. They are passionate and have strong opinions. I really dig the discussions that occur after the show. Their feedback is intelligent and well informed. My impression is that theatre in the UK is part of the culture and that everyone sees theatre from an early age despite class and economic means. I also enjoy discussions with the other artists that are presenting at the festival.

Jessi: This is a great way for Lucie and I to continue to refine her the piece towards completing some of our the long term goals we’ve set for the work.  Personally, I think having the opportunity to travel with artistic work and expose it to international audiences is a gift.

Padraic: For me, a good engaging story that captures the audience’s attention. Especially a story that feels very American because of the locations but knowing that it will strike a personal chord with all communities. Also, knowing that we are creating a platform for Vickie to perform her show as well as to do workshops with local students to teach them to tell there stories. It is important to me that the show, especially in an environment like this, lives out it’s mission. Which is to empower people through telling their stories. We hope to gain attention for the show – but ultimately the desire for the attention is so Vickie can keep inspiring people who live similar lives like her own – and can find the strength to create.

Anthony: Just being at Edinburgh is worthwhile.  Meeting and chatting with other artists who share the same passion for theater.

Joshua: The festival is going to be an exciting test for this work. It’s physical, it’s political, it’s stupid in the smartest way possible. This kind of visceral physical storytelling has much more sway across the pond, and being in the festival allows us to take part in this particularly European tradition of innovative physical theater.  Not to mention this is an opportunity for our company, JV Squad, to pick up some press (hopefully positive) which we weren’t able score our last time around. I’m also getting out of New York for the dreaded month of August, which is perfect because I’m not a summer person.

Luke: For me, being a director is about constantly challenging yourself and others to explore new ideas and concepts and finding new and exciting ways of telling wonderful and engaging stories. It’s about always learning and being open to experience while knowing that you have an important message to deliver. Edinburgh offers the opportunity to do all of those things and a million more. Being able to see wonderful companies and performers from all over the world, listen to exhilarating musical performances, hang out in a pub and watch open mic poetry, go on a midnight ghost hike, whatever you want to do you can. It’s brilliant to be able to learn from the world’s best practitioners and practice and hone your own craft at the same time. Bringing a production to the Fringe is both terrifying and an amazing honor.

Scott: From being in other festivals, my experience as a director is this – A festival can serve as a great learning experience—personally and professionally. The intensity of the festival format, the shoestring nature of most productions, the tight timeframes and limited options, the commercial–if not moral–imperative that artists reach out across production lines and collaborate to support everyone’s success–these realities draw heavily upon a person’s inner resources. I’m directly confronted not only with my skill as a director, but also my presence as human being. How effective am I as a leader? A collaborator? A listener? A steward of this production? Am I advocating as courageously as I can for myself and others—independent of circumstance, and for the highest good of all concerned? In these ways, a festival is a great litmus test for how aware and engaged as an artist and leader I actually am.

A festival offers artists opportunities to take creative and artistic risks that may not be as supported outside the festival world. When Valerie Hager (writer/performer of Naked In Alaska) and I have been in previous festivals, every night after a show we’d meet and talk about the things we tried, what happened, how we felt about it, and what we might do next. We’d then literally make changes, update the looks and QLab in the 15 minutes before the show, and go. We used our time at The New York International Fringe Festival like this to real commercial and critical success. As long as I can go into a festival with the intention that the festival is ultimately an opportunity to take as many creative and artistic risks as possible—to push the boundaries of the form, the story, and anyone’s ideas about both—than I look back at my time in the festival with deep gratitude and a sense of having grown as an artist.

Finally, after Naked In Alaska won Best Solo Show in The New York International Fringe Festival and Audience Favorite in the Chicago Fringe Festival, I began to receive more inquiries from artists seeking a director for their show and audiences wanting to bring Naked In Alaska to their towns. By following up on these, I came to know a much larger theater community than I had known before. In this way, directing in festivals can serve as a powerful platform for sharing one’s work and vision—it has certainly allowed me to reach a much larger audience than I would have otherwise, and to experience new work opportunities and meet incredibly supportive, empathic audiences from all walks of life.

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 surprises/challenges have you faced during the process?

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?





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