Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
Cat Parker: Hello Dev. Let me begin by congratulating you on your recent appointment as the new Artistic Director of Astoria Performing Arts Center. Such a wonderful place, and I’m sure they’re delighted to have you on board. So, In The Bones is your premiere outing as Artistic Director, right?
Dev Bondarin: Thank you! Yes, it is my first show there as AD, and I am really excited about beginning my tenure with this show. Cody Daigle, the playwright, and I are longtime collaborators, and I am grateful for the chance to share his work and this powerful story with APAC’s audiences, both longtime and new! APAC is defined by its high caliber productions and its engagement with the Queens community. I am eager to carry on these traditions and to steer the company during its next phase of growth. I hope to create more opportunities for artists and community members, develop adventurous and stellar productions, cultivate new voices and bring new stories to the theater. In The Bones is one of those productions.
CP: We’ll learn more about Cody and In The Bones, but I’d like to first ask about your thoughts on directing. What is it about directing that thrills you? It is a very demanding career path but something pulls people toward it. What is that “something” for you?
DB: I love that directing is creative and collaborative. I am able to tell stories while also shining a light on an issue or idea that has previously gone unexamined. And when audience members join us in the theater and (hopefully) respond to what they saw, I know the demanding work has truly been worth it.
CP: Tell us about an incident while directing that taught you a big lesson, in either a positive or negative fashion.
DB: I learn lessons every day when I am directing. Whether it’s from rereading the text, checking in with a writer, making a new discovery with an actor, or meeting with a designer. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was from a teacher in grad school. While directing my thesis, my impulse for blocking a scene with a large number of actors was not working. And I knew it. I got caught up in sight lines and the staging was obscuring the storytelling. A few days before the opening, my teacher encouraged me to make a change and I did. The scene basically reblocked itself because the actors knew the story from all the work we had already done. I realized then that it always possible to make adjustments, even late in the process, especially when you trust yourself and your collaborators. That experience has stayed with me ever since.
CP: Love that story! Sometimes we can get ourselves so locked down with perceived timetables and such. Thanks for sharing that. Let’s talk about training. How valuable do you think formal training is for directors? What are some of the “take-aways” for you from your time at school?
DB: I have my MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College and my undergrad degree in Theater Arts (and Art History) from Brandeis University. My education has helped shape my directing for sure. Taking directing classes and classes in theater history and dramatic structure were formative, but so were the classes in theory, management, and even improv (as much as I struggled with it at the time). Having a well-rounded background, both formal and “on the job” is key, especially for directing in NYC.
CP: Absolutely! On the job training, such as assisting, observing and collaborating with other directors, can be very beneficial. Can you tell us a little about how those types of experiences helped shape you as a director?
DB: Observing another director’s process is a really eye-opening experience, and assisting was really important for my development. As my own work has evolved, I know it has been influenced by what I have learned from other directors, from navigating lines of communication, to process, to all around approach to the work. I would welcome the opportunity to assist again.
CP: How do feel about the use of design elements in your vision for a production? Do you gravitate toward any specific element more than another?
DB: Early meetings with designers teach me so much about a show. I never begin a process with a preconception about how something is “supposed to look,” but rather enter into design collaborations with ideas and images. I trust that the answers will come from our conversation about the play. I gravitate towards the set design and a groundplan first, but don’t really favor one element over another. Although, attention to detail (especially with props) excites me to no end!
CP: Detail is everything, isn’t it? Let’s talk more about In The Bones now. What is it about this play that drew you to it?
* The writing. Cody is so succinct with language and his writing allows actors to dig into moments and storytelling beats.
** The multimedia aspect. There are four stage scenes and also video interludes in the play. The piece delves into the idea of our accessibility to media and how our ability to capture moments on handheld devices can affect us in a myriad of ways.
*** The structure. The way the play deals with time is fascinating. Each stage scene takes place one year after the proceeding one and the film scenes serve as flashbacks illustrating the lives of the character prior to scene one. Past, present, and future intermingle and an audience is able to see what the characters were like before the major event which takes place before scene one and also how they deal with that event as time progresses.
CP: In the Bones is opening at APAC, but you directed an earlier incarnation with MTWorks. Tell us about the experience of managing a transition – were there many script changes? Did having a different space make a big difference? How does it feel to get to re-visit a script?
DB: Last fall I directed what is now the first scene of In The Bones as part of a benefit for MTWorks. The characters, and their relationships resonated with me immediately so I was really excited when Cody told me he was going to expand it into a full length piece. Staging the first scene for this production has been eye opening and exciting, and I am happy to be back with these characters. The memory of the work on the first scene is in the back of my mind, but is not holding me back from making new discoveries. And because I have more information from the later scenes, it is making the world of the first scene richer.
CP: Give us a little behind-the-scenes scoop about In The Bones Some cool fact we won’t read in the official blurbs…
DB: Though In The Bones deals with heavy subject matter, there has been a lot of humor in the rehearsal room. Taking a cue from the multimedia aspect of the production, I began the rehearsal process with sending the cast daily YouTube videos that had some fun connection to the production. So if you want to know more about Donna Summer’s concert version of “MacArthur Park” or the origins of Keyboard Cat, just ask us!
CP: Keyboard Cat! Hah. Definitely going to look that up now. Dev, thanks so much for spending some time talking about your journey as a director.
DB: Thank you, Cat for these wonderful questions!