Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
Hello Pat. So nice to meet you. Thank you for joining us to talk about directing and the director’s process. Can you tell us about a moment that made you decide “directing is for me” or reaffirmed your love for this work?
Sure Cat. Initially, I was an Anthropology major in college. As a kid, my parents took us to the theatre and to hear our local symphony orchestra regularly. I’d try to figure out what the story for each play was as it unfolded before my eyes and I am to this day drawn to and in awe of conductors. During my sophomore year, driven by curiosity, I decided I’d take a theatre directing course. I fell in love with directing. One day, halfway through the semester as I walked across campus, I suddenly had the realization that while anthropologists understood the various problems that each culture faces, anthropologists were never going to be in a position to do anything concrete to correct or alleviate those issues. It was at that moment that I decided that I could combine my two loves. Theatre would make it possible for me to bring an anthropologists’ point-of-view to my work which would, ideally, allow an audience to come to a better understanding of a culture that is different from their own. I always want the audience to realize that the concerns, fears and dreams that people in one culture have are also shared by those in different cultures. Internally we are the same, it is only our packaging that is different.
You started your first theatre company while in college, The South Oakland Arts Council. What are some of your fondest memories about working with a company of artists? How much do you think a “team” feeling influences the production of art?
My fondest memories as Artistic Director of the South Oakland Arts Council come from the work we did as a team. Because everyone had different levels of experience, getting and keeping all of the players on the same page was paramount. And, when we all worked in unison our plays sang and the audiences responded, all of which brought me great joy.
I’ve always felt that casting is such a critical skill for a director to have. Being an award-winning casting director, you must surely have honed that skill to a maximum. What would you say is the top aspect you look for when auditioning an actor? What are some of the mistakes you’ve seen directors make in an audition room?
During the casting process, I look for temperamental alignment and skill. By that I mean that I ask myself if I feel that this actor’s natural temperament aligns with that of the specific character. My biggest question of all is: Do I, and ultimately, will an audience, believe this particular actor if s/he is to play that character? Will we believe that what s/he says? Will we believe the actions that s/he takes? Will we “like” her or him? Just as each snowflake is unique, we each are born with certain characteristics, dispositions, mental, emotional and physical traits which constitute our individual temperament. Only the most skilled actors are capable of altering their natural disposition to believably fit that of a character who’s temperament is inherently different from their own. Also, casting is one of the director’s foremost responsibility — which in America is often forgotten.
One of the biggest mistakes I think that an actor can make in the audition room is to not make clear choices about a particular character— whether right or wrong. Further, to not commit to any choices — even though those choices may be radically different ones that the actors as a person would make in their individual lives — indicates a lack of forethought and preparation. Make a choice. Ask if it’s what is sought, if not, make different choice, but do make some decisions that will let the viewer in on who you think that character actually is.
What are your thoughts about the use of production values in story-telling? Can you tell us of a particular time that you found the use of lights, sound, scenery, etc., went a long way to underscore the story for the audience?
Production values are often a director’s dream come true, however only if the play warrants them. Some plays —Pinter comes to mind — do not. Others do. Carefully Taught is a play that does warrant production values. In this case, I added a live video feed and playback video to the mix, and its effects enhance Cheryl’s story without overwhelming it. I love all kinds of sounds and music and use these as often as possible, in order to establish the place of the scenes in the story and to bring the whole to the forefront of in audience’s mind. In Carefully Taught, I worked to insure that all of the production elements — our video, sound, music, and minimalist set — would compliment the play overall. And, I feel that we’ve achieved that end.
You work in both film and theatre, both wonderful forms of storytelling, but with some interesting differences. Can you speak to what you love most about directing in each of these formats?
I love the immediate reaction one gets from listening to and watching actors on stage. There’s nothing like enjoying an audience’s visceral response to the playwright’s words as it happens live and in living color right in front of you. You get to live those moments right along with the character, because they are true. They are believable. And, when I experience those moments in rehearsal, I know that we are on the right track and I am elated.
In film, for me, an interesting difference is that in film the reaction is delayed. There are lots of people on the set, each doing their job, which is not necessarily to act as an audience for the actors. That job remains with the director. Often times, the full affect of a scene may not be felt until one views the dailies. Filmmaking requires the stringing together —editing, actually— of a series of takes from a series of scenes, which most likely, are not being shot in chronological order. So, that means that as director, I must be even more highly attuned to the emotion and point of every scene —not that I wouldn’t be when directing for the stage—but, because in film, we may shoot the story’s climax today and then shoot the character’s first meeting next week. In film, I’ve learned that the director must shoot for the editor.
Tell us about your latest project, Carefully Taught. How did you become involved with this show? What drew you to it?
A year ago or so, I attended an informal reading of a musical Cheryl Davis had written and it was then that I knew that I wanted to work with her. So, when Dev Bondarin [APAC’s Artistic Director] called to ask if I’d be interested in directing Cheryl’s new play, I almost said yes without reading it. Dev sent it and as I read Carefully Taught I was excited by its potential—it’s topical, there are role twisting characters and I immediately saw the space to add live video to the mix. And we now have, what I think is, a very engaging production.
Carefully Taught explores loyalty, friendship, prejudice and, of course, “teaching” the next generation – a lot packed into one play. What do you hope an audience will take away from this production?
My best wish is that our audiences take away the understanding that we are all the same internally — we all have the same wishes and dreams for ourselves and our loved ones —and that it is only our external appearances —skin color, economic class, shape of our eyes or our religion — which separate us from recognizing each other as member of the same family.
Can you tell us some “fun fact” about Carefully Taught? Something we wouldn’t read about in the press releases?
Sure. Some fun facts about our cast are that Latoya Edwards is Jamaican; Sheila Joon is 1/2 Iranian and 1/2 Swedish; Esther Chen is from Taiwan; Bristol Pomeroy’s son is 1/2 black and my mother neglected to tell me that my grandmother, her mother —who passed away when she was a child — was Iroquois. We all are, as the character Cie in Carefully Taught says, “ Just a pack of all-American mutts.”
Thanks for your time, Pat. I look forward to reading your answers.
Sure Cat. You’re quite welcome. It is my pleasure.