According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Inside Look at DirectorFest 2006

Posted by Aaron Riccio

Everybody remembers the actors, and if they don’t fall asleep, they’re aware of the playwright’s words, too. But outside of awards shows, how many people ever give credit to the directors? How many people recognize all the hard work that goes into pulling the disparate parts together, from scene work to scenery? Not enough, but perhaps more should: and if you’re looking for upcoming directorial talent, there’s no better place to turn than The Drama League’s DirectorFest 2006, its twenty-third festival of one-acts directed by members of The Drama League Directors Project.

Culled from a crop of young applicants, the fellows have an opportunity to network and learn from industrial professionals and get hands-on experience with NYC and regional assistant directing assignments. This year’s directors are Meredith McDonough, Alex Torra, and Jaime Castañeda, and below you can read how they view the industry, the process, and the importance of theater. Selected portions of their interview follows, but you can see the culmination of their vision Thursday, December 7 through Sunday, December 10 at the Abington Theater Center’s June Havoc Theater (312 West 36th St.), an evening (or afternoon) of new one-acts like Itamar Moses’ Authorial Intent or Jonathan Ceniceroz’s The Blessing of the Animal, as well as an old Harold Pinter play, One for the Road.


Jaime Castañeda, director of One for the Road, is an MFA graduate of the University of Texas, and goes where the work carries him. It’s a road that ranges from the Summer Play Festival (SPF, Welcome to Arroyos), to the theater company he founded in Texas (Firestarter Productions), all the way to the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska: “Good work is good work wherever you are,” says Mr. Castañeda. “Sometimes it happens where you least expect it. Above all, I like to take in as much as possible from anywhere and everywhere.”

Though Mr. Castañeda was the one director to choose a previously performed work for DirectorFest 2006 (and Pinter, of all the tight-lipped geniuses), it’s not so much a choice between loving classics over modern plays as it is a desire to “pick pieces that challenge me. I want to think and feel. I want my audience to think and feel. If I look at a play and don’t know what to do with it—then I’m excited.” Along that line, One for the Road is a play that presents this director with an opportunity to play with “great language and material” as well as the inherent intrigue of the show, a potency that Jaime describes as “what makes Shakespeare so rich.” The director is filled with the desire to ask: “What else can it be? How can we tell this story now?” At that point, the director is “a storyteller along with my other collaborators” and can focus on “telling a story that will engage an audience and provoke thought and reflection.”

In February, as a final part of The Drama League’s directorial fellowship, Jaime will be assistant directing with Neil Pepe for Parlour Song at the Atlantic Theater Company. If “the experience is the people,” then Mr. Castañeda’s work will only grow until finally reaching the wide scope that Jaime admires in director Peter Brook. “For me, it’s about working toward that kind of world perspective in which stories can breathe new life.”


Alex Torra comes to DirectorFest by way of Brown University/Trinity Rep’s MFA program. So far, he’s worked with Neil Labute on Wrecks and will be working as an assistant director with Eric Shaeffer on Saving Aimee when it opens in Washington, D.C. Right now, he’s finishing work on The Blessing of the Animals, a premiere by a colleague of his, the playwright Jonathan Ceniceroz. For Mr. Torra, the opportunity to direct with The Drama League was also a chance to collaborate once more with his colleagues from the consortium, the Latino Triumverate (along with Katie Chavez). Working from a collegiate history has made the development of The Blessing of the Animals “less daunting”: “Nothing is taken personally, and so we can agree, disagree, debate together, [and] celebrate together.” From the audience, it’s also a great chance to see art in the making: the result of artists with different backgrounds coming together to produce a singular work. Directing new work is daunting, agrees Alex: “You want to help realize the vision of a playwright, but at the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice yourself or your art in the process.” But at least in this case, this is one director who’s managed to stack his own deck.

Getting the fellowship with The Drama League was just another asset for Mr. Torra. At Brown, he had the opportunity to learn skills and exercise them to “really give your ideas, your passion, your voice real clarity,” and in a “tremendously safe environment with a loving and supportive community.” Like many young directors, coming out of Brown was a wake-up call, being “pushed out of that nest, it literally felt like falling.” Sacrifice is inevitable for one’s craft, but “[the fellowship] has been a tremendous help to assuage some of the fear that comes with that diploma.” It’s one of the reasons why grants and sponsorship of the arts is so important – in a thoroughly commercial world, how else can a new voice expect to be heard?

Likewise, how can one afford to pursue the types of theater that interest an upcoming artist? As a Miami-born Cuban-American, Mr. Torra’s interest is in “developing and directing work by my peers in the Latino community, those whose parents came to the United States in order to find a better life, and who find themselves living in two cultures at one time. These second generation writers write about things from a place that makes sense to me, and it’s nice to have a community of actors that personally understand these playwright’s words and are excited to bring them to life.” The exploration of this duality is exciting to watch, as is the passion of a director allowed to do what drives him: Mr. Torra will be working at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “There’s a reason these works have been around for so freakin’ long, because they still make sense to us.”

A show like Blessing of the Animals allows Mr. Torra to pursue all of his passions. “I that take liberties with reality, where a kid can actually understand the neighbor’s animals who speak to him.... Anything is possible in a theater, anything can happen, and I like figuring out how far that can go, how it gets represented on stage, and how that allows for an audience to not only be entertained, but to feel something, either joy or anger or love or anything. If they’ve worked their heart and brain while watching one of my shows, I’ve done my job.”

DirectorFest 2006
December 7-10
Abington Theater Center's June Havoc Theater (312 W 36th Street)

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