To Be a Director
In 2015 Haven Theatre Company in Chicago, IL launched a program called the Director's Haven, giving three directors at the earliest stages of their careers space to showcase their vision for the Chicago community. Here, each of these artists to share their observations, experiences, and perspectives from their vantage points as directors at the very start of their professional journeys.—Josh Sobel
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a real estate agent.”
This response rolls so easily off my tongue since I got my license and became a real estate agent thirteen months ago. In those same thirteen months I’ve directed two professional productions: Guardians by Peter Morris at Mary Arrchie Theatre and Carrie and Francine by Ruby Rae Speigel for The Director’s Haven with Haven Theatre Company.
I feel less and less like a director on a daily basis. I go back to the constant tug of war of having two careers both with 80+ percent failure rates, but only one career that has a chance of paying the bills.
I got to see my name typed into programs next to the word director. I got to see my name written by close to a dozen Chicago theatre critics next to critique and praise of the directing of these plays. I saw my name on posters and postcards, my photo on websites. As far as I was concerned, I had arrived.
But the feeling fades. The curtain closes, the set is struck, and the actors, designers, and stage managers go on to their next gig. And I return to business as usual.
“Hi, my name is Arianna Soloway. I’m a real estate agent.”
Where do I go from here? I think back to the high hopes I had. Before each show, I painstakingly put together a list of people I wanted to invite. Peers and people who’ve inspired me; former professors and artistic directors. I got back more regrets than acceptances. I don’t blame anyone for that. There are always more shows happening than any one person can see. I’m guilty of it myself all the time. The responses were kind. I got endless well-wishes and “break a legs,” apologies for the constant business of their own lives or the restrictive natures of their current rehearsal schedules, and a chorus of requests that I please invite them to my next show. At the time they left me with such a feeling of hope. I was so certain that these first shows would start a momentum that would surely lead to another and then to another and then another. I was overwhelmed by the possibility of all those future shows that I would have to invite people to.
But the new offers don’t magically appear. I start to question whether I really believed they would or if I was just riding on some kind of rehearsal high. I feel less and less like a director on a daily basis. I go back to the constant tug of war of having two careers both with 80+ percent failure rates, but only one career that has a chance of paying the bills. It's not hard to see which one usually wins. Directing gets put on the back burner until some days, in the midst of all the clients and showings and bills and responsibilities I start to forget I'm a director altogether.
In Spanish, there are two forms of the verb “to be”: ser for permanent conditions (to be tall) and estar for temporary conditions (to be sad). Right now, when I say I am a director I say it like estar. I wonder where I’ll reach a point when I say it like ser.
How do I know I’m a director if I’m not directing? I know throughout my life there will be periods of time when I won’t be directing. Few directors ever reach a point where they’re in constant rehearsal. Few directors would even want or be able to keep up with that, but even in those quiet months, they know in their hearts that they’re still directors.
When a submission for an internship or fellowship calls for “early career directors,” they mean people who are sure that they are directors. I think that’s the key: the difference between what people think of as early career directors and me. I always joke when I see these types of submission guidelines that begin with the phrase “early career director” and end with a list of requirements that I can only dream of and a list of recent alumni whose careers I’d give my right arm for. If they’re “early career directors,” then what am I, chopped liver?
How do I know I’m a director if I’m not directing?
I ask it rhetorically, but I think the answer is yes. Because I’m not even sure I’m a director at all. I could get hired to direct another show tomorrow or I could never get an offer again. How, then, do I continue to believe? How do I hold my head up high and proclaim proudly to the world that I am a director? I don’t know. In a time of such uncertainty, I’m not sure how to feel certain about this, but I’m certainly going to try.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a director.”