The Director's Haven
Creating Space for the Next Generation
Imagine: you attend a BA or BFA program and obtain a degree in theatre, with a concentration in directing. You choose a town or city to call home, pack up all of your belongings, all of your plays and texts and resources, find an apartment, and move on in. You research the theatre scene in your city. You find a series of internships in town—some perhaps paid, most likely not—where you are making lots of copies and sending e-blasts but hey, its a foot in the door, and you’re learning the ropes of this city’s theatre ecosystem. Then you start looking for ways to put your own artistic voice out into the community as a director.
There is a severe artistic development hole to be filled regarding the next generation of directorial voices.
You begin to discover that most companies in town already have a roster of directors and are not really looking for new ones whose work they don’t know. Assistant directing is an option, but even in the best circumstances turning that into a directing opportunity of your own is inconsistent at best. There is no “audition” format for directors, and calls for directing proposals are exceedingly rare. Most director-centric fellowships and structured opportunities that exist—there are not many—want to see professional experience first (ex: the Goodman Theatre’s Maggio Fellowship asks for two non-academic productions to be considered). Some directors in similar circumstances band together to create new theatre companies…but there are a couple hundred companies already doing the work you want to be doing, and you don’t have the time or money or connections yet to create a new institution.
So what do you do? You need to make work in order for people to see it and get interested in your work, but you need someone to be interested in order to receive the opportunity to make the work.
In 2012, Will Davis wrote an article for this site that perfectly captured the particular frustration of the scenario described above. Speaking about his experience at the Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwriting Showcase:
Such structured development opportunities are few and far between for directors, and the experience solidified a question I’ve been asking myself for a couple years: Shouldn’t we develop infrastructure for early career directors in the way we develop it for early career playwrights?… The emerging infrastructure to support the work of playwrights is hugely necessary and we must continue to do more. It’s simply that there are more structured opportunities for [their] work than there are for a developing director such as myself… A moderate search of the Internet creates a list of four to six director-centric residency or fellowship programs… Conversely, I can search similar criteria for playwrights and end up with almost a full year of month by month deadlines for residencies and fellowships. There are also the internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships that offer the chance to work in the day to day dealings of a theatre company sometimes in exchange for money and often in exchange simply for the experience. While there are certainly benefits to this exposure, even an institution offering an “artistic” internship is often heavy on time at the photocopier and light on the artistic mentorship.
Like Will, I do not mean to come off sounding like I begrudge playwrights for the opportunities that exist for them. But the question does remain—why aren’t we nurturing the next generation of directors through artistic craft-oriented opportunities? Why does it seem our market is so content to leave them—us—to flounder by comparison? Aren’t we the next generation of artistic leaders as well?
Some people I’ve spoken to argue that this reality fosters leadership in directors by weeding out those who lack the gumption to make their own opportunities. However, this point of view assumes that every director has the same strengths, or is starting from the same place. Someone with a connection to an Artistic Director of a company is starting farther along than someone who is brand new to town. Many directors of great talent do not have the administrative-mindedness to start and run a company, so that option becomes less lucrative. Some are simply in their element in a rehearsal room, and not so much at a coffee date. And its not that self-producing isn’t a great option—its simply that it shouldn't have to feel like the financial strain of that scenario is the only option. There is a severe artistic development hole to be filled regarding the next generation of directorial voices.
And that’s where the Director’s Haven comes in.
As Artistic Director of Chicago’s Haven Theatre Company, I suddenly found myself in the position to do something about this hole. It has been a dream of mine to start a program aimed at new directors with a focus on creating and sharing work with the Chicago theatre community, and now I had the resources to make it a reality. In a city with between 250 and 300 theatre companies, finding a unique niche to fill is extremely difficult, and this one stared me in the face. We could create a program in service to new directors that put them at the forefront, providing a budget, space, technical resources, a design team, and mentorship from established Chicago directors.
This October-November, we are proud to launch our pilot year program, showcasing the work of three new directors in Chicago: JD Caudill, Monty Cole, and Arianna Soloway. Each will helm a thirty to forty-five minute play of their choosing, presented each evening during two weeks of “off-night” performances (easier for artists and arts administrators to attend and scout their work). Mentors include Jonathan Berry (Artistic Producer, Steppenwolf), Max Truax (Artistic Director, Oracle Theatre) and Meghan Shuchman (Associate Education Director, Steppenwolf). Our goal is to better connect these young directors’ artistic voices with the various decision-makers and gatekeepers in this city through, in true Chicago fashion, the work itself.
Here’s to the next generation.