Holly L. Derr

Director. Writer. Head of Graduate Directing at the University of Memphis. 

Holly is a director, writer, and professor of theater, and the head of graduate directing at the University of Memphis. Her most recent production, Red Bike by Karen Hartman, ran at the Know Theatre of Cincinnati.

She directs new plays and gender-flipped classics, such as Romeo and Juliet at Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House; Harry and the Thiefby Sigrid Gilmer, at The Know Theatre in Cincinnati; and my own play, American Medea. Favorite past projects include As Long As Fear Can Turn to Wrath at Son of Semele Theater, What We Were, by Blake Hackler, and new plays by Gregory S. Moss, Lauren Yee, and C. Denby Swanson.

Originally from Dallas, TX, she holds an MFA in Directing from Columbia University, where she studied with Anne Bogart and Robert Woodruff, and a BA in Dramatic Arts from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was the founding Artistic Director of SKT, Inc., a New York-based non-profit theater, and has directed new plays for the Know Theatre, Ashland New Plays Festival, and the PlayPenn New Play Development Festival. She has served on the faculties of Marlboro College, Smith College, and Skidmore College, and have taught and directed at the American Repertory Theater Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University, The Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company Consortium, CalArts, the University of California at Riverside, and Chapman University. She was the 2017 Producing Fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

She is also a feminist media critic who writes about theater, film, television, and pop culture, using the theoretical and analytical tools of the theater to reflect upon broader issues of gender  and race. Follow her @hld6oddblend or on Facebook.

two acting books
#MeToo and the Method
Essay

#MeToo and the Method

13 June 2019

Holly L. Derr looks at the history of the Method, where it deviates from Stanislavsky’s System, and the connection between the Method and the behavior called out by #MeToo.

#MeToo
Essay

#MeToo

Power, Complicity, and Collective Responsibility

11 April 2018

Holly L. Derr writes about recent cases of sexual harassment in the American theatre, and asks when and how institutions and abusers will truly be held accountable.

Manahatta's Gender Flip
Essay

Manahatta's Gender Flip

Equity in Action

2 April 2018

Holly Derr discusses the dramaturgical implications of playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle changing one of her characters to a woman in her newest play Manahatta, which premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in March 2018.

Addressing Environmental Topics in Theatre by Using Greenturgy
Essay

Addressing Environmental Topics in Theatre by Using Greenturgy

2 January 2018

Holly Derr interrogates green(drama)turgy at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and how stories can be used to reconnect people to their physical world.

Does Your Theatre Department Have a Patriarchy Problem?
Essay

Does Your Theatre Department Have a Patriarchy Problem?

17 December 2017

Director and theatre professor Holly Derr gives advice on how to identify whether your theatre department might be ripe for sexual harrassment, and offers tangible steps for professors to change the culture of their departments.

Ethnodrama and Her Opponent
Essay

Ethnodrama and Her Opponent

 The Drama in the Data

26 May 2017

Holly L. Derr looks at ethnodrama and Her Opponent, a restaging of excerpts of the 2016 presidential debates with gender-reversed casting.

Truthful Intelligence
Essay

Truthful Intelligence

A Play about Power and Politics

23 February 2017

Holly Derr writes about Jacqueline E. Lawton’s new play at Arena Stage, part of their Power Plays commissioning initiative.

Cover for Feminist Theatre and History.
Feminist Theatre
Essay

Feminist Theatre

What Does it Do and How Does it Do it?

14 September 2016

Holly Derr contemplates how a director can foster a feminist production.

Roe and the American Revolutions Cycle at OSF
Essay

Roe and the American Revolutions Cycle at OSF

Dramatic, Present, and Human

10 September 2016

In this cultural moment of divisiveness, how is one of the true stories of abortion theatricalized? Holly Derr considers Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s co-production of Roe by Lisa Loomer. 

Bro Theatre
Essay

Bro Theatre

A Dangerous Dynamic

30 April 2016

Holly L. Derr deconstructs a new dynamic in her theatre department.

Lynn Nottage Talks Research, Collaboration, and the Fracturing of America
Essay

Lynn Nottage Talks Research, Collaboration, and the Fracturing of America

28 January 2016

Holly Derr speaks with Lynn Nottage about her new play Sweat, a co-commission of Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage, currently playing in Washington, DC.

Women’s Voices Theater Festival
Essay

Women’s Voices Theater Festival

A Weekend in the Emerald City

10 November 2015

Holly L. Derr on Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacarías, Animal by Claire Lizzimore, Queens Girl in the World by Caleen Sinette Jennings, Women Laughing Alone with Salad by Sheila Callaghan, and Uprising by Gabrielle Fulton, all part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival in Washington, DC.

Something is Afoot in Washington, DC
Essay

Something is Afoot in Washington, DC

7 October 2015

Holly Derr reports on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, bringing together more than 50 of the Washington, DC’s professional theaters to feature world premieres of new plays and musicals by women.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon
Essay

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon

26 March 2015

The author explores playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adaptation of The Octoroon, called An Octoroon, and its depiction of race and gender onstage. 

South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival
Essay

South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival

3 June 2014

Holly L. Derr writes about SCRC's 2014 Pacific Playwrights Festival, and the goals of the organization's new play development initative.

Nahal Navidar with Assaf Cohen.
Los Angeles MFA Programs
Essay

Los Angeles MFA Programs

Training for the Future

30 April 2014

Holly L. Derr gives an overview of new and professionally-tied graduate theatre programs in Los Angeles.

A pin that says "ban bossy."
The Perils of Directing While Female
Essay

The Perils of Directing While Female

14 March 2014

Sheryl Sandberg, author of "Lean In", has just launched a campaign to "Ban Bossy," so that girls who used to be called bossy start to be told instead that they are leaders. Efforts like this to change the culture, though, are long-game solutions to an immediate problem. In the meantime, how do women directors, especially those just starting out, balance the competing demands of actually leading with gendered expectations as to what constitutes good leadership?

Portrait of Tanya Saracho.
Playwrights Who Write for Television
Essay

Playwrights Who Write for Television

4 March 2014

Holly L. Derr writes about how various playwrights have gotten hired from non-TV writing, and the diversity initatives drawing in new talent.

A long pipeline.
The Myth of the American Theater Pipeline
Essay

The Myth of the American Theater Pipeline

24 February 2014

Holly L. Derr argues against the traditional idea of a "pipeline" of plays flowing from New York to other places in the country.

Photo from Ladybird.
Latino Theater in Los Angeles es Muy Bueno
Essay

Latino Theater in Los Angeles es Muy Bueno

4 February 2014

Holly Derr writes about the Latino Theater Company and their role operating the Los Angeles Theatre Center, presenting multi-cultural work through partnerships with other organizaitons, and engaging local communities.

Pasadena Playhouse logo.
Dispatches from LALA Land
Essay

Dispatches from LALA Land

Diversity and Its Discontents in Southern Californian Theater

7 January 2014

Holly L. Derr reports from The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers's panel on diversity, and examines why diversity is such a huge talking point but still so lacking in action

Dispatches from LALA Land
Essay

Dispatches from LALA Land

Double Casting and The Antaeus Company

24 December 2013

Holly L. Derr writes about The Antaeus Company and the evolution of their "partner casting" practice, where each role is cast with two actors.

We Need to Talk About Katy Perry
Essay

We Need to Talk About Katy Perry

Why Orientalism in Pop Culture Matters?

6 December 2013

Holly L. Deer unpacks just how damaging Katy Perry's orientalism really is, why pop culture's racism is running rampant, and how the political ramifications of appropriating other cultures.

Portrait from Platonov.
Platonov and Anton Chekhov's Proto-Grunge Philosophy
Essay

Platonov and Anton Chekhov's Proto-Grunge Philosophy

5 December 2013

Jay Scheib's adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Platnov titled Platonov, or The Disinherited merges with grunge culture-drugs, sex, and alcohol to take a look at values and viewpoints. 

Image from Prometheus Bound.
Dispatches from LALA Land
Essay

Dispatches from LALA Land

Interdisciplinary Art at Radar L.A.

5 November 2013

Holly L. Derr covers Radar L.A. 2013, an interdisciplinary and internationally focused theater festival in Los Angeles theater