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?

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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. 

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Terrific work Josh! There are so many directing voices getting lost because of the current state of affairs and my hope is that others will be inspired by your work and create even more of these great opportunities!

This is great! Directors have a serious problem that playwrights don't. A playwright can show a play to someone; the vast majority of their work is done before production starts. So a company "taking a risk" on a new play is definitely taking a risk, but at least they know that the playwright can do the work. A new director is something of a blind risk, which is hard for a theater, since they are talking about half to a fifth of their entire year's work put in hands that they don't know about. Designers likewise, but a designer can always do a simple show, where the design isn't as crucial, to build up her resume and show off her skill which isn't as huge a risk for the producer. I don't think anyone reasonable would read this as "begrudging playwrights" _anything_; to me it reads as "hey, that thing seems to work for playwrights, why don't we try to do the same thing for directors?"

Congratulations, Josh. It sounds like an excellent program. As someone who has dedicated a big chunk of my life's work to helping directors navigate their careers, I am heartened to see your idea take flight. A couple of things: I believe there may be a few more opportunities out there for directors that you didn't discover in your initial search. We found a lot of them when researching for the Stage Directors Handbook (TCG), which needs updating, but could still be a valuable resource. Producing the La MaMa Umbria International Directors's Symposium each year, I am consistently struck by the number of opportunities there are for directors outside of the United States that few people here access. There are lots of ways to make a life as a director in the theatre; as a career coach I see many of them. Mentoring has always been key to the success of directors I know. I'm glad it is part of your Program. Best of luck!

Thanks David! I'd love to know of any opportunities that you've come across that might not have the visibility or prestige that they deserve, but that are focused on creating and craft - I'd love to put together a better running list! From Will's previous article about new play directors, it seems like I am not the only one to feel a certain scarcity in terms of director-centric opportunities, especially when compared to other disciplines. And I take nothing away from the prominently visible programs that do exist - the apprenticeship program at Louisville, Drama League Fellowships, the Maggio at the Goodman, Williamstown Theatre Festival, the new National Directing Fellowship and a handful of directing internships at some companies - but the issue remains that a lot of these look for a certain amount of professional credits before you can really be considered. Thats one of the main things that really got to me - what does "early-career" mean? What does "emerging" mean? Someone just out of undergrad looking for first opportunities is not the same "early-career" as someone who has directed consistently at a number of companies, who has cred and reviews and visibility already to their name. And yet the labels are the same, and we are all applying for the same opportunities, but the folks at the earlier stages have much less of a chance - I can see that by seeing the backgrounds of the folks who get consistently chosen for those opportunities (and I am thrilled for them!). My goal with this program is specifically to target those at the EARLIEST stages, those who often get passed over for these programs, and give their work a stage and mentorship. (And I agree - mentorship is KEY, and is different than simply assistant directing.)

And I love hearing that you have a list of fantastic opportunities outside the United States (and I know have my next research assignment for myself, thank you! :) ), but it also concerns me that there aren't more HERE. Shouldnt early career directors interested in working and building and evolving the American theatre be nurtured to do so within the American theatre?

Thanks!

Most of my students are MFA directing candidates, so we are always looking at resources for early-career directors. I'll try to provide you with some resources. I'll be in Chicago to teach at DePaul the first week in November. Let me know if you want to get together.

Hey Josh - what a great idea. I created a facebook group about a year ago, Theatre Director Resources, to try to get a list/forum going of opportunities for directors. Next time an opportunity comes up to submit for the program please add it to our group! (And feel free to check out other resources and discussion we have going on https://www.facebook.com/gr... ) Thanks!

Thank you for this. You describe, precisely, the quagmire of the "emerging" director. I think the situation is compounded when you are young and a woman (and probably a person of color). You just don't "look" or "seem" like a director. In the earlier part of my career, I watched some of my less-experienced male colleagues be offered opportunities for which I was passed up. I can only assume that they saw a woman in her late 20's (then) and just figured I wasn't qualified (when, in fact, my resume was stronger than some of the other folks around). Also, I have self-produced like crazy (with the debt to show for it!), and it hasn't resulted in greater opportunities at the larger, regional institutions. You may be grassroots, scrappy, and clever, but without the resources to produce slick work, you aren't read as "legible" to the larger institutions or critics, for that matter. And true, also, what you describe with the directing fellowships...they often require multiple Equity/LORT productions to get in the running...grr. Anyway, thank you. Thank you for identifying a gap in our field and seeking to fill the gap with new voices. That's the best! I wish your "Haven" new directors the best of luck!

Thank YOU! Its always heartening to see that this is truly a shared experience - we are not alone in our frustrations, haha! :) And your experience self-producing is exactly why I feel like, while it is a great way to build a resumé, the career opportunities that come from it are far more inconsistent while the debt you describe is far more consistent. It shouldnt feel like the only way. And so often, at least in Chicago, it does.