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Livestreamed on this page on Saturday 23 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).

United States
Saturday 23 May 2020

Directors Lab West Connects: Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps (ASL-interpreted)

A Discussion of Institutional Perspectives, Connections, and Support

Produced With
Saturday 23 May 2020

Directors Lab West presented Directors Lab West Connects: Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Saturday 23 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).

Join Anne Cattaneo, dramaturg of Lincoln Center Theater and the creator/head of the Tony Award Honor-nominated Lincoln Center Theater Directors' Lab, in conversation with Sheldon Epps, the current president of Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation and previous Artistic Director of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse. They will be discussing institutional perspectives, connections, and support for directors and choreographers at this difficult time, and as we move forward.


Ernest Figueroa: Hello, sorry for the beginning technical difficulties as we are beginning this and we wanna thank you so much for coming to Directors Lab West Connects. My name is Ernest Figueroa, I'm on the producing steering committee of Directors Lab West. This is an annual event that happens every year with volunteer participation, supported by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and also in partnership with the Pasadena Playhouse and also with the Boston Court Pasadena. Of course, because of the COVID virus, this year was an easy decision to basically postpone this event until next year, but we still wanted an opportunity to reach out to all of the directors and choreographers in this time of isolation, so we developed Directors Lab West Connects. And it has been a volunteer effort and we are very grateful that you are participating. Directors Lab West is for mid-career and emerging directors and we did not wanna be forded this year and so this is our opportunity to offer something to the directors and choreographers in our theatrical community, and we wanted to make sure that it was accessible. So too on this call also is Jess Whitehouse who is our ASL interpreter and I want to thank Jess for all the time that is being donated to this project. Also, the rest of the week there'll be at 11 A.M. every morning an offering that you can check into. So if you check into this one, we hope that you check in the rest of the week. It's gonna be eight days of conversations prepared by theatre directors and choreographers, live streamed to our partners, HowlRound, and to their website and our website, Directors Lab West. And you can ask questions during the time and those will be fed to me and I think that's where we're at right now. We are really, really honored to have put together a whole week of incredible artists. Today, though, we are speaking with, as would be appropriate, Anne Cattaneo who is a dramaturge at Lincoln Center of Theater and with her and Andre Bishop originated the Directors Lab at the Lincoln Center Theater. And she has also, in addition to working with all of the different playwrights she's worked over the years and many awards, she just won a Guggenheim Award and we're very, very appreciative to have her here with us to talk about the Directors Lab, Lincoln Center and moving forward. She was to celebrate her 25th anniversary of the Lab and, of course, that had to be delayed because of the COVID crisis. We were in our 21st and we are delayed as well. So I wanna thank Anne for coming and she is going to turn on her video. Also joining her is Sheldon Epps. Sheldon Epps is actually currently on the board, president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, and also 20 years at the Pasadena Playhouse as artistic director. Also a Tony Award nominee and also he's directed on Broadway and off Broadway. So he has a unique perspective not only from institutions, but also from being a practicing director as is Anne a practicing dramaturge. So, we are really pleased and thankful that you are both here. I'm going to zip off at this point and make sure that the answers are being fed. I'll let you discuss the questions that have been submitted and I'll join in in about 25 minutes and pop in and give you some additional questions. So thank you both for coming.

Sheldon Epps: Thank you, good to be here. Hi, Annie.

Anne Cattaneo: Hi, Sheldon. This is our third conversation this week.

Sheldon: Via Zoom.

Anne: The second on Zoom, I wish I were out in California.

Sheldon: Yes.

Anne: I’m very happy to be here. I wanted to actually start by thanking the committee and they've put together this whole thing online which I really wasn't expecting. And then I really have to thank you because when the Directors Lab began 25 years ago, right away a group of directors, Ernie was among them, said we have to start a Lab in Los Angeles and the question was how and where and you were gracious enough to invite us up to Playhouse where we've been happily ensconced ever since. And Danny Feldman has continued that tradition as the Lab so I'm very, very grateful to you for that. The LA lab was, I think, our first offshoot, then we have a Lab in Canada in Toronto, we briefly had a Lab in Melbourne and one for a while in Chicago. And now we have a baby Lab, a Mediterranean Lab that started in Beirut and it was going to Barcelona and then Cyprus, so it's remote in Barcelona right now. So it's sort of a Lab empire that has emerged over these 25 years.

Sheldon: And all thanks to you, by the way, and your great initiation of the Lab in New York.

Anne: Yeah, we've had so many conversations. I looked carefully at the questions that have been submitted and there were obviously many, everyone's concerned, there were many overlaps as I emailed you earlier. Sheldon and I have known each for 40 years.

Sheldon: Since we were 10.

Anne: Yeah, and Romy and others. I wrote some notes. If it's okay, can I just lay out these, 'cause I think they may respond to all of the submissions that people have--

Sheldon: Of course, yeah.

Anne: It’s just the way my mind works and I was lying there so I figured I would just get a lot of things, these are not going to be responses that anybody expects, so get ready. I wanted to begin by acknowledging our time of trouble and the feelings that we have and if I had more time than Ernie gave me, I would take more time to honor this. It's very important, so let's assume I'm doing this for an hour instead of two minutes, because it warrants that. There is always trouble in history and our generation perhaps, yours and mine, has a memory of this trouble from our families, our parents, from the generations before us. I've just spent nine weeks inside an apartment two blocks from the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan. My father, who emigrated to the United States from Holland, my father's closest friends spent seven months in Holland in 1945 hiding inside a wall. Different kind of trouble. What he had was things that we don't have so much access to: religion, faith, deep family ties, loving support, that's the kind of things that got people through when they got through. Now we have a pandemic of COVID but we also have an equally severe pandemic of inner troubles; mental, online troubles, money troubles, career troubles, and there's always been that too. Certainly in 1945 there was. Today, we know so much or we think we do and that leads to equally bad trouble of mind. A lot of that trouble is in each of your hands. Hold out your cellphone and you'll see a lot of trouble coming out of that cellphone. So I'm acknowledging just that to say it's a big subject, but one that we're sitting here together today to deal with. My next point is that I actually feel very confident and optimistic that this will end. This is not a giant meteor heading towards the earth. For god's sake, this is a virus. We have made and produced hundreds of vaccines in the United States and I have to believe that we will be able to do this in 2020 for this catastrophe. 80 years ago, 1942, the retro-fitted Ford motor plant in Willow Run, Michigan, was taking a B-24 Liberator bomber off a mile-long assembly line at the rate of one plane every 64 minutes. And there weren't a lot of men on that line, they were in Europe. I looked up the numbers this morning after I woke up, and by the end of the war three years after that, they had built 86,865 airplanes; 57,851 airplane engines; 4,291 military gliders; thousands of engine superchargers and generators as well as 277,896 tanks, armored cars and jeeps. I have to believe in 2020 we can make a vaccine. Next thought. So, to our convening this morning, my personal advice as your guest is to suggest that we do what we can do between now, a very bad time for all of us, and then, when the vaccine appears and things are rethought and restarted anew in a better way. We worry about when that's going to be and how it's going to be, but as somebody from the generation above mine used to say, "Worry is interest paid on trouble "that hasn't happened yet." So I'm trying to focus on what I can do between now and then and I really believe there will be a then, I strongly believe that. So, what shall we do? I am going to try to get ready to do what artists do best, which is to make art. I plan to be supporting art, cleaning up things that need doing, documenting, injecting new models and ideas, and that means making and supporting things that only artists can make. Not influencers or profiteers who exploit the work of people who can do things that they can't dream of doing. What kind of things do I mean? Compose the Goldberg Variations, play the Goldberg Variations, paint Mont Sainte-Victoire or Las Meninas. As my old friend, Taj Mahal, used to say, "When Mahalia Jackson sings, "she doesn't come down to the people. "She opens a door and the people come up to her." We have what people want. We know how to create it and we know how to bring people into a theatre to complete the circle and experience it together. And we know how to collaborate to make this happen. And we know the electric effect it's had on people for thousands of years. You felt it when you saw Brian Dennehy, may he rest in peace this month, in "Death of a Salesman" or the first time I saw Delroy Lindo and Joe Turner's come and gone, "Who the hell is that guy, "and what an incredible play." The first time I ever saw Arian Manushkin, "Iphigenia In Aulis", or the first or the second time I saw a Hamilton, wow! What divine creatures made this? Is Hamilton gonna work on the screen? We'll soon find out. My guess is yes and no. But I will listen any time to a record of Mahalia Jackson also. Both are good but not as good as the originals, as being live in person. So what should we not do between now and the vaccine? We should not give up our in-person collaborative knowledge and power and artistry to non-artists without gifts of any kind. Those who are always among us, seeking to profit from our currently idled community. Look around at how the art world has been destroyed over the last 20 years. It's completely the domain now of investment bankers looking for a place to park money. There are no independent galleries left, art connoisseurs fly to glamorous art fair locations no artists can afford to attend. Most of the art is made in China or by poorly-paid assistants. Anyone could be an artist, we've learned, if a hedge funder is willing to validate you. In our field, if you're going into the theatre as the start of a path to make money, to stay here for a bit in order to pass through to a studio job or direct a commercial, just wait it out until the cure comes and be on your way. So what do I suggest that you do now and, let's be hopeful, January? I think you should inform yourselves about theatre artists in times that were equally challenging and there have been many of them. I think you should read Harold Clurman's book, "The Fervent Years" about the Great Depression and the people who started the group theatre who spent most of their time trying to find something to eat for the first two years. I think you should Artaud's "The Theatre and its Double", I think you should read Jerzy Grotowski's "Towards a Poor Theater". I think you should read about Hallie Flanagan and the Federal Theatre Project and how theatre was completely reconceived in this country, mostly in rural areas in the 1930s. Not exactly a prosperous time in our history. I think you should read Michel Saint-Denis' "The Rediscovery of Style", a man who started in what we would now call a tectonic theatre way in a small rural community in France and went on to run the Old Vic and start Julliard; a completely brilliant way of starting to make theatre from scratch where collaboration is at its heart. And for god's sakes, speaking of hardship and triumph, read a biography of Moliere. Next point; if you're somehow under the impression that the Pasadena Playhouse or Lincoln Center of Theater is hiding an answer to our current crisis in their basement or has a coffer there filled with money, think again. They have a far harder task before them, before us, than any individual artists. Next point, coming to the end here; the challenges that you can do between now and 2021, January, let's hope. Stop giving your money and talent to people who don't understand it and who seek to profit from it. And I'm speaking on one of their systems right now: Zoom. Make and control your own art. Find your real people. It's your job to find your audience. We are a tribe, we live outside of society to some degree, we are Hamlet's players. They invite us in because they need what we have. We will be remembered because we were in the Salon des Refuses, like the pagers we love so much. Who even remembers who was in the official exhibit? Do you honestly think that there is a person in America who wants to stay home alone inside next spring? Give them something to come out for. This is 1603, the play is in London, the theatres are closed, the companies are in the countryside. Look back at what was created in that year. That's my thoughts.

Shledon: Those are some great thoughts. Annie early today emailed and said she'd been thinking since early this morning and had a lot to say and—

Anne: I did.

Sheldon: —you were right. But beautifully and eloquently stated, Annie, and inspiring, so thank you for that. I'm just gonna bounce off of you with a few thoughts inspired by your thoughts. First and foremost is, and I certainly speak from my own personal, deeply personal experience when I say this. This is not the first nor the last great challenge that the arts and theatre in particular will have. There have been challenges past, speaking as one whose theatre had to close, had to take a pause, had to take an intermission for many, many months during the decades that I was there. I know as one who sat in isolation in a dark theatre with only the ghost light on in the theatre over the course of those many months. I know that those kind of challenges can be met, can be conquered with passion and enthusiasm and smarts and all of the things that we use on a daily basis when we go into rehearsal rooms. So for anyone who is despairing at the moment that it's all over, I just, as one who has experienced it before, can tell you it is not all over, and that we, we are a resilient tribe, we artists, and we find ways to keep going. Look at what we're doing right now. Rather than accepting that there's going to be no Directors Lab West this year, a group of artists got together and said, "Well, let's just find another way to do it." And in fact, I daresay that this other way of doing it is exposing…

[Sheldon’s footage freezes.]

Anne: Sheldon is frozen. Sheldon, you're frozen.

Sheldon: Did I disappear there for a moment?

Anne: Now you're back.

Sheldon: Okay, all right. Just saying that we find ways to keep going and perhaps in some cases, we find better ways. What we do have to hold onto is that all of this technology is never going to be better than being in the room together, so as much as we add this to our arsenal of skills and weaponry for the future, we wanna come back to what we do in the room together. That may be on a smaller basis for a while and in some places and I suggest it will be, I predict it will be. I just read earlier to say about one of the major theatres in America that's cut their budget by a third, cut a $20 million by $7 million. That's gonna mean smaller season, it's going to mean probably smaller shows, but the art will be there and the challenge will be to take what we have and make the best theatre with what we have. That is always the challenge, no matter where the decimal point is or how much is in the coffers. I've been doing a lot of reading, like Annie suggested. I've been reading Harold Prince's book and just amazed by, for all of his commercial success, how Prince thinks like we all did when we were in school. What's the metaphor for this show? What's the metaphor for this show that may become hugely successful? He never thought about it becoming hugely successful at the beginning of the process, he thought about what could he say to society, what was it valuable for people to hear from this particular piece of material? So, yes, I encourage that kind of reading right now. But most of all, I encourage this kind of connection which we're having with this very activity which keeps us alive as artists and which has been at the heart of the Directors Labs, now all over the world, over the last decades and decades of activity. This is so valuable, so use this instrument, talk to each other. I am amazed at how much is available on the internet; how many great things there are available to us during this time that we can take as inspiration, as learning and as nudges to be ready for when we can walk into rehearsal rooms again.

Anne: Yeah, that's an excellent point, I should've thought of that this morning, because many theatres in Europe and here are streaming things, things from decades ago as well as more current things. And there's all kinds of performances you can see, all kinds of interesting pieces directed. You'll never have that chance again, that's an excellent thing to be doing because something that you see will just completely turn you on. And Harold Prince is a great example, I didn't even think about him, because not only was it early on, but even when he was really, when he won his 700th Tony or something, he was always--

Sheldon: At 85 years old!

Anne: Thinking of some kind of fabulous, very difficult thing and renting CSC or something to do. I can't even remember the name of the shows, but he never stopped doing whatever he wanted to do and sometimes it was very big and very splashy, and sometimes it was very, it was exactly the opposite. And your point about the Playhouse, I remember talking to you all through that which reminds me of something else obvious that I should've said. I came to Lincoln Center many years ago and I came two years, year and a half, after the theatre had been closed for eight years.

Sheldon: Right, I'd forgotten that too.

Anne: The Lincoln Center Theater was considered a failed space, it was going to be turned into a parking lot. And around it there was a very successful ballet run by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein and an opera and a philharmonic, et cetera, and the theatre had been dark. And it was Mayor John Lindsay who said, "This is a national disgrace, "we have got to start this theatre up." And now everyone's like "Oh, Lincoln Center Theater is so successful." It was considered an absolute dark, failed project for years, so if that can come back, and that took some very smart thinking on the part of largely another person who recently passed away, our executive producer, Bernard Gersten. Gregory Mosher and he were at the helm with a great, great board of theatre people from another era. They brought the theatr back, so it was seven years of darkness. I don't even think they had a ghost light on and now, it's back. Well, now it's closed but it was back.

Sheldon: Yeah, and I hope it's clear that we're telling these dark stories not because we wanna share dark stories, but as a point of inspiration to say "Who would've ever imagined that Lincoln Center Theater "ever had a dark time like that?" Because of what has happened in the decades since then. It's just a way of saying you can take that darkness and re-find the spark, get the lights back on again and keep going.

Anne: And do something different that turns out to be what you wanna do. Or Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg and Clifford Odets, in the middle of the Depressions literally starving until someone gave them a farmhouse that they could go to upstate and they took some actors from the Yiddish Theatre, Stella Adler, and that's how the group, I mean, they were starving. The life of Moliere is an incredible life. Performing for the king one day and then out of Paris, completely broke on the road, literally showing up at the court of the king of Denmark, we'll perform anything for you. That's the life of the theatre, that's what it is. But it's a gift that we have of friendship and of collaboration and of art. And I think we have to honor that art and not let that be taken from us. We know how to collaborate, we know how to be in a room together. We know how to make that happen and we need to protect that.

Sheldon: Yeah, and I'd just like to go beyond us making the art. You just used the word hunger I think. I think audiences are going to be hungry. People are going to want to gather again. And again, as wonderful as this technology is, this is not gonna satisfy the hunger for the real in-the-room-together experience. So that's the other thing to depend on, and in fact, that is the thing that saved Pasadena Playhouse and saved Lincoln Center. People, lovers of theatre are out there who are going to want the work that you do. So, get ready, be ready to tell those stories. Don't let your creative muscles atrophy because that hunger's gonna be there strongly, I think. People are gonna wanna feel safe, they're gonna have some trepidation about it for a while, but once they start to eat again and find out that it's okay, they're gonna wanna do more and more of that.

Anne: And then, just to finish this and then Ernie can kick into some questions, that was also a point always of Bernie Gersten's, was that we're not the only theatre people, we're making

Sheldon: That’s right.

[Ernest comes back onscreen.]

Anne: The circle is completed with the audience and a lot of times when you start, you think it's only about us. You forget the other three-quarters, which are the people who come. And I often say to the Directors Lab think about your aunt or your uncle or your college roommates. They should be there, what are they gonna think of this? That it's not totally self, of course as an artist you are self-concerned, especially playwrights, they have to be; but if it's speaking, as they say when Elia Kazan finally the made it to New York and he got up on stage and called out "Strike!" and the entire audience of dirt-poor Jewish immigrants stood up and said "Strike!", they were communicating. You can find your people, you've gotta find the people for the shows and you've gotta send the word and open the door and they'll come up to you.

Sheldon: Yeah.

Anne: And with Mahalia Jackson. Ernie, any questions you wanna ask us from the?

Ernest: Yeah, thank you both, that was really, really wonderful. Couple of questions have come up. First one I think is at the top because you mentioned the Labs at the very beginning, Anne, is what is your vision for the Labs? I'm thinking probably they mean future vision.

Anne: Well, just quickly... I had something, obviously I had something to do with creating the Lab, but the Lab really was created over a period of two years by a whole series of conversations of people we invited who were just peers, friends of ours, people ranging from Chris Durang to Lois Smith, the actress, Novella Nelson, Laurie Anderson, JoAnne Akalaitis, Garland Wright; anybody we could dragoon up to the theatre. We said, "What should we do?" and we were thinking mostly we would do something with playwriting because we started the Lab when Andre came, he wanted to bring more people into the building and he was from Playwrights Horizons and they worked with playwrights. And we could not figure out how to do it with playwrights and so then, we thought, "Well, what could we do with directors?" And so the idea came from all of these people, it wasn't something that one person thought up. And my contribution to it was to listen to what everyone was saying and then gather a bunch of people in that first Lab, and I think Ernie, you were in that first Lab if I'm not mistaken.

Ernest: Actually, the fourth Lab.

Anne: And then just begin to see what was working and what wasn't and I didn't know what it was either. In the first Lab, which was too large, it was like a 100 people, somebody came to me in the end of, it was longer, I think it was four weeks; somebody came to me at the end of the first week and said, "I've just been voted president of the Lab." And I said, "I don't thing we have a president of the Lab." So then I knew we weren't gonna have a president of the Lab. merged from I had a terrible time talking the general manager department into paying $270 to fly somebody in from Toronto to work with JoAnne Akalaitis 'cause a lot of times we have had fantastic guests who just work and people watch them. And everyone was tired and who is this guy from, they gave me a hard time in the Lab, it turned out to be Michael Ondaatje and the next year, "The English Patient" came out and then everybody was very happy with it.

Ernest: You looked like a genius suddenly, right?

Anne: And anybody interested in interesting theatre should look up Michael Ondaatje's stage adaptations. There's some about the whole jazz scene in New Orleans, there's some really fabulous stuff, his childhood and his parents in Ceylon. There's just so much stuff out there and over the years, all I have had to do was to curate what people wanted to do. We have a great list serve, I've listened to what people are talking about and try and make something. So just to cut to the end of this question, we were going to be celebrating 25 years this summer. Now we're locked in our apartments. But my plan was, and I think I'll do this next year, is to do that again because many things have changed in 25 years. Not only our hair color, and I don't think it's working in the same way. And I think a lot of that has to do with money, and a lot of that has to do with politics, and a lot of that has to do with people, who are very certain about things, as opposed to, for many decades the luxury of saying, "I don't know, I want to find out from you. "What is that tradition that you're doing "in southern India?" There was always, as you remember, this thing of tell me, who are you, what can we, and there's been more and more of I know, I want, you know. So I'm trying to get everybody together and sort of see. Maybe we continue or maybe we do something that isn't with directors, I don't know. I'm just gonna take the temperature and see next year.

Ernest: I think you actually segued very nicely into the, there's a couple of references and this goes to what you spoke about earlier, Sheldon, as well. Couple of references to a Carmen Salas article about taking the pause and the questions tend towards maybe there's something there we can do that's more useful to our present communities and society during this pause, or maybe just taking to task the... Our structure and how it works or doesn't work.

Sheldon: Right. Well, I think that's really interesting. When this started and you started hearing horror stories about theatres shutting down and all of that, I remember thinking honestly, "Boy, I'm so glad I'm not an artistic director right now." How I would hate to be running a theatre right now. But over the weeks, I've suddenly started to think of it differently and started to think, "Well, what a great time to be an artistic director." If you can take this time, this pause, to really rethink those models that have restricted theatres, that theatres have thought of as burdens for years and years and years; the schedule, the subscription models, the kinds of seasons you put together. If you can take this time to rethink all of that and really restart the engine, then this might have been useful. The theatres which have been challenged even before this pandemic may, to use what is becoming a cliche now, may come out of it better as a result of not being stuck to the old way of doing things. I think back to those who started the regional theatre movement: Zelda Fichandler, Nina Vance, Gilmore Brown in Pasadena. They didn't have any models. We follow the model of those theatres that were started in the 60s and 70s. They just said, "I wanna make a theatre for my community "and I don't want it to be like Broadway theatre. "I want it to be something that reflects my community", and they just went out and did it. To a certain degree, I think we have to think that way again right now and not say, "I'm following that model well", but, "What kind of theatre do I want to build right now?"

Anne: Well, first of all, sign me up.

Sheldon: [Laughs.] Okay.

Anne: And secondly, again, when you think of this pause between, let's say, now and whenever, John's saying January when were all gonna be back in rooms together. You just mentioned Nina Vance, you just mentioned Zelda. I think that I was making that little list of books to read, what about Hedgerow Theatre? I was great friends with Adrian Hall, the founder of Trinity Rep and later the Dallas Theater Center, and Adrian's model for Trinity Rep, the way that he made the theatre with at his side his great designer, Eugene Lee, the designer of "Saturday Night Live", by the way.

Sheldon: Yes.

Anne: He’s an icon. His model was the truth of Mrs. Hallam. Mrs. Hallam was a kind of third-rate Sarah Bernhardt, don't quote me on that, who came from England, sort of like in "Huckleberry Finn", the players who come through, the prince and whatever. She and a scraggly troupe of roaming actors came to New York in whenever, 17-something, and started performing and he took his initial repertory from Mrs. Hallam's troupe. And they were literally let's just come into the show with our trunks and put on a play. And he went to the governor of Rhode Island and talked him, because Adrian was quite a talker, into sending every high school student in Rhode Island, okay, it's a small state, to Trinity Rep three times a year for the years that they were in high school so that every citizen of Rhode Island had seen, by the time they were 18, 12 plays which will give you a taste for the theatre. And he would say, "If those kids", and it wasn't just kids, it was everybody; "If they're not responding to my adaptation "of 'Billy Budd', I'm just gonna put Billy Budd on that rope "and swing him right across their heads "and that'll get their attention." This is Adrian. His inspiration was so sourced back to the origins of theatre and incredibly successful.

Sheldon: Yeah.

Ernest: It’s a interesting trend that's happening in these questions. They all start out with how: how can, how can, how can. And then some of them are questions that have yes, without a doubt the current, can you reveal new definitions of what progress means? I would say, well, certainly, yes to that. But in these questions there's also a how can we make art more accessible? How do we make knowledge in art more accessible? There's a trend in these questions about, it seems to go beyond accessibility, but using this time to reach out as opposed to reaching in.

Anne: Well, I think accessibility is really just the modern word that we're using in the last decade to say we want a lot of people to participate in the theatre experience. There's only a few of us making it, and then there's all of them who are feeling a part of it and watching it, et cetera. And that's the essence of things, and the way that you do that is you live with them, you know them, you make the work in a way that they can see it without having to drive hours and pay expensive babysitters in parking lots. Exactly what Sheldon said, you reimagine how the theatre works. That's why Hedgerow is such a good example of that and when you connect a roadside theatre, when you connect to a theatre, to an audience in way that they're able to access your work, they will be there for you. The models are not necessarily the ones that we know. As Sheldon says, it's a time to rethink and reinvent and make it different and make it better. And it's not the first time, it's the 700th time this has happened since the theatre began thousands of years ago.

Sheldon: I’d also say we sometimes assume that connecting to the audience is only through the work. Connecting to the audience is through the work also. When you read the stories of Nina Vance and Zelda and Adrian and those people who started those early theatres; yes, they were great artists and they did great work, but they spent hours and hours going out into the community and connecting on a personal level.

Anne: Yes.

Sheldon: And I think we can be guilty, as artistic leaders, I have been guilty, we can be guilty of sitting in our palaces of art and saying, "If we make it, they will come." Well, that's not really true. It is our job to make it and to make it well and to make it good and to make it worth getting in your car and going to see it, but it's also our responsibility to go to the community, to be of the community and for the community, not just to assume that what we're making is going to be appealing.

Ernest: I’m gonna answer all these how questions the way I think Anne would answer them. She usually looks at us and says, "I don't know, how are you going to do that?" And so, I'm gonna move on to where we're dubbing our James Lipton question, the question you ask at the very end in closing, 'cause we have about that much time. Would you briefly share something you have learned or discovered during this quarantine period that you plan to intercorporate into your practice as an artist? Maybe Sheldon first on that.

Sheldon: Yeah. It's something that actually is not new for me, something that I have believed for a long time, but it certainly has been amplified by this current period of time. And that is in the creation of art, the value of stillness. The value of being still and allowing yourself to receive what the universe has to give you. We are so driven to action and in fact, we talk about action in rehearsal, what's the action of the scene, what's the physical action of what we're doing? But stillness is also a great gift and the time, the resources to actually dream about the future, about how theatres can operate, about how we can make theatre, about why we make theatre. Giving yourself the time to be silent, to be still, to hear both inner and outer voices that can give you the answers to your own how, not my answer to your how, but your answer to your how; is something that I hope all of us will carry going forward into our work from now on.

Ernest: Wow, Anne?

Anne: To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, that was very sublime, Sheldon. I know you're recording this, I think all those books that I mentioned in my discourse at the beginning talk about just what Sheldon's talked about and they give their own answer to that in vastly different ways. So if you're looking how to do that, go there as well. What am I doing? It's really not sublime. I'm a dramaturge and early in my career worked a little for Joe Papp who used to always say, "You can't just do something, you have to do it "and then you have to tell everyone that you did it "otherwise it doesn't count." I never quite understood that then; now I totally understand it. And right now, I am facing a very challenging task for me where I'm trying to enlist people in this which is that I'm trying to document, I've just written a book about dramaturgy called "The Art of Dramaturgy", it's coming out in a year. And I've realized when I go on the web and I go to Wikipedia, there's nothing about dramaturgy. No-one has any idea what it is, no-one knows anything about the history, nobody knows anything about the books that have been written about it, no-one knows that there was a huge movement of dramaturges who created all kinds of plays with directors and actors in the 70s. So I need to figure out how to get on Wikipedia; the whole movement, the history. I have no idea how to do that, so that's what I am trying to figure out how to do. I've gotta find somebody who knows how to do that and I wanna do it by January. That's my meager goal after your saving the world, Sheldon.

Ernest: And now you have time to yourself to do that.

Anne: Well, I need help, I can't figure it out. Thank you for having us.

Sheldon: Yes, thank you so much.

Anne: I wanna let the audience know there are many more questions here and most of them are how questions and some are deeply philosophical, something that you can't go into in 40 minutes. But we're gonna be forwarding those to Anne and Sheldon. If they choose to respond, what we will do is we will post those answers, let's say three to four weeks from now on the Directors Lab West website.

Anne: After I figure out what a stub is on Wikipedia, yes, I'll answer, of course.

Ernest: And I wanna really, really thank Anne Cattaneo for not only being here, but also for being with us 20 years, 25 years with the Directors Lab. Sheldon, of course, initially thanking you for bringing us into the Playhouse and being an ongoing supporter of Directors Lab West. And Jess, it's been amazingly entertaining to watch you become Anne and Sheldon both at the same time. It's really wonderful I wanna thank Jess Whitehouse for the ASL interpretation. Also mentioned that we've got ongoing support by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Foundation, Boston Court Pasadena and the Pasadena Playhouse of which we look forward to next year having something in person and live. So that would be great, and we also wanna thank HowlRound for their technical abilities and making this even happen along with our own mighty eight-person team that we've been putting together. We hope that you all join us tomorrow which would be for Anne Bogart and Jessica Hanna in Creative Practice and Shifting Landscapes. And we talk a lot about a number of things that Anne and Sheldon just tapped on. For example, later on in the week we're having an international panel about how different countries are dealing with this. We have a number of alumni, as does Anne, that are scattered throughout the entire globe and that is, I think, gonna be one of the most fascinating conversations. So I'd encourage you to go to the Directors Lab West website, our Facebook page, look up all of the different offerings that we're having this week. And we wanna thank you all, including both of you, for being here. Jess, thank you very much and the entire audience of more than 200 people from what I'm told. So, thank you all, this is a great launch for a great eight-day week.

Anne: Thanks, Ernie.

Sheldon: Thank you.

Ernest: Thank you!

Sheldon: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.

Directors Lab West Logo.

This conversation is presented as part of Directors Lab West Connects, an 8-day series of live-streamed conversations and Q&As crafted for and by theatre directors and choreographers that will reflect upon, explore, and inspire paths forward in the transformed and transforming nature of live theatre. Curated to reflect a wide range of topics, each session will feature speakers sharing their unique perspectives for 30 minutes, followed by a live moderated 15-minute Q&A.

RSVP for this conversation, read speaker bios, and submit questions ahead of time at directorslabwest.com.

Directors Lab West Connects will be livestreaming on howlround.tv and on the Directors Lab West Facebook page, where viewers can engage with peers and ask additional questions in the chat. Each session will be archived on both HowlRound and Directors Lab West’s website.

The full Directors Lab West Connects schedule of conversations is:

Saturday 23 May 2020
Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps: A Discussion of Institutional Perspectives, Connections, and Support

Sunday 24 May 2020
Anne Bogart and Jessica Hanna: A Conversation about Creative Practice and the Shifting Landscape

Monday 25 May 2020
Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein: Using Intimacy Direction to Create a Culture of Consent Post-COVID

Tuesday 26 May 2020
Laurel Lawson and Diana Wyenn: Disability and Equity as Creative Forces

Wednesday 27 May 2020
Daniela Atiencia, Gianna Formicone, and Makiko Shibuya: Global Perspectives from DLW’s International Alumni

Thursday 28 May 2020
Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman: Reimagining Liveness and Connection for Virtual Space

Friday 20 May 2020
Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery: Reflections on “Remote” Teaching and Community Engagement

Saturday 30 May 2020
Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin: The Power of the Arts — Theater and Dance in Systems-Impacted Communities

See the other archived videos that belong to the Directors Lab West Connects livestream series.


  • ASL Interpretation will be available on both the HowlRound and Directors Lab West Facebook livestreams.
  • Closed captioning and ASL Interpretation will be provided on the archived video on both the Directors Lab West and HowlRound websites.


Founded in 2000, Directors Lab West brings together dedicated emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers together with master artists for an eight-day long intensive filled with workshops, conversations, panels, and symposia enabling them to inspire each other to dream and create the future of American Theatre. Now entering its third decade, the Lab's alumni network is comprised of over 600 theatre artists from all over the world. Directors Lab West is presented with artistic partners in Pasadena and Los Angeles and is supported by the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. www.directorslabwest.com

Directors Lab West Connects is produced by Che’Rae Adams, Douglas Clayton, Ernest Figueroa, Martin Jago, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Randee Trabitz, and Diana Wyenn, with additional support from Emily Claeys and Reena Dutt.

About HowlRound TV

HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email tv@howlround.com, or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.

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