Artistry as Mystery: Conversations with twenty directors

by Julie Haverkate

in TCG Books

Post image for Artistry as Mystery: <i>Conversations with twenty directors</i>

In November, TCG published The Director’s Voice, Volume 2. A follow-up to the immensely popular first volume, this new book collects twenty interviews, presenting a cross-section of the most diverse and dynamic stage directors defining today’s American theatre ― including Anne Bogart, Moisés Kaufman, Michael Mayer, Bartlett Sher, Julie Taymor, George C. Wolfe and Mary Zimmerman in conversation with director/producer Jason Loewith.

The busy director recently found a few quiet moments to speak with us about his work on the collection.

Julie Haverkate: The Director’s Voice, Volume 2 contains interviews with 20 directors, including six women and one theatre company. How did you choose these specific individuals? What were your criteria?

Jason Loewith: Terry Nemeth [the publisher, TCG] and I sat down almost ten years ago to put together the list of directors we’d target for interviews, and as I say in the intro:  there are directors missing from this book. A lot of them.  It verges on the criminal. As we were going to press I started making a list of the directors I wished I could have interviewed, and came up with 35 without taking a breath. Then I breathed and added 15 more. To those who want to know why their favorite director isn’t in this book — and to those directors who themselves feel excluded — I can offer a justification and a defense. In the first case, we did our very best when we selected the directors (which happened between 2002 and 2006) to be inclusive, representative of the community and artistically exceptional. In the second case:  two directors did not agree to be interviewed — and you’ll never know who they are. (For those of you who were not included but think you should have been: that can be your defense.)

Julie Haverkate: What do you see as the biggest change in the twenty years since The Director’s Voice, Volume 1 was published?

Jason Loewith: So much has changed since 1988, when the first volume was published, but no transformation has been more influential in the field for directors than the flight from risk to commercialism in the American not-for-profit theatre. Eager to stand on the shoulders of their innovative predecessors, the directors interviewed in Volume 2 have instead found the ground shifting, radically, beneath their feet. Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens recently argued that British “state-subsidized theatres [should] stage work that is not going to find an audience… that’s what state subsidy is for.” Would any American theatre artist in 2012 be taken seriously if he or she made the same argument about our not-for-profit institutions?

Julie Haverkate: Do you have any fun anecdotes — that didn’t make it into the book — from the course of compiling these interviews that you can share?

Jason Loewith: I can think of great stories to go with each of these interviews, and they mostly have to do with the emotional energy these directors radiate: the hilarity (and tension) in the Jeune Lune kitchen during our six-way interview; watching George C. Wolfe lounge like a cat on his settee, talking at the speed of light; Peter Brosius dancing in his office trying to explain how a German director he observed made some poor actor spit for hours and hours to “totally investigate the gesture;” a wonder-filled session with Julie Taymor (which didn’t make it into the text) in her sun-drenched loft filled with years of puppets, sculptures and photographs; picking out office furniture with David Esbjornson in Seattle on a break; watching Emily Mann weep as she remembered John Spencer’s performance in Still Life and feeling the tears come to my eyes, too… and of course, lots and lots of gossip.

But even if they were filmed in their entirety, these interviews would only be traces, right?  Impressions and glimpses. Artistry is artistry because it’s a mystery, and we’re all trying to read between the lines to find some bit of truth. Hopefully what made it into the book will reveal a little of that.

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Jason Loewith has been a producer, director, playwright and dramaturg in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., where he served as executive director of the National New Play Network, and now in Maryland, where he was recently appointed artistic director of Olney Theatre Center. As a playwright, his work includes the award-winning Adding Machine: A Musical and War with the Newts. He served as artistic director at Evanston’s Next Theatre Company from 2002-2008, and has directed new plays for Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, D.C.’s Studio Theatre and Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE.

Julie Haverkate is the marketing associate at Theatre Communications Group. Previously, she has worked at Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester, MI), as well as in the literary offices of Electric Pear Productions and the Summer Play Festival in NYC. Julie has lectured and presented at conferences internationally, and her book, PARADE Diverges, was published by VDM. In addition to dramaturging every now and again, she also writes the blog Critical Confabulations and is a proud alumna of Florida State University (M.A. Theatre Studies).