For the 26th National Conference in Washington DC, TCG is highlighting the current recipients of the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships and the Leadership U[niversity] One-on-One Program, the Rising Leaders of Color, and the four finalists for the Alan Schneider Director Award. These programs are unique to the field, and provide critical support and mentorship for the future leaders of our art form. In honor of our longstanding commitment to professional development across the field, we are excited to continue to host the Spotlight On Series throughout the spring leading up to the conference.
TCG: When was the moment that you realized that you wanted to pursue being a freelance director as a career?
MA: I knew I wanted to pursue directing as a career when I figured out that directing was a way to say controversial things in a beautiful way and not get punished. Growing up, I was the class clown: always restless, always speaking out, always in trouble. Alone at home, I withdrew into stories and music—I was an avid gamer, comic book aficionado, first-chair trumpet player, and fan of socialism. When I took up acting, it seemed to give my restlessness a focus and outlet. When I started reading plays, I found kindred spirits who seemed to share my sense of inequity, but who couched their stories in humor, emotion and beauty. When I went to Europe for a year, I got a chance to witness and study how theatre can be used as a social and political weapon, how an act of theatre IS an act of rebellion, and how theatre traffics in grabbing people’s hearts so that you can grab their minds and change a world. When I started directing, late in college, I discovered I could synthesize all of my disparate impulses into a focused story that contained my sense of humor, my frustration, my musicality, my politics, my rich turbulent emotions, and my desire to live in fantasy. I could seek out stories that would let me inhabit imagined worlds with imagined characters that could get away with saying and doing outrageous things. I was in heaven! I felt complete for the first time in my life. And I had a knack for it. I was good at engineering all the production elements to seduce folks with my whimsy and humor so that they would get the more complex ideas and themes that danced through the production. Once I found this path, I devoted everything I had to honing my skills. I assisted for a long time and got into rooms with amazing directors, writers, designers, and actors, all of who profoundly influenced my work. When my break came, it was thrilling: an ambitious little show in Greenwich Village with huge controversial ideas, an impossible structure, and characters that were lovable, funny, and tortured. The show took off and grew to eventually become the bedrock of my career. Twenty years later, I still try to bring this impulse of a beautiful rebellion to every show I do, injecting each production with showmanship, humanity, and humor to couch much larger discussions of social politics.
TCG: What is one piece of advice you wish you had received at the start of your career that you would like to pass on to early-career directors?
MA: “Practical” advice to early career directors that I never got: Build a bridge from your educational training and keep your own work active at the same time.
1. Read ArtSearch. It is filled with career development opportunities that can help you continue your growth as a director in professional environments.
2. Spend your early career summers assisting/interning at a theatre or festival and nurture that relationship. Your dedication, hard work, and passion in the early years will pay off huge in the years that follow.
3. Find a mentor whose work you admire and absorb everything they have to offer. A good mentor will be a teacher, a colleague, and friend for life.
4. Keep mounting your own work. That is the only way people will know who you really are as a director.
TCG: What is one conversation you would like to have with other freelance directors to address an obstacle facing the directing profession? What would you say to other directors about this issue?
MA: I’d love to discuss with other directors who have children how they balance the needs of parenting with a freelance directing career. Freelancing requires constant travel when we are working and constant prepping and pitching when we are between gigs. Parenting requires presence and constant attention, especially in the early years. When my wife and I started having kids (we have three,) it was very difficult to keep my career active. Now that they are a bit older and I’m back to working more regularly, I’m finding that it’s very challenging to find a balance between the demands of directing with the needs of rapidly evolving children. It seems as if my attention is feast or famine, and that is hard on everybody. How do other directors manage it? When I’m gone from home for significant periods of time, I try to offset not being physically there by calling or Face-Timing with my kids and share what I’m doing to invite them into it. I try making them feel a part of my work, but it’s no substitute for actually being home and present in their quickly growing and changing lives. Kids need their parents around but freelancers need to roam free. It’s a conundrum!
TCG: What was a moment in your career as a freelance director where you felt connected to a larger community, locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally?
MA: I often feel connections with other people and communities, but ALWAYS when I simply go to the theatre and watch other people’s work. Whether I know the artists or not, whether they are friends or strangers, the work is always inspiring. When the work is good, there is no place I’d rather be, and even when it’s not, it’s still motivating on other levels. When I go to theatre, I connect intimately to what I’m seeing—the characters, the ideas, and the history. I love being seduced by the artists. I love being challenged by unique points of view and wrestling with the story’s implications. Sitting in a dark theatre, ostensibly alone amongst a crowd, watching actors on cool sets wearing beautiful clothes under dazzling lights, firing controversial ideas at each other, inspires emotions, generates ideas, and gives me new perspectives. I always leave the theatre feeling more alive, with a renewed feeling of potential.
Matt August: Broadway- DR. SUESS’ GRINCH…; Off B’way: TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (The Acting Company), SIXTEEN WOUNDED (Cherry Lane); Arizona Theatre Co- KING CHARLES III, DISCORD; Old Globe- TWO GENTS, TIME FLIES, PIG FARM, FOOD CHAIN; Pioneer- MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, IN THE HEIGHTS, TWO DOLLAR BILL; Geffen- DISCORD; Ford’s- LIBERTY SMITH, CHRISTMAS CAROL; NoHo Arts Center- DISCORD; Falcon- TROUBLE WE COME FROM; LATW- DRACULA, THE REAL DR. STRANGELOVE, INTELIGENCE SLAVE, SPEECH AND DEBATE; TheatreWorks Palo Alto- BABY TAJ; Hanger- COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA, ALL IN THE TIMING, THE TEMPEST; Long Wharf- SIXTEEN WOUNDED. National Tours: GRINCH (annually for ten years at MSG, Pantages, Grand Ol’ Opry, etc…), DRACULA, TWO GENTS; Associate Director to Jack O’Brien from 2000-04; The Acting Company- Staff Repertory Director; Oregon Shakespeare Festival Killian Directing Fellow; Robert Wilson Watermill Fellow; Drama League Fellow; SDC/LA Committee; Mentor Director for SDCF & Drama League; MFA-CalArts.
TOP: In the Heights with Joseph Morales and Anthony Ramos. Photo by Alex Weisman
SECOND: The Gospoel According to Thomas Jefferson Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord with Armin Shimmerman, Larry Ceder and Mark Gagliardi. photo by Tim Fuller
THIRD: The Trouble We Come From with Scott Caan and Michael Weston. Photo by Jill Mamey
FOURTH: Dr. Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas- The Musical with Patrick Page and Rusty Ross. Photo by Paul Kolnik