Directing the Drama: An Exclusive Interview with the Artistic Director

Directing the Drama: An Exclusive Interview with the Artistic Director

The Path to the Spotlight

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a live musical production. I was just a kid growing up in the middle of Illinois, in a tiny town with about 300 people. Access to the arts wasn’t exactly a top priority back then. In fact, my elementary school library closed down, and we didn’t even have a music program for quite a while.

So when I got the chance to see The Who’s Tommy musical on tour in Chicago, it was a real eye-opener. I was instantly captivated by the energy, the spectacle, and the sheer magic of live theater. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a part of that world, whether as an actor, a writer, or – eventually – a director.

My path to the theater world wasn’t exactly straightforward. I started out as a scenic artist, painting opera floors and backdrops. I even lived out of my car for a while, traveling around and working on productions. But when a friend recommended I try my luck in Los Angeles, that’s when things really started to take off for me.

Like some of the directors I’ve admired, I had to find creative ways to make my mark in the industry. For me, that meant honing my producing skills and self-financing my own work when no one else would. It was a grind, but it allowed me to build the directing chops I needed to really shine.

The Art of Directing

Now, as the Artistic Director of the Musical Theater Center, I get to put all those skills to use, leading an incredibly talented team of designers, technicians, and performers. And let me tell you, it’s no easy feat.

As an art director, you’re basically a master juggler – managing time, money, space, and people, all while trying to bring a director’s bold, ambitious vision to life. It’s a constant balancing act, whether you’re working on a gritty crime drama, a wacky sitcom, or a big, splashy musical number.

Take my work on the Fox production of Rent, for example. That was easily one of the most intense and rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of. We had to transform a traditional proscenium stage into a fully immersive, 360-degree experience, with actors moving and dancing all around the audience. It was like building a dream and then bringing it to life – with a tight timeline, a huge crew, and an unforgiving live audience to boot.

And that’s just one example. Whether I’m creating a meticulously detailed crime scene for Criminal Minds or dreaming up the quirky, colorful world of Parks and Recreation, the core challenges are the same: how do you transport the audience to a different time and place, using nothing but a few strategic pieces of set dressing and some clever lighting?

The Director’s Vision

Of course, it’s not just about the technical wizardry. As an art director, a huge part of my job is interpreting and enhancing the director’s overall vision. I have to really understand where they’re coming from, what kind of mood or atmosphere they’re trying to create. And then I have to translate that into a physical, tangible environment that the actors can inhabit and the audience can get lost in.

Take something like The Good Place, for example. When I came on board halfway through the series, I had to quickly get up to speed on the show’s quirky, fantastical world. The production designer and art director before me had done an amazing job of establishing the core visual style – that perfect blend of the familiar and the absurd, where you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not.

My job was to build on that foundation, keeping things consistent while also finding new and exciting ways to surprise the audience. Like that “mirror flip” effect we used, where we’d flip the set around to create the illusion of a backwards world. Or the way we’d make certain elements disappear and reappear, to keep that sense of mystery and wonder alive.

It’s all about anticipating the needs of the director, the actors, and the audience – and then finding creative solutions that bring the whole vision together. And let me tell you, working on a high-concept show like The Good Place, with its constantly shifting timelines and realities, really puts those problem-solving skills to the test.

The Challenges of the Craft

Of course, with great creative freedom comes great responsibility. As an art director, I’m constantly dealing with tight deadlines, limited budgets, and ever-changing production schedules. And let me tell you, those early morning call times can really take a toll after a while.

There’s this endless cycle of building, striking, and rebuilding sets – a constant state of flux that can be both exhilarating and exhausting. And then you add in all the logistical challenges, like making sure the actors can safely navigate the environment, or coordinating with the prop department, the electrical team, and a whole host of other specialized craftspeople.

But you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your work come to life on stage or on screen. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into creating a fully realized world, and then you get to watch the audience get swept up in it? That’s the real payoff.

And let’s be honest, there are plenty of perks too. I mean, who else gets to hang out with TV stars, go to fancy awards show parties, and basically live and breathe entertainment 24/7? It’s a pretty glamorous gig, if you ask me.

Driving the Future of Storytelling

Of course, the entertainment landscape is constantly evolving, and as an art director, I have to stay on my toes. I’ve seen firsthand how the rise of streaming, the influence of video games, and the insatiable demand for more complex, visually stunning storytelling has raised the bar for what audiences expect.

Shows like Stranger Things and Westworld have really pushed the boundaries of what’s possible, creating these incredibly immersive, richly detailed worlds that feel like they could actually exist. And let me tell you, trying to keep up with that kind of innovation is no easy feat.

But you know what? I thrive on that challenge. As an artist, I’m always looking for new ways to push the envelope, to surprise and delight the audience. Whether it’s finding clever solutions to technical problems or dreaming up bold, imaginative concepts, there’s nothing I love more than the process of creation.

And that’s why I’m so excited to be a part of the Musical Theater Center. This is a place that celebrates the power of live performance, the magic of storytelling, and the endless possibilities of the creative mind. It’s a hub for innovation, collaboration, and community – a place where we can come together to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of musical theater.

So if you’re a aspiring designer, technician, or director, I’d encourage you to check out all that the Musical Theater Center has to offer. Whether you’re looking to hone your craft, expand your network, or just soak up the endless inspiration, this is the place to be.

Who knows – maybe one day, I’ll be sitting across the table from you, swapping stories about our latest crazy project. After all, the future of live performance is unwritten, and I can’t wait to see what we create together.

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