Silent Sky Experience

I recently had the enormous pleasure to direct Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, which is about the extraordinary work of real female astronomers from the early 20th century. This was one of my favorite directing experiences so far! I had a lovely, hard-working cast, incredible designers, and a smart crew. Check out my director’s note from the program below. I’m energized by this work!

IMG_8129

Director’s Note

“Women aren’t asking for special treatment, we are showing how special we already are and always have been. We’re not asking anyone to let us participate, we are exclaiming that we have participated in discoveries, breakthroughs, and wild achievements all along (despite being excluded, barred, and presumed incapable).” – Lauren Gunderson

In these few words, playwright Lauren Gunderson has put a very fine point on her own play. Silent Sky, which is based on the extraordinary legacies of real female astronomers from the early twentieth century, gives a voice to those lost to history. This story focuses on three women specifically: Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon, and Williamina Fleming, each of whom overcame incredible odds to achieve great discoveries in their field. As the play unfolds, the playwright shows insightful ability to capture the highs and lows of their lives, the extraordinary sacrifices demanded by their careers, and the power of their passion to unlock the limits of the universe. Living in a world that cheapened their value to “human computers”, these female characters carry brave hope, and for that, the world is changed.

These women are like the stars they studied – resplendent points of light, shining to dispel the darkness for us all. They are just a few of the many, many women who have come before them, breaking conventions, rising above, and holding their own in the world. I’ve been changed by working on this play, and I hope it touches you, too. It’s time to let in the luminous joy of these women’s long-overlooked achievements shine. And let us ask ourselves, who in our own time is currently overshadowed?

Photo credit Kenn Stilger.

New Play Time!

Ingram

I’m excited to be directing an Ingram New Works play for the fourth year in a row! This year’s play is The Very Last Wishes of Grandpa Joe, or Mia & Hector Go Sightseeing by Cristina Florencia Castro. It’s incredible. Really, it’s a beautifully-crafted play and I couldn’t be happier to help bring it to the next stage of its life in a staged reading. New plays are the best. The readings are May 11 and 17. There are also three other strong plays to see during the series — don’t miss it.

Synopsis: A successful, acclaimed pop-up book artist travels to Ireland on a mission with her best friend — per his late grandfather’s final request — as she secretly, silently grapples with losing her vision. A travel story about two different kinds of loss and the kind of friendship where you’re yelling one second and embracing the next.

The Crucible Experience

This past winter I had the immense pleasure to work on one of the most important plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Although I was exhausted (seven months pregnant with twins!), this experience was one of the most fulfilling and synergistic moments of my career.  The production was a collaboration between Lipscomb Theatre and Blackbird Theater Company, which is our resident semi-professional company.  With a mix of students and Nashville pros in the cast, and a top-notch production team, I was enraptured with the entire process and the product.  Why this play, and why now? Here’s what I wrote as my director’s note in the playbill:

One of Arthur Miller’s masterworks, The Crucible encapsulates a dark, disturbing historical event from America’s early settlement period while resonating universal themes that continue to reverberate throughout time.  While Miller wrote the play to address 1950s McCarthyism, his work exploits elements of humanity that transcend single application.  Of all of the ideas explored in The Crucible, including the perversion of justice, the power of collective hysteria, the ramifications of religious fundamentalism, and the unquenched need for societal scapegoats– all boil down to one driving element: fear.

Miller’s Puritans, as many of us do, operate entirely based on fear.  While they specifically fear rebellion, God’s punishment, and the devil, people throughout time have mirrored their beliefs and actions, if for their own reasons. Fear, however, is one of our basest instincts, and this play captures the repercussions of how unbridled terror in a few people can bring down many.

What are we doing TODAY, even in small ways, that perpetuates fear?  

This play serves more than to point fingers at religious figures and political systems from over 300 years ago; we must see ourselves in this story, and not just as the victims.  On both macro- and micro- levels, we behave like the Puritans did that fateful spring.  And the truth is, we all pay the price.  As John Donne put it:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Thank you for joining us for this special production. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have in creating it. May we all hear fewer bells toll in our lifetimes.

Directing STAND for Nashville and a major city tour

I recently directed the remount of STAND by Jim Reyland starring Barry Scott and Chip Arnold.  Directing a remount is always tricky business, and it took some effort to figure out how to marry a previous vision with a new experience.  In the end, it came together well and I was really proud to work on a play about such an important topic: homelessness.  I direct a lot of plays that I’d like to claim challenge my audiences, but at best these works come off as mostly entertainment and food for thought.  This play, however, really calls for immediate action: to take a stand to end homelessness.  It’s a powerful work and I’m grateful to have participated in it’s recreation!  It showed for a week at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center for both public and school performances, and is now going on tour to San Jose, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and a few other cities.  Onward!

Stand

Dancing at Lughnasa

In April, I directed one of my long-time favorite plays, Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel. This beautiful, haunting Irish play has been on my “Want to Direct” list for a while, and I was not disappointed.  I had the most lovely cast and production team, we enjoyed wonderful feedback and reviews, and overall I am deeply artistically satisfied with the whole process. Photo credit Kristi Jones.

Ingram New Works Festival with Doug Wright

In May, I had the distinct pleasure to direct a staged reading of Dean Poyner’s Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life featuring Shannon Hoppe and Brent Maddox for Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s Ingram New Works Festival.  This was an incredible experience and one for which I will be eternally grateful.  The air is so electric at new play festivals; I literally got a contact high participating in the emerging playwrights’ works. Which was good, since the university semester was ending and I was exhausted.  The New Works Lab this year featured playwrights Nate Eppler, Dean Poyner, Andrew Kramer, and Jeremy Sony.  All of their plays blew me away, as did the readings’ actors, directors, and stage managers.

I also met this year’s New Works Fellow, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, whose most notable works include I Am My Own Wife, Quills, The Little Mermaid, and Grey Gardens. The festival presented a reading of his new play Posterity, which will in no doubt go on to receive many productions and accolades.  He really is a genius.  Past Fellowship recipients include Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn (The Columnist), Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner John Patrick Shanley (Storefront Church), Steven Dietz (Rancho Mirage), and Theresa Rebeck (Fever).  

I found Doug Wright to be extremely gracious and kind.  He said super nice things to me and my cast about our reading — I acted cool but I exploded on the inside while he spoke to me. Here’s a photo from the after-party:

Cassie Hamilton, Brent Maddox, Me, Dean Poyner, Doug Wright, Shannon Hoppe

Cassie Hamilton, Brent Maddox, Me, Dean Poyner, Doug Wright, Shannon Hoppe                     Photo credit Shane Burkeen

Overall, the experience was beautiful.  I learned so much, as I always do working with giving artists. And Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life really touched my heart in some new ways.  Art is such a magical, mysterious thing.

POEM SYNOPSIS: Marked by a senseless tragedy, a couple tries to navigate the storm of grief that follows in the wake of their child’s death. Through a series of support group meetings for grieving parents, they struggle to comprehend and remember in an attempt to reconcile what they’ve lost. But as they confront their harsh new reality, they find it difficult to connect with each other in this new discordant world. A powerful and poetic exploration of what it means to live through unimaginable loss.