As Mother's Day approaches and we celebrate the women around us, we thought it was the perfect time to showcase our all-female team of directors for the 2019 season. As you may recall, Jessica Patterson-Galayda directed our season opener, Enchanted April. Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre will direct Red Herring in September and Artistic Director Patti Ross will direct A Streetcar Named Desire in November. Lora Oxenreiter was scheduled to direct One Man, Two Guvnors this summer, but due to scheduling conflicts, the show will be postponed until next season (more on that in a later entry). Last month, I was fortunate enough to question these four talented women about the lessons they have learned as directors. Check out their incredible insight and perspectives below!
Casey: I'm so excited to interview a powerful group of women in the theater industry! It has been 13 years since the Bobcat Players have presented a season solely directed by females. Why do you think that's significant and/or particularly relevant today?
Jessica: I think the majority of directors are male. The arts, as a whole, are very female-dominant but male-run. The competition onstage is usually much stiffer for women than it is for the men. But directing is different--everyone is competing against each other for the exact same opportunities, strictly based on your vision and ability to work well with your team. Sadly, we live in a world where women advancing to a position of leadership is still a challenge. I think it's important to show that having an entire season of female directors shows that women are just as skilled as men.
Patti: I would like to say that it was a calculated feminist approach to the 2019 season, but actually it was a lucky accident that the shows all are in the hands of female directors. As artistic director of the Bobcat Players, I constantly am seeking out new directors, and gender is not really an issue here. It is more a matter of talent and timing. Honestly, my feeling is that community theatre, at least the Bobcat Players community theatre, always has been gender blind when it comes to assigning directors to our shows. Throughout the years we have been in existence, we have had equal representation for the most part. From the very start of this company, women have played viable roles in the directorial pool. With that said, I couldn't be happier with the slate of directors we have assembled for 2019. Each of these women brings to our company a fresh creative eye, experience, and enthusiasm. What more could I ask?
Casey: I love both of those answers! So let's dig into that. Have you faced any challenges in your past as a female director?
Lora: I suppose I have been lucky. There was only once in all the years that I've been directing that I felt I was at a disadvantage being a female director. The producer was a man who believed he knew better than anyone how a show should be directed and imposed his take on it during my rehearsals. Needless to say, I didn't direct for them again.
Jessica: I absolutely have. My directing style is hands-on; I will always be ready to jump onstage with a power tool to start working on my set. Growing up, I didn't have any brothers and my dad did a lot of home improvement, so I learned how to do a lot from my parents and excelled in my high school wood shop class. In the past, I've been told to work on props or costumes because "the the men were doing the building." Fortunately, I've shown my skills and it doesn't happen so much anymore. But it can be very frustrating when people assume that I can't build or do heavy lifting because I'm a woman.
Barbara: I think that being a woman has had allowed some producers to think that I could be run over, that they could make artistic calls that they would not have made with a man. The director is the hub of a creative wheel and all of the other creative elements and personnel should grow out from the hub. I don't see directing as a top down model at all. Collaboration is at the heart of any theatre work that I direct and I hope that the people that I'm lucky enough to work with see that collaboration not as a weakness but as a strength.
Jessica: Honestly, at this point, I think I experience more challenges as a young director than I do as a female director. Typically, people look at me and see a kid--not someone who has directing experience.
Casey: So what drew you each to directing and how long ago were you given your first opportunity to direct?
Patti: I came to directing by way of my career. For more than three decades I taught English and theatre at Freedom Area High School, which entailed both classes and extracurricular contests and festivals. The transition to community theatre was pretty natural and seamless. My first experience in directing adults came with the Bobcat Players' production of Steel Magnolias. What a fantastic script for a fantastic start. I have a fondness for directing strong females in compelling feminine scripts, and Steel Magnolias was a perfect transition from directing students to directing adults. My cast was wonderful, and they made my debut in community theatre painless and rewarding. Ove the years, the Bobcat Players have afforded me so many memorable and challenging opportunities as a director. I have been fortunate to bring to the stage some of my very favorite American classics. Born Yesterday, Harvey, and Picnic are such giants in the 20th century American canon, and I loved bringing to life every one of them. This season represents my greatest challenge to date--A Streetcar Named Desire, another gem. I have loved having a hand in farce (Lend Me a Tenor), contemporary feminist comedy (Calendar Girls) and my own original scripts (Unexpected Gifts and A Very Oblonski Valentine.) But give me an Inge or a Williams script, and I am in both in awe and in heaven. Before I retire from the community scene, I would love to direct something by Arthur Miller and Thornton Wilder. Then my days as a director will be complete.
Barbara: I first took a directing class as a part of my undergraduate degree in Drama at Potsdam College (State University of New York). I took the course in the fall and directed my first show (Hold Me! by Jules Feiffer) that spring. By the time I had finished my undergraduate degree, I had directed 3 one-acts, one full length touring children's show and a musical for a local high school. I went directly to earn my Master of Fine Arts in Directing at Illinois State University and have been directing for college, universities, professional theatres and community theatres ever since.
Jessica: Directing is a passion I have had since I was in my very first high school play, but what really sparked my passion was stage managing Getting Sara Married at the Red Barn. I grew up in community theater and being onstage, but it is a totally different feeling when you get to see how the audience reacts to a show you are in as an actor vs. a director having an audience see your vision. I got the opportunity to direct with Slipper Rock Musical Theatre Society in 2012 and directed 12 cabaret-style shows. These shows consisted of 12-16 musical theater numbers to create a Broadway review in full costume with blocking and choreography. This provided me with a great creative medium to learn the ropes before jumping into full musicals and plays.
Lora: I have been directing for over 40 years. I started my journey in theater as a stage manager for many productions so I learned from different directors--what worked and what didn't work as they interacted with actors. My first directing gig was in college. I enjoyed it, but still was drawn to the stage management side of theater. Once out of college, my first time as a director was for a community theater in Fayette County. Then I was hooked.
Casey: What would you say to encourage anyone who has an interest in directing? Where would you recommend they start?
Barbara: I highly recommend the text "The Art of Directing" by John Kirk. It does an outstanding job of teaching analysis and information on coaching actors. Then? Find a director who is willing to let you work alongside of them as an assistant. Even if you have done lots of acting! Directing is an entirely different animal.
Lora: I truly believe that my background as a stage manager has made me a better director. And so, I strongly recommend that anyone thinking about being a director spend some time as a stage manager. You will learn, by working closely with several directors, what you feel would work for you. Of course, taking classes and reading books about directing will help a lot as well. "A Sense Of Direction" by William Ball is one of my favorites.
Jessica: I'd say don't be afraid to get your hands dirty! Learn every trade as best you can. It is hard to direct people if you don't understand their positions. Be crew, stage manage, costume, run lights, run sound, produce, act, sing, dance, build--and never stop going to see shows. Some of my biggest lessons I have learned about directing have been as an audience member.
Patti: Directing is never easy, but it nearly always is rewarding. I have one rule of thumb for taking on a show. When I read a script, if I can see it in my mind, I believe I can stage it. If I read and cannot conjure an immediate image, I know the play is not for me. And casting--casting is more than half the battle. Nothing is more critical in my mind than that. Other than that I would remind every young and aspiring director that it really does take a village to produce a play. The cast, the stage manager, the lighting and sound technician, the producer, the costume designer--all play such an integral role. It's true that "the play's the thing", but the company is what brings the thing to life.
We hope you enjoyed the insights of these fabulous ladies and that their words have inspired you. We appreciate all their hard work in bringing life to the stage and we look forward to seeing that happen throughout the 2019 season!