It’s time for the next installment in the new 2AMt director-to-director interview series. If you aren’t already doing so, you can also join in Twitter conversation specific to directing by following the hashtag #2amdir.
Meet Dominic D’Andrea.
Hometown: Severna Park, MD; Current City: New York City
My company: The One-Minute Play Festival
Frequent Directing: The Lark Play Development Center/ The Brick Theater
1. What attracted you to directing?
Tough question. To be honest, I became a director out of necessity; it was not something I set out to do. I started when I was about 18 in college outside of DC. I had been acting and studying music all of my life, and then for some reason—and I can’t remember the details—there were a series of projects that happened back to back that I became responsible for that didn’t have any leadership, so I stepped up. A year later I was nominated by my school for ACTF, went to regionals, and was offered a national directing fellowship at the KC/ ACTF in DC. This solidified my path as a director and introduced me to people I ended up working for over the next few years, as I was already local. Needless to say I stopped studying music and acting. I really thought I was going to go into music until then.
2. Did you receive academic and/or practical training in directing? And how has (not) having this formal education/training shaped your directing career?
I went to undergrad at University of Maryland College Park, and I had a ton of support as a student that wanted to study directing. It was a BA in Theatre, but they let me take the ball and run with it. After that, and while in NYC, I did all the emerging director programs, labs, and fellowships I could possibly do: Lincoln Center Directors Lab, SDC Observersips, Manhattan Theatre Club Fellowship, Emerging Director Residency at EST, Edward Albee Foundation, and lot of other stuff. I felt that given my involvement in NY theatre and participation in all of these programs, I never really wanted to take 3 years out to go to a grad program for directing. I might actually go into a grad program in the fall, but not for directing.
3. Which director (or other theatre artist) (dead or alive) has had the greatest impact on you as a director?
For one, Edward Albee. I met him when I was in college, he offered me a spot at his foundation right after I graduated, and I even worked as his assistant for a time. He was a great influence on me, and offered me some of the best mentorship I’d ever had. Pam MacKinnon was probably the smartest director I’ve ever assisted, and I learned a lot from her about how to establish yourself in the room as a gentle but powerful leader, how to take your time, and how to work with actors. John Eisner at the Lark for whatever reason has allowed me be a part of that amazing organization for the last 6 years and has trusted me with some pretty intense projects. I never step out of the door there without learning something about playwrights or how to think in a new way.
In terms of work I’ve seen that’s influenced me: Ariane Mnouchkine is probably the closest thing to God I’ve ever seen on stage; Robert Lepage; artists who are making epic work with a global perspective. I wish we did more work like this in the US, instead of importing it.
4. In your personal library, what is the most indispensable text on the craft of directing? Or, alternately, have books/practical guides proven unhelpful?
Old school: I like Harold Clurman’s On Directing. It’s a text I have referred to many times over the years. Actually, I prefer to look at theatre history texts, such as the Brockett/Hildy History of the Theatre (Hildy was my college prof) or books on acting, or general history books, or works about society. I find this kind of research far more relevant to the work I do than texts on directing. If I do look at them it would be to answer a specific question, maybe.
5. Defend/Describe the importance of ‘the director’ in contemporary theatre. (Has the director’s place/status changed in the time you have been directing?
No, I don’t think I can say the role of the director has really changed much since I’ve been working, but I do think other roles are changing rapidly which may start to affect directors. I think the roles of playwrights, dramaturgs, and the emergence of social media people have all shifted into more prominent positions in the last decade, and institutional theatres have been focused more on these roles than in the past. I have noticed that I have been asked to work specifically in service of playwrights more in the last 5 years than ever before, but that’s not new to me since I work with playwrights anyway. I see it becoming part of an institutional guideline. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing for the voice of the director, I just notice it happening.
In NYC indie theatre the director has more often than not traditionally assumed the role of producer. I look forward to the day when artists from other disciplines start to assume that producer role more often and take responsibility for projects in that way. I can name a number of prominent indie theatres that when you sign on to direct something, the contract automatically makes you the producer. I think it would be a good thing to see more playwright-produced or designer-produced NYC indie theatre. It exists a little bit now, but more progress would be very welcome. It also might be good to start talking about these things in all the recent LORT conversations about hiring more playwright artistic directors. I believe there really is something assumed about directors acting as producers that we assume culturally. This should change.
6. How would you describe your own directing style?
I try to think about goals. What are the artistic goals for the work; what are my personal goals and things I want to work towards that will be nutritious for my development; what are my collaborators’ goals; what is the social context; what is the community and their needs; who is the potential audience and will this work be useful for them? Once these goals have been clearly articulated, it usually gives me some strong clues for how to begin working. For me, process, needs, and goals inform style, not the other way around.
7. What quirks, habits, rituals, etc. (if any) inform your directing process?
I’m an extremely quirky little man, so I’m sure I have many that I’m unaware of. We bust each other’s chops a lot about quirks, habits, and rituals so I suppose that’s’ a ritual(?) I have a habit of starting at the table, and I like to spend a lot of time there. Well, it’s less of a habit and more a matter of how I work. I can’t stand touchy-feely warm-up stuff, and my actors know this and tease me about it endlessly. They threaten me. I try not to get involved at all with how actors warm up, but I have mostly found that actors I work with hate touchy-feely warm up stuff, too. Usually the culture of the room in my process is about cutting the bullshit and just getting down to work. I try not to waste my time or anyone else’s. We are all super busy, and there’s always a feeling that we have to really want to create time and space to work, or just not take the project. When we do, say “yes” it feels like we are battling the clock, which can be tough, but it just a reality. Mostly, I’ve found this is appreciated and has a shared value with my collaborators. It’s probably why I work with the same general group of artists so much. But hey, this is a typical story for New York theatre.
8. What style/type of work do you find most compelling to direct? If you have an area of specialization, what are the unique challenges/needs of directing this kind of work?
Well, other than one-minute plays, which a lot of 2AMT people know me for, I have been focusing on a lot of translation projects over the last couple of years. I find that anytime I have an opportunity to work deeply from another cultural perspective—especially cultures that I am unfamiliar with—it requires you to make yourself intellectually and emotionally available to ideas and practices that are totally alien. You have to sort of assume nothing and start at ground 0 in the most terrifying and exhilarating way and re-learn everything. These projects have given me opportunities to learn things as a human being that I would have never have known otherwise. It’s been pretty life changing.
9. What is your fondest directing experience/memory
My fondest directing experiences have often been my biggest failures. I’ve only had like 2 projects ever that have truly failed, but they have been the biggest learning opportunities and points of references for all of the other stuff I’ve done right. I still feel bad for the Brick Theater for what I put them through one December about 5 years ago. Learning to fail with some grace, as a great mentor once told me, is part of the gig. If you are doing the right things, taking risks, and challenging yourself, there is no way you can’t fail. An artistic life is full of peaks and valleys, and the challenge is to not forget those valleys when you are on top of the peaks.
10. What is the most challenging work you have directed to date? Why?
Translations. (See above.) It’s hard work. I think the play I’m working on right now has been one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had to wrap my head around. Translating work from cultures that are so different than ours, that are filled with symbols and meanings we don’t share, is extremely tricky. It always seems to boil down to the old “translation, or cultural adaptation” conversation.
11. What advice would you give to a young or aspiring director?
Start this habit early: set goals for yourself, and if possible try to identify the kinds of experiences you do and do not want. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do for any reason. Try not to fall into the habit of taking projects you don’t’ want to do out of fear of not working, it can be a slippery slope that can lead to a lot of unnecessary frustration of being called again and again for a lot of stuff you don’t want to do, and not for other things you do want to do. It’s okay to say “no” and in fact, in the long run people respect clarity of goals and mission. If you are not finding the opportunities that you want, just go out and make them for yourself. And above all: don’t be afraid to ask for things. You’ll be surprised who will say “yes.”
12. What is your current directing project?
I’m directing a translation workshop of a contemporary play from Iran that has been translated into English. We have created a lab process about making a more relevant, active English translation of the play and creating a meaningful cultural exchange. 5 out of our 7 (American) actors speak Farsi on varying levels. It’s called Three Eternal Days, and it’s performing as an in process work as part of the Brick’s Iranian Theater Festival www.bricktheater.com
Next week, I start working on a solo play by James McLindon (a playwright who was at the O’Neill this past year) for a small festival in NYC.
The One-Minute Play Festival is about to invade Victory Gardens in May with playwrights Kristoffer Diaz, Tanya Saracho, Usman Ally, Chisa Hutchinson, Bret Neveu, and others: http://tinyurl.com/47kylrs More festivals will be announced soon.
Thanks for sharing, Dominic!
Our Directors’ Library to Date
David Ball, Backwards & Forwards
William Ball, A Sense Of Direction
Brockett/Hildy, History of Theatre
Peter Brook, The Empty Space
Harold Clurman, On Directing
Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary
Larry Moss, The Intent to Live