|photo by Matthew Pandolfe|
Hometown: Cambria, California
Education: BA Sarah Lawrence College
Favorite Credits: Love's Labors Lost, Hearts of Gold (from Henry IV) and The Changeling for Easy Leap Theatre Company, but that time I assisted Much Ado About Nothing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was also pretty cool.
Why theater?: Because I was born too late to be a pirate captain. Or just a regular ship's captain in the British navy or something, you feel me. It's not about the bloodshed, it's about the ship thing. Really because I'm obsessed with language, which is why I gravitate toward heightened-language plays of one kind or another. Because I live in a world evolving toward efficiency and deconstruction, not just in the theatre but in loads of aspects of society, and I want to fight for beauty of expression, and depth and texture, as well as economy. I just love words, man. What kind of original, expressive, urgent language is happening in the work, that's what matters to me.
Tell us about Boxcar: Boxcar is everything that you want a really good novel to be in many ways, or a really good dream. It takes over your visual imagination, because if you picture a train rattling through an empty American desert in a sunset-- that's what the play looks and feels like. It has the confidence of an old-school American folk song, and a similar sort of rough-and-tumble quality, but an incredibly intimate tenderness, because it's about poets. Artistic people who have sought out this storybook, mythic vastness in order to lose themselves, and then maybe find themselves again, we'll see. It's a fable, really. But it's also a very grounded, modern love story about desire, and identity, and pain. And there's some rap and some silliness and some sexiness. It's what you wanted to run away to when you were staring out your window in math class, and then what it turned out to really be like when you got there. All good adventures end with some kind of bittersweetness or regret, the kind that comes from greater self-knowledge.
What inspired you to direct Boxcar: Well, my partner wrote an incredible play, basically. They first completed it a couple of years ago, so it's had a long presence in our lives, and has been through a number of readings with myself and other directors and artistic voices contributing a lot to its development. I haven't worked on a new play for a year or two and when Corbin and our producer Daniella were first putting their ducks in a row for this last June, I was actually in Colorado working on Othello. When Corbin finally suggested that I do it, they made me interview over the phone. If you've never conference-call interviewed over the phone for your own spouse, it is a hysterical experience. We only hesitated because I am so close to the work and there is essentially so much of me already in it, but it was clear in the first week around the table that I could never have let it out of my sight on the first production.
What kind of theatre speaks to you? Who or what inspires you as an artist?: BIG, risky, hopeful theatre. I like stories where something HAPPENS, writing that is brave enough to complete the gesture, that wants to go all the way from stasis to catastrophe to redemption and back again-- that's why we love Shakespeare so much, it's a ritual of deep feeling, and a visceral boxing arena-- and even when it's not explosive, even when it's quiet, it's writing that takes you all the way to the edge. Guts and audacity really are what inspire me. And remember, hope is risky, love is risky, but we often have to earn them by going through hell first, and the fact that the whole arc happens in about 100 minutes is what makes it good theatre. I like new plays that are as messy as Shakespeare, that aren't afraid. Courage, athleticism, wit, people and projects who know how to use those tools. I've been lucky enough to work for and train a little bit with Lisa Wolpe, who is a seriously gnarly Shakespeare artist who inspires me. Many of my peers just shock me with the quality of their work, Matt Minnicino is one who I've been stunned to collaborate with many times and that dude really knows how to mess with language and is not afraid of his own sentimentality, which I admire, so watch his stuff wherever you can. Even spending a couple of months working under/near Bill Rauch at OSF is enough make you realize that the most important quality you can have as a director is kindness. And Hamilton, I know everyone says it-- that doesn't make it less great.
If you could work with anyone you've yet to work with, who would it be?: Lin Manuel Miranda, in a project called me getting coffee with Lin Manuel Miranda. Also like, many many actors and writers who I think are geniuses, who will be hearing from me as soon as I have any money or power at all.
What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Changeling, at Red Bull Theatre because I think that play is crazy but also because I really admire Jesse Berger's work and have followed his career very closely as long as I've been in New York.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: In an ideal world, young Helena Bonham Carter or Carey Mulligan in some sort of terse, moody period piece where I can anachronistically wear suits, but in reality, probably Lena Dunham in a film called "Make this Kid Stop Talking Please."
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Original production of Romeo and Juliet, hands down. I want to be there the first second they realize it isn't a comedy.
What's your biggest guilty pleasure?: Delusions of grandeur. Cigarettes.
If you weren't working in the theatre, you would be_____?: English teacher maybe, poet/writer I suppose. The thing about being a director, is that it's halfway between English teacher and ship's captain. It's my sweet spot.
What's up next?: Stay tuned...
For more on Boxcar, visit www.thetanknyc.org. For more on Emma, visit www.emmawent.com