Building a Director-Centered Community

Directors don’t have to come and be seen in a public, performative way. They come and are actually seen as people. It doesn’t matter who they are assisting, where they went to graduate school, what fellowship they received, or who they are having drinks with after the show; what matters is them. They also don’t have to hide who they are and how they make their work and their living. You are still a director if you make a living doing something else so you can direct. While ideally all directors could make a living directing exclusively, that is not our reality at this time, which means there needs to be more inclusive spaces for directors of all paths, backgrounds, and circumstances.

What if you take down some of those walls and open up opportunities?

Brey: The thing that’s really tricky is that we’re not getting an opportunity to really understand the human. We’re just seeing these people simulating the experience of being a part of the community instead of actively being a part of the community.

Sisi: Hearing you, Jill, talk about how transactional the industry can feel… it’s systemic. And that transactional relationship that’s embedded in the industry, that contributes to not feeling like a human. If I’m a product, and in every space I go into I’m treated as a product, then my humanity feels less and less valued. I could start to project that onto myself.

The spaces that (DG) is creating are giving an opportunity to slow down, and not to be focused on what you can do for me and what I can do for you in exchange.

Jill: I feel like if we work together and are transparent and have each other’s back, honestly—and a sense of also checking privileges in many, many ways—we can slowly but surely shift away from transactional intention.

Sisi: Yeah. Acknowledging that racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism exist; they don’t go away just because we all want to make art together. Even if you are creating a space where people feel like they can be vulnerable, those things still exist. The spaces that (DG) is creating are giving an opportunity to slow down, and not to be focused on what you can do for me and what I can do for you in exchange. We are connecting to humans who are in this space and acknowledging we’re going to be in this space together in this moment in time.

Brey: How does (DG) practice the ideals of creating community for directors?

Jill: When we started previewing the upcoming convening for manifesting an ecosystem for directors, we asked folks who were there to name for themselves a director that has helped them in the past and a director that they have helped in the past.

Brey: Also, we set up spaces where it’s like, “There are no expectations of us doing something for each other except sharing space and making connections with our humanity based on our similar experiences of this field.” And trying to shift that—that’s the expectation, that we are honoring each other’s humanity. It isn’t transactional; it is about being with each other and listening to each other with the fullness of who we are.

Sisi: If we had perfect control, we could say, “We are creating spaces where there’s no expectation of the transaction.” But people are living in a society that we don’t have control over. That’s the external given circumstances of the situation, that we don’t have control over that. But we can try to focus on a thing that is not that transactional relationship so hard that the alternative is so unattractive.

Kind of like the “Care Bear Stare”. They get together and they just shoot love, because they’re all staring together. Isn’t that how that works?

That’s the diversity! It’s the Care Bears. Maybe this is what we should do. We should describe the ideal society in terms of what Care Bears are. But yeah, I think that the “Care Bear Stare” is the equivalent of our focus on the abundance of our community.

Brey: We are definitely instituting some Care Bear action in the goals of what we’re trying to create.

Jill: Building spaces that have a sense of abundance and a sense of deep care, the Care Bear Stare.

Are there other organizations, people, or experiences that we have been witnessing lately that we could put forth in this conversation?

Brey: Sure. I think those institutions that are making space for building programs for directors, especially as we’re losing programs for directors to build up or develop their craft. I know Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a directing program. When the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, National New Play Network (NNPN), the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society Foundation (SDCF) all came together to do their director’s fellowship. I am such a proponent of pooling resources. There are so many opportunities for institutions to create better opportunities for directors or even just foster better work-life balances.

Just thinking biologically, that is what an ecosystem is, right?

Jill: I love that. Directors Gathering had an opportunity in October 2019, when Sisi and I met with the leaders of SDC and SDC’s Foundation, The Drama League, National Black Theatre, Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Maia Directors, Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, and a few more director-centric artistic leaders to begin a conversation around a director-centric ecosystem. In February 2020, (the (DG) team then co-hosted a Town Hall exploring the pipeline for directors with Rebecca Hewitt, who is the former head of SDCF; Gabrial Stelian-Shanks, artistic director of the Drama League; and Nilan, associate artistic director of the Drama League. We had breakout session accepted to the 2020 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Throughout the pandemic we have continued this mutual advocacy, celebration, and resource-sharing among our fellow director-centric organizations and we continue to gather, connect, and converse to keep elevating directors.