Meet the Directors’ Studio
In an effort to continue its vision to provide a training ground for the next generation of theatre artists, the Shakespeare Theatre Company has launched its first-ever Directors’ Studio, a series of workshops and discussions designed to investigate the craft of theatrical direction created for local, early-career directors. By application, six directors have been selected for the 2015–2016 season’s Directors’ Studio: Catrin Rowenna Davies, Rick Hammerly, Lee Liebeskind, Carter Lowe, Angela Kay Pirko, and Jason Schlafstein.
As these directors collaborate with one another, they will also meet and learn from local and international directors and participate in an evolving dialogue about directing classic works. To kick-start this dialogue, not only among the Directors’ Studio, but between STC, the Directors’ Studio, and the community, we interviewed each of the participants. Over the past month, we have been publishing these interviews, so you can meet and learn about our Directors’ Studio members and start participating in this dialogue with us; and, now, we’ve got one final interview for you!
Without further ado, meet Directors’ Studio participant Jason Schlafstein.
An Interview with Jason Schlafstein
Describe your artistic vision/goals:
I am preoccupied with the notion of my own mortality, even more than most people, I think, and so the idea of life as a limited time opportunity is always on my mind. I hate the idea of taking this opportunity for granted, even for a moment, and so I create theatre that makes you want to live life more—work that excites, invigorates, and aims to make the audience want to run out of the theatre and have adventures of their own. I create a lot of my own work in collaboration with my actors, designers, and writing partners, and I’m especially interested in pop culture and modern mythologies, and especially interested in the intersection of high concept situations with intimate character moments. I’ve always been drawn more to existential and relationship based questions than political ones, and I strive to create Awesome Theatre—a term I coined for myself, theatre which earns moments of impactful spectacle as the payoff to increased tension, character arcs, and accumulation of meaning to create lightning like moments where the audience shares a moment leaning forward in their seat saying, “That was awesome!”
What do you hope to learn from the Directors’ Studio?
Directing is often an isolated practice—we work tremendously closely with almost every other discipline in theatre, but not with each other. The opportunity to learn from and pick the brains of not only master practitioners, but also my local colleagues, on technique, craft, strategy, and perspective is something that is already paying off. Most of my experience has been in new play development and production and very contemporary work. One of the exciting things about this program is the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn more about directing classical texts. As we’ve progressed, I’ve also wanted to learn more about opera, which is a mystery to me.
What’s your dream show to direct?
I have a project I’ve been thinking about for years, that I spent a lot of this morning dreaming about actually, that I think I’ll be ready to begin real work on next year. It has no title yet, and it’s a sort of feudal fantasy story through the lens of professional wrestling—very inspired by comic books like Iron Fist and Usagi Yojimbo as well. It’s a world where there are four cities, one each representing the major hubs of professional wrestling (the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Japan), and in this world, there are great mythological beasts who live at the heart of these cities and grant powers to a champion in every generation to protect and represent that city—and the story of the U.S. follows two female protégés having to avenge a death and rise against a patriarchal society. Structurally, it will feature wrestling matches in the place of where a musical might have a song—when the emotion gets too high, with very specific stakes in the world—and I will play with the wrestling culture from all four countries. Today I realized I wanted to add a live hip hop element as well, so it is very much in development.
Who’s your favorite director? What do you admire about their work?
Jerry Whiddon, Artistic Director of Round House Theatre, is not only my mentor, but also my favorite director. He always pursues truth, and it shows in his work, and he allows the actors to consistently reach new heights in their performances. I’ve noticed over time a theme of power in his work—how people wield it and wage war over it in a variety of ways—and those dynamics layer richly in his staging.
Does the idea of directing classical theatre scare you, excite you, or both?
I’m trying to find my way into it more than anything else. I’m excited by any opportunity to expand my skill set, and I think I’m waiting to find the script in that world which will unlock something exciting in my head.