On Artistic Directing

I have been collaborating with fellow lab director Ioli Andreadi in and out of the World Wide Lab for several years and when she asked me to co-artistic direct this years’ lab with her, I agreed, although it is not a role I wanted to take on. The lab implemented the role of artistic director a few years ago because we felt it would be helpful to have a team oversee the work we do each year, and it is a burdensome task. We are 12 strong personalities, and managing a group like ours takes a lot of stamina and patience. Our 2014 lab was particularly hard on our artistic directors, since it was our first time out of the US, and our co-artistic directors had to do a lot of producing as well. Laura Caparrotti, our Italian director, who arranged for us to come to Rome, warned Ioli based on her experience that she was in for a very tough job in bringing the lab to her home country, especially since we don’t all speak the language.

Past artistic directing teams have each approached the role in a different way. I knew that if I was to join Ioli as co-artistic director, I’d like to try something new in the position. So besides being unable to turn down anything Ioli asks me to do, I thought artistic directing might give us a chance to implement some rules and structures to this year’s lab to help us work better.

Unlike previous years, where most decisions were made among all 12 of us, Ioli and I made some of our own at the start:

  • the theme of the lab would be ancient Greek theater (interpreted any way the directors would like to choose).
  • participating directors would be required to attend the entire time in Syros rather than just participating for a week or so.
  • all directors would attend a certain number of each other’s rehearsals and be encouraged to discuss / suggest things to each directing team.
  • dramaturgy would be important – rather than a collection of several short plays, we wanted to present a unified evening of theater.
  • Ioli and I would attend rehearsals and help shape pieces when needed. We wouldn’t have final artistic say on anything, but we wanted to be able to give our input with the whole evening in mind.

We weren’t sure if this was going to be a good structure for us or not, but we wanted to try it. These points addressed some issues we thought were problematic at previous labs. If it didn’t work next year’s team could always approach it differently, we thought. Our fellow labbies, trusting us, agreed.

In practice, the role of artistic director was much harder than I anticipated. It was exhausting attending all of the rehearsals, checking in with all of the directors, individually and collectively, checking in with our actors and design team, and working hard to keep everyone’s energy up and keep the work focused. Days were long, and while other people were going to the beach after their rehearsals, I was often up at the monastery working (don’t worry, I did make it to the beach several times).

Since Ioli is Greek and understands the language (I do not), she was doing much more of the producing work, while I was being an advisor, coach, therapist, shepherd, and cheerleader to my fellow directors. Ioli took care of more of the dramaturgy – she translated all of the texts into Greek in a way to create echoes between them, and she assembled a series of interstitial pieces using poems by Alexandros Panagoulis to help link the pieces together. We were often artistic directing side by side rather than together, but this helped us accomplish a lot more than we could have if we were working on the same things at the same time.

As time went on, I found to my great surprise that I liked the job. I appreciated the responsibility I had and tried to wield it with respect and generosity, while also trying to steer the pieces into a single artistic vision, albeit one that was collectively generated. And I think I wasn’t bad at it. I helped to keep tension out of the rehearsal room as much as possible. And what other artistic director out there would give directors neck rubs?

As Ioli and I relinquish our roles to next year’s team, I’d like to echo Laura’s warning from last year: think twice about doing it! But if you decide to, you can make it into a satisfying and rewarding position. Just make sure to find some time to go to the beach.

— Jay Stern, New York City

Jay and Ioli outside the Apollo Theater on Syros. Photo by Dimitris Vamvakousis.

Jay and Ioli outside the Apollo Theater on Syros. Photo by Dimitris Vamvakousis.



This entry was posted on September 8, 2015 by .
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