Supporting creative work by women
Women Center Stage 2011 kicks off this weekend with Directors Weekend, a showcase for 16 women directors exploring new work. Alex Mallory is presenting Filial Therapy, a poetic piece about family’s influence on our worldviews. She developed the piece with poets Mahogany Browne, Adam Falkner and Elliott D. Smith. Alex also serves as the coordinator for the whole weekend.
Alex is the Program Associate at the Stage Directors & Choreographers Foundation. Her freelance directing credits include Ravel (Theater Nyx), Caution (35th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival), and Recovery (Planet Connections Theatre Festivity). She is a graduate of Stanford University, where she founded the Stanford Theatre Activist Mobilization Project (STAMP) and received the Sherifa Omade Edoga Prize for work involving social issues. She is also the C0-Artistic Director of Poetic Theater Productions.
Works by Women asked Alex about Directors Weekend, her piece Filial Therapy and what advice she would give a director new to New York.
1) Tell me a little bit about Filial Therapy?
Filial Therapy shows the ways in which we are shaped by our parents – physically and psychologically – through the eyes of three people in a subway car. The piece brings the poetry and theater worlds together through poems written by the performers, and begins to explore the meaning of poetic theater. Women Center Stage has given me the incredible opportunity to embark on this project, and I hope to continue shaping the show beyond this weekend, developing more text and continuing to build on the seeds of ideas and collaboration presented onstage.
2) Poetic Theater Productions’ mission is to develop and explore the power of poetry within a theatrical context. What is the nexus of poetry, politics and theater?
The political is about the intersection of ideas and how they pull and repel each other, which creates the basis for the stories I find most compelling. Poetry is the language of ideas, and theater is about how we present stories to an audience, so at the intersection of all three lies a powerful form of storytelling in which political ideas are presented in a way that is interesting and relatable to their audience.
Poetic and political theater has always excited me, but I haven’t done it since college. I am thrilled to have recently joined Poetic Theater Productions and to explore those parts of my artistic world again. One of our upcoming projects is a choreopoem addressing the Iraq war and its effect on American idealism, which I directed the original production of in 2007, and which we are presenting in the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity this June. It is exciting to go back to that work and explore the ways in which the political changes in our country have shifted the way we think about the ideas of the play.
3) In addition to presenting work in the WCS Festival, you are also coordinating Directors Weekend. What have you learned and/or experienced in interacting with such a fabulous line-up of directors?
Interacting with these women makes me wish that I spent more time with other directors. I have gotten a sneak peek into a few rehearsals, and the work is amazing. I’ve heard groups devising scenes and writing songs; the level of collaboration going on in the rehearsal rooms is through the roof. I recently resolved to surround myself with artists who inspire me, and coordinating Directors Weekend has been exactly that. This is a must-see weekend of new works directed by sixteen phenomenal women- don’t miss it!
4) While an undergraduate at Stanford, you co-founded the Stanford Theater Activist Mobilization Project (STAMP). What inspired you to start STAMP? Are you still involved in some way?
At Stanford, nearly every student is involved in a cause or two that they are passionate about, but individual voices get lost in the sea of organizations and activities. There is a central quad we call “White Plaza” where every student group assembles throughout the year to advertise their various causes and events, and thousands of students walk and bike through the plaza daily, paying no attention to anything they are not already involved in. My good friend Amanda Gelender and I wanted a way to engage students in thinking about and experiencing something outside of their own busy lives for a short time – the length of a play, a dorm presentation, a guerilla theatre interruption, etc. STAMP was born out of that desire. As for current involvement, I am their number one supporter from afar, and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a meeting the last time I was in town. I was humbled by the amazing heights to which the new leadership has taken the organization, which is taking a show on an international tour this coming summer. It was named Student Organization of the Year at Stanford, and was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition.
5) What advice do you think is crucial for a director new to New York? What advice would you have liked to have when you arrived in the city?
See everything you can. There is a lot of free theatre out there if you just show up. My favorite places to go to readings are the Lark (always free!) and the Public (free New Work Now! and Emerging Writers’ Group readings in the spring/summer). There is a tight-knit New York theatre community, especially in the new play world, and if you go to enough shows, you begin to recognize people, and they begin to recognize you. Follow the names of people you know and work you like, and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.
I wish I had been told to get out and meet people in a social context. I think this is important for anyone, especially artists, moving to New York. I was so focused on creating a professional life for myself that I ignored the need to expand my social circle. I had enough friends from Stanford and San Francisco to fill my free time, but the fact is that social pursuits are important both personally and professionally. This fall, I slowed down my directing pursuits to focus on meeting more friends in New York and making the city feel like home. Of the many wonderful people I met, one of them was Jeremy Karafin, who started Poetic Theater Productions. We started seeing shows together (see above!) and a few months later we are running a theatre company. My career has taken a huge leap. I am constantly inspired and excited about the work I am doing, and I am starting to understand how to define myself as a director within this sea of incredibly talented women.
6) What do you think is the greatest challenge facing female theater artists?
I recently heard Berkeley Rep Managing Director Susie Medak speak, and one of the things she said was that because female directors and directors of color often champion new work by marginalized voices, particularly the work of other women and artists of color, their bodies of work can appear marginalized themselves. Whether being presented to a board for consideration in a season or in finding someone to direct the next big Broadway musical, these directors are hindered by the lack of plays by Neil Simon or David Mamet on their resumes. I think this is an enormous challenge that represents a glass ceiling for female directors, who were rarely seen on Broadway even in 2010.
7) What gives you hope for women in American theater?
In many ways the challenge above is also what gives me hope for women. I think that the future of theatre lies in finding new ways to engage audiences and new stories to tell, and women are at the forefront of this expedition. Women are working with new playwrights and forging new and exciting methods of storytelling. Directors such as Leigh Silverman, Anne Kauffman and May Adrales inspire me and give me hope that women are becoming a more integral part of the American theatrical landscape.
Directors Weekend is part of The Culture Project’s Women Center Stage. It takes place Saturday, March 5th and Sunday, March 6th at The Living Theatre (21 Clinton Street, New York City). Tickets are $10 here.