Supporting creative work by women
Barbara Rubin has cultivated a career as an inventive director of contemporary and classical theater in New York and abroad. She has created work in Europe and in her native South Africa, in regional theaters such as the McCarter and the Long Wharf, on Broadway and Off, and in venues such as WP Theater, Second Stage and Signature Theatre. Barbara is also a sought-after dialect coach for stage, film and television.
Known for her longtime collaboration with South African playwright Athol Fugard, she coached all five productions of his Signature Theatre Residency, including the 2016 Tony-nominated revival of Master Harold…and the Boys. Recent TV credits include NBC’s Blindspot and Chicago Med.
She directed Orietta Crispino‘s Let Me Cook For You, playing at Theaterlab in NYC through December 10th. Barbara spoke to Works by Women about working with Orietta Crispino, what theater inspires her, and what she’s learned from Athol Fugard.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about working with Orietta Crispino on Let Me Cook For You?
BARBARA RUBIN: We met in 2001 at Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab and began sharing histories and inspirations. Then we worked together at the WP Lab on a piece I created about Marianne Pearl. It was brief, but I loved what Orietta brought to it in the title role. She’s a fascinating performer. I’ve wanted to collaborate with her ever since. I’m so glad she asked me to direct her latest show!
WBW: How do you approach your work? What are your first steps in “reading” a piece?
BR: It’s quite a mysterious process but I listen for the questions the piece asks and then I wait for the tug. If I can’t stop thinking about it, about how to tell it, what needs to be heard then I’m in. I like a challenge. I need to feel compelled to make it.
Orietta Crispino in Let Me Cook for You.
WBW: What type of theater inspires you?
BR: Unapologetic theater. Theater that asks dangerous big questions. Sometimes in small quiet ways.
WBW: You currently teach theater as well. What do you see in this next generation of theatermakers? What excites them? What excites you about teaching them?
BR: This generation craves true human connection and true community. They’re excited by interactive performance. They are inventive and strongly expressive.
They challenge me. That’s what excites me most.
WBW: What first interested you in theater? Why?
BR: I grew up in Apartheid South Africa in the 80s. My formative experience of theatre was the Market Theatre, a place of truth and therefore for that regime, danger. There was something very powerful and very sexy to me about what it represented and its political aliveness. Strangely the first production I remember seeing there that hooked me was not protest theatre but co-founder Barney Simon’s adaptation of S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk. It was deeply affecting. My 14-year old self read it as a sign and heard it as a calling.
WBW: You’ve had a long collaboration of Athol Fugard. What have you learned from that working relationship?
BR: He is a giant, a masterful storyteller, a living legend and his work (which was revolutionary and banned before democracy) continues to challenge and tell its dangerous complex truths. It is both humbling and enlivening to be in the room with him. I have learned an enormous amount, his work with the actors always inspires me, and I feel so ridiculously lucky to be in his presence every time I am invited into his process.
WBW: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
BR: I’m grateful to all those who say “don’t” or “you can’t.” That’s usually all I need!