Leaving Room for Wholes: Part I - a Conversation with Esther Cohen & Gabe Walker

Micaela Brinsley

Good afternoon and welcome. This is the regular meeting of Directors Anonymous, where former theatre directors meet to discuss their experience of letting it go. 

Directors Anonymous (DA) is a fellowship of people who share their experiences with each other so that they may solve their common addiction and help others recover from whatever burdens they may be carrying. My name is Micaela and I will be your stenographer and interviewer today.

The requirement for membership for our internal discussion is attendance as an Advanced-Director at the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and someone who believed their life’s calling was to be a theatre director. After this conversation concludes, who knows, maybe we’ll change the requirement for membership. 

There are no dues or fees for DA membership; we are self-supporting through the contribution of our own time. DA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution beyond the art of theatre. It does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to reckon with our lingering trauma, encourage each others’ healing processes and attempt to achieve equilibrium within ourselves.

Given that the membership of Directors Anonymous has remained the same since its inception in 2020, we have no new members today with the exception of Babka, Esther’s dog, who will be joining us for this conversation for the first time. Welcome Babka. 

Today’s meeting will be slightly different from our usual monthly conversations. Rather than a group conversation where all members participate equally, today’s talk will be structured like an interview. Sort of. The conversation, as it occurs in writing, may not actually take the form of its recording. 

                                                          MICAELA
Given that our audience is not yet acquainted with you, please introduce yourselves.                                                                                          

                                                            ESTHER

Hi… my name is Esther M. Cohen, and I'm a recovering theatre director. I'm considering relapsing, which is why I've started using my middle initial again. 

I've been told it’s one of my more director-y tendencies, among so many others.

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, discovered the soundtrack to RENT at age 9, and very quickly became a bonafide musical-theatre kid. 16 years later, I still identify as a ‘musical theatre kid.’ I think that's a term we ought to reclaim. 

I started directing at 16 and discovered new play development at 19. Choosing to be a director was the most effortless decision I've ever made. Directing has almost always felt like breathing for me: natural, easy, and life-sustaining. However, at 23, pursuing freelance new play directing and dramaturgy in NYC, my life as an artist began to feel suffocating. Which is why the COVID-19 pandemic came as a strangely welcome opportunity to hit pause. 

Right now, I work full-time at a sneaker start-up, which actually feels a lot like theatre, minus the identity-defining parts and plus a lot more money. I'm looking forward to returning to directing in a way that doesn't need to pay my bills very soon.

                                                             GABE
Hi, my name is Gabe Walker.

This time last year, I was working as a producer, director, and writer. I now work with Esther at the sneaker start-up, Clove.

I love hiking, I love dogs. I love my car (a beautiful, rugged Subaru Crosstrek). I love Avatar: The Last Airbender. I love spending time with my family; I love spending time outdoors, I love having drunken, rambly conversations with my friends. I think I still love theater.

For the first time in my life, this is a bio where I'm not just listing my past credits or describing my theatrical reputation. I think I feel OK about that.

                                                             MICAELA

Thank you so much. Both for your introductions and for agreeing to do this. 

The 12 Step Recovery Process is best known as an outline designed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. and Bob Smith. AA was founded in 1935 in Akron, OH. At a time when mental health was only just beginning to be discussed in popular culture, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) arrived to present a relatively simple approach to overcoming addiction. In its case, addiction to alcohol. As a result of the seemingly-simple process of rehabilitation it offered, it became perceived, in many ways, as a shameful admission to confess one’s participation in an Alcoholics Anonymous program. Even though, as mentioned earlier, the program was presented as simple not because recovery itself is ever easy or straightforward; AA will be the first to note that these 12 Steps are not a catch-all program but intended as guideposts for people to bounce off of.

In Directors Anonymous meetings, our process of rehabilitation has taken a nonlinear approach. Some days do not begin with a conversation related to directing or theatre at all; others may entirely consist of analyzing directing skills and identifying ways we could transport them to other fields or lifestyles. In any event, though we did not religiously follow the 12 Step Program by any means, the conversation recorded for the purpose of this article attempted to trace, from childhood to now, Esther and Gabe’s relationship with theatre not just as a profession but a way of life.

We hope you find something in here to inspire you to confront the trauma you may be neglecting to address in your own life. 

1. We shared where we found ourselves in our relationship with theatre directing when the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

Esther Cohen: Covid kicked me out of New York. I came back to the suburbs. All theatre stopped. I realized, not doing theatre… I really liked that. I was very happy and mentally stable and felt great. I decided, ‘I’m just gonna pause until I want to do it again, until I find it enjoyable.’ I’ve been on pause for fifteen months. Now I’m starting to ‘un-pause!’ But it took fifteen months. 

Gabe Walker: I did not stop when the pandemic hit. Because I was working at a theatre when it happened. It was a little odd because I wasn’t working at that theatre as a director. I was a producing apprentice. I stayed at the O’Neill through January 2021, virtually.

My job expanded in September 2020 to include more literary management roles, which is what I thought I needed to do for the rest of my life. Zoom theatre really took every single part of my soul that enjoyed theatre and completely crushed it up and disintegrated it. I find it so boring, so tedious, so hard to watch. Theatre is not designed for this medium, it does not translate well to this medium, it does not look good in this medium. I realized, ‘I can’t keep doing this.’ 

I was coming up on a year and a half of working for absolute scraps. At that point I wasn’t being housed, I wasn’t being fed. In all honesty I was just being slid a couple hundred bucks a week working pretty intensely that I did have to fucking pay taxes on, where my entire two thousand dollars stimulus check went to. And then also trying to advocate for myself, and say, ‘hey, I think I deserve just a little more money, maybe an entry level job.’ The fact that that still felt out of reach… Which is why when they offered to extend my apprenticeship I decided, ‘no, I need to stop doing this. I’m not enjoying it.’ That was a really hard thing to grapple with. I was feeling really put-off by the industry. I accepted the first three jobs that were offered to me, essentially. 

EC: Still has one of them!

GW: I’m really grateful to the job that I have. Because it’s given me an opportunity to explore how some of the things I was doing in the theatre, those skills that do really make me feel motivated to work, how those can be applied in different fields and [in] different settings. 

2. Realized how retreating from practicing theatre directing could bring us pleasure.

EC: What I learned at NTI is that it [directing] shouldn’t bring me pleasure. That directing should be painful and horrible. And if it’s not you’re not doing it right. 

You should not sleep, your mental health… fuck your mental health, you are the least important person in that room, you better be the first one there and the last one to leave, you better be bleeding, I want to see you bleed, I want to see you suffer. That idea. I really internalized that. I was like, ‘that’s what being a director should be.’ So many of those thoughts that we were fed… I fully believed it and bought it. 

The only reason that I feel okay doing something else now is that I get to say Covid made me do it. Even though secretly I’m so happy I get to do something else. But my ‘story’ now is going to be, ‘Oh yeah, I was doing well, directing was going really really well. And then Covid happened and I pivoted and everything went great!’ Rather than me saying, ‘I didn’t want to do this anymore because I wasn’t having fun.’ 

3. Began to make an inventory of our toxic relationship with directing by giving space to reflect on our first encounters with theatre. 

EC: I played a Munchkin, I played Lollipop Guild Member Seven in The Wizard of Oz at summer camp when I was… ten. 

GW: I was in a production of Odd at Sea. Which was The Odyssey

EC bursts out laughing. 

Micaela Brinsley: Oh. My. God.

GW: I played Ned, the friendly cyclops. I was the nephew of the mean cyclops. Who’s the one that Odysseus really fought. 

GW grins as MB shakes her head.

EC: Honestly, that just brought me back to the fact that I actually think my first theatre experience was… I was in Odyssey of the Mind?

GW: Ohhhh, I also did Odyssey of the Mind!

EC: Do you know what that is? 

MB shakes her head. 

EC: Look it up. 

According to Wikipedia: Odyssey of the Mind, abbreviated OM or OotM, is a creative problem-solving program involving students from kindergarten through college. Team members work together at length to solve a predefined long-term problem and present their solution to the problem at a competition.

GW: Honestly Odyssey of the Mind actually did preface… you’re right. Odyssey of the Mind was the first thing for me too. 

EC: This is why we’re friends. This is why!

GW: But my first ‘play’ I was in was Odd at Sea. After Odysseus killed my aunt I joined up with the team and we sailed the Seven Seas. It was done outdoors at the Children’s Theatre in Portland and they actually had a big-ass pirate ship outside. 

MB: Of course they did. 

GW: So we did it on the pirate ship. It was so sick. 

EC: Mine was not that cool. Mine was at camp. 

GW folds his hands over his knee, looking pleased with himself.

EC: At a terrible community theatre. 

MB: Can I tell you what mine is? 

GW leans forward. 

MB: I volunteered to play the Virgin Mary. As technically a Jewish person. The Virgin Mary at my Japanese preschool. 

GW and EC burst out laughing. 

MB: The whole thing was in Japanese. We [even] sang songs. I was taller than everyone, you know? There’s film footage of this, I can show it to you sometime… I’m yanking the baby [Jesus] out of people’s hands, I’m telling people where to go, I’m literally conducting…

EC: You’ve told me this story! That you were a natural born director! 

MB: I just kept telling people [onstage], ‘Go!’ People would leave the stage and I’d be on the sidelines waiting to come on, and I’d be like… 

MB makes intense gestures with her hands as if to say, ‘This way! This way!’

MB: At six. At one point I pick the baby out of the ‘manger’ and thump it on the back. No one’s making a sound so I look around and shrug. I’m clearly thinking, ‘Might as well!’ 

EC: Wow. 

GW: Micaela, I want you to throw away everything we have said. I really just want you to focus on that story for this. 

All burst out laughing.

4. Admitted the nature of our initial attraction to directing.

GW: For me it was entirely practical. I was president of my drama club, president of the Shakespeare club. We all wanted to do a fringe festival in Portland [Maine] that’s pretty small. We all wanted to do Romeo and Juliet. Everyone wanted to act in it, no one wanted to direct [it]. And as the leader of our little cohort I decided, ‘I guess I’ll just do it.’ 

I was planning on casting myself as Mercutio and also directing it. But then I sat down with the idea and thought, ‘Maybe I should just cast someone else in this.’ It was very hard, very stressful… and I also really loved it. So I decided, ‘I think I’m gonna just keep doing this.’ 

EC: I got introduced to directing very, very early. I was a sophomore in high school and I’d just gone to boarding school… Babka’s being very cute. He’s very sweet. Sorry.

MB: It’s fine, I enjoy interjections. He’ll be a part of this. 

EC: Who are we kidding, Babka’s the real star. So when I was about fifteen… I had been acting that fall a little bit in drama labs. This teacher basically sat me down one day, not even sat me down, it was very much in passing. They told me, ‘you seem like you would like my directing class.’ So I took the directing class and I got to direct a drama lab, a ten-minute play. It was called Degas, C’est Moi. I don’t want to call it post-modern but I almost do. My whole concept was that there were two characters playing seventeen different roles.

I’d done plenty of theatre as a kid but I guess the role of director was one [where I thought], ‘Oh, that’s just the person who tells us what to do.’ I didn’t realize it was a thing. I got so into it, I just remember making all of these diagrams with each of these seventeen characters in a different pen color. There were arrows to boxes, all of it. 

The reason I loved it so much was because for the first time it felt like I got to use my left brain and right brain. I have to remind myself of which one is which. Right? Left brain is the more mathematical side. Right brain is the creative side. I’d always been objectively a very left brain person. Good at school, well spoken… classically ‘smart.’ But also I loved theatre. I was very emotional and very passionate. Directing was this moment it clicked where I realized, ‘I can use both? Why did nobody tell me?’ And I never did anything else ever again.

The time I knew I wanted to be a director professionally, when I decided, ‘I think I’m gonna pursue this, capital-D-director’ was my senior year of high school. I got to direct my first full-length show. I did The Last Five Years. Everybody came and saw it and we sold out and there was a line out the door and I put my blood sweat and tears into it. I repainted the floor of the theatre where we were doing it single-handedly and I sourced all the props and costumes. And when I saw people see what I had made… 

EC looks forward, dumbstruck. She then leans her head back as she remembers...

When I saw people have an emotional response to a piece of art I loved because of how I was presenting it, I thought, ‘I have to do this now.’ 

5. Admitted to ourselves the reason(s) why directing, as a profession and craft, suited our various sensibilities. 

MB: What you said Esther made me think about the fact that directing is a kind of personalized form of study. For me there was something really exciting about the fact that I was curious to learn but no one was telling me how.

EC: Yes!! 

MB: In school I was always such a people-pleaser. I would always find out how to do well in a class and do well and not feel in any way fulfilled. But in directing classes I would consistently get bad grades, and I kept thinking, ‘this is really strange.’ You know? But I was still constantly wanting to study and learn and grow. So once I recognized that this was something my brain could be suited for, I realized, ‘This is something I can design!’ Did you both feel that at all?

EC: I definitely agree. No one ever told me how I had to direct something.

GW: I think I was so used to working in really poorly-funded and poorly-executed productions, especially in my high school. Theatre was always a lot of chaos and disorganization, [and] not in fun theatre ways. It was hard, stressful. And when I was able to direct, not to say that it was absolutely perfect, but it was nice to be able to control it. 

I really enjoyed being able to create an environment where I and my peers, who I loved, could be doing theatre in a way that felt safe and fun and protected. That was what I loved about it. Not even necessarily the stagecraft of it. It was more about getting to create that environment. 

6. Reminded ourselves of why we pursued our addiction professionally; how we found ways to focus on it in high school, college, and finally found our way to the Advanced-Directing Program at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

MB: All of us, within a few years of making this decision, were actively trying to pursue it, right? So from the beginning did you think to yourself, ‘I want to be good at this?’

EC: I really wanted to be good at it. I read all the directing books, I studied it like a craft. But also it wasn’t just that I wanted to be good at it. I knew I was good at it. I really think, especially for directors, directing can’t really be taught. You either have the brain for it or you don’t. That was what clicked when I first started directing. I realized, ‘I really have the mind for this.’ 

GW: I feel very similarly. Obviously I learned a lot, at NTI, in college. It wasn’t necessarily like I felt, and maybe this was a bad thing, but it didn’t really feel like I was actively trying to get better at it. It was more along the lines of, ‘I want the fact that I’m good at this to be acknowledged. I want to be respected in this craft.’ That was more what the pursuit kind of felt like for me, to be totally honest about it. 

EC: It’s actually a good point. At first I would say that I really wanted to become good at it. I become obsessed with things, so when I was sixteen I bought all of the Anne Bogart books… Maybe not sixteen but between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. I then read A Sense of Direction, had all my notebooks full of notes. When I would see shows, I would write at least five pages about the show that I saw. Every show I saw. 

MB: I did this too. 

EC: I look at those now and think, ‘God, you were so disciplined!’ I have these notebooks, filled with very detailed notes. For me that was [what it meant to be] studying to be a director. 

MB: We all applied to NTI as directors so by that point we were at least interested in taking it somewhat seriously. First of all, how did studying at NTI situate how you saw yourself as a person and director?  

GW: I loved doing theatre throughout middle school, all of high school. I went to college thinking I was not going to major in theatre. I thought I was going to major in politics or journalism. Or American Studies. I tried taking some of those classes but I was also always taking a couple of theatre classes too, just for fun. But those were the classes with professors I was really making a connection with. My free time was spent entirely devoted to acting, assistant directing. I was on that grind. In early sophomore year I was so struggling with what I wanted to major in. I was talking to some people and [realized] everything I’m always doing is coming back to theatre. So I decided, ‘that’s what I need to do.’

Applying to be an AD [Advanced-Director] and getting into the program was me saying [to myself], ‘This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’

I had directed mostly Shakespeare and musicals prior to NTI. Or other classical plays. I had never really done any new play development at all before, and NTI really shifted my interest in theatre that way. It just opened my world up to the world of new play development and what it means to be a director in that kind of room. Then, obviously, what it means to be a writer in that kind of room too… Before NTI I had not written anything creative since middle school. Then going to NTI, taking a playwriting class, working on the plays there that I did, I really really fell in love with that. It also made me realize that theatre is actually about creating worlds. Honestly, had I done a program different to NTI’s… I would not have been so attached to the idea of new play development as I was when I finished college and started to pursue professional interests. 

7. Admitted to ourselves and to each other how our training embedded itself too deeply in how we thought about ourselves in relation to the world around us. 

EC: I really enjoyed NTI because it was the first place where anyone ever said anything to me other than, ‘you’re such a good director.’ I really liked that. I found it very challenging in a really good way. I felt I became a much better director at NTI. I was very grateful to finally meet real peers and mentors who I felt spoke my language and cared about the same things I did. NTI was very, very valuable for me in that way. 

I didn’t major in theatre. I was never planning to and I knew I wouldn’t. I went to Penn, which is not an artsy school. I was fine with that, I chose that environment. In part because I didn’t take theatre that seriously. And I really, really wanted people to take me seriously. So I chose to stay at Penn but I chose to do NTI because I realized, ‘I want this one semester intensive where I get an entire BFA.’ The best of both worlds, right? And I felt like I got that! I really loved that I was genuinely challenged, genuinely pushed in my directing and I have tools now that I still use. Hugely valuable for me in that way…  

There’s a long pause.

MB: Who told us ‘the ‘D’ in directing stands for ‘depression’?’ 

GW: Depression!

EC: Forrest! 

GW: It was Forrest.  I have been sitting here waiting to make that reference! Ever since… mm-hmm. 

GW shakes his head and MB does too. 

EC: Yes, him saying ‘the ‘D’ in directing is for depression,’ I’ll never forget that as long as I live. She [head of NTI program] sat us down the first day. What did she say to us?

GB: I remember she sat us down and told us a bunch of rules. One, I remember, was that we weren’t allowed to sleep with the actors. Good advice!

EC: That is good advice! That was [also] when she told us, ‘you need to be the first one to show up and the last one to leave. Always.’ 

GW: You should never wear pajamas or sweatpants… 

EC: Right right right, ‘you need to look professional.’

MB nods. 

GW: What the fuck?!?

EC squeals and GW looks down at the couch. 

GW: Sorry Babka. 

EC lifts Babka into the air, sits him down in her lap. 

MB: It’s hard because in that environment it’s not like we’re actual directors. We’re training to be directors. Our work depends on the people who are there but it’s easy to conflate that everything we were taught was something we should think about when we actually direct.

EC: Right. Especially as a person who was not coming from a theatre program at all and this was my first exposure to a theatre program. I just thought, ‘oh, this is clearly true. These people know what they’re talking about. I just didn’t know this. I didn’t know that I was supposed to be suffering, that I had to be the first one in, last one to leave, that I couldn’t be friends with the actors. I didn’t know that because I didn’t go to a BFA program.’ So I just took it as total gospel rather than… that’s the O’Neill ideology and it’s not the one right way to be. I learned a lot. I learned a lot and there was also a lot of unlearning that had to happen after. 

8. Confessed to how difficult it was to let go of our training. 

MB: Esther, once you left NTI at any point did you think, ‘I’m gonna do something else?’ No, right? You decided, ‘I’m a director now.’ 

EC: No, because if I had it would have been a failure. It would mean I’d failed.

MB: Gabe, after leaving NTI did it ever cross your mind to return to pursuing political science? 

GW: No. 

MB: It completely shut down?

GW: Yup. I realized months before starting NTI that I wanted to pursue directing professionally. Then NTI broke me down, hammered and reconstructed me as an individual who must, who is, a director. Who must be pursuing directing with every fiber of my being. I didn’t even finish undergrad at Brandeis and I was asking people when they knew they were ready to go to grad school. Not me! Within the span of months, due to NTI, I went from deciding, ‘I think directing is what I really want to do’ to...

EC: ‘I need my MFA!!’ 

GW: ‘This is my twenty-year plan. I will get this internship, which will lead to this apprenticeship, which will lead to this fellowship, which will get me into the Yale School of Drama Theatre Management Program or the Directing Program or the Literary Management Program. Which will lead to the Associate Level position which will lead to this Senior Staff position which will lead to this Artistic Director position and then I will be the Artistic Director of Roundabout [Theatre Company] in seven hundred years.’

EC: And here we are. 

GW: Here we are. 

EC: And now we work at a shoe company. 

GW: Yup. And now I work at a shoe company. 

MB: Woo!

EC: Thanks NTI, success story! 

9. Admitted why we think it took us a while to let the addiction go. 

EC: Saying that I felt like I ‘mastered it’ is a bunch of bullshit; if anyone’s mastered this, it’s not me. But I felt like I had the skills and tools in my toolbelt, especially after NTI, especially after I moved to New York. [It] felt like I was on the same wavelength as these other people. After that I was [only] pursuing someone looking at me and saying, ‘you’re a good director.’ Because I didn’t have someone saying that from the end of college through… now. 

EC bursts out laughing as MB joins her.

EC: No one said that to me! 

GW: At least for me, there’s perhaps a little bit of narcissism entwined in there but also [the feeling of] wanting to be hired. I was trying to make a living off of doing something that I had spent so many years trying to get good at. 

EC: I think part of the reason I wanted someone to look at me and say ‘you’re a good director’ is because directing is so intertwined with who you are as a person. You are your art. Especially when you’re trying to get hired in New York. They’re hiring you and your personality. And that fucks with you. 

10. Admitted how difficult it can be to watch others continue to follow our former path and not feel guilty about leaving it behind. 

GW: I am struggling to shake the rat-race thing. Especially as theatres are reopening and moving again. Seeing my friends getting jobs at different theatre companies or going Equity or season announcements; seeing plays that I had worked on in small capacities going to different festivals… It’s hard to see that and not feel a twinge of jealousy and guilt that I’m not there. Or guilt that I’m not pursuing those kinds of opportunities. 

EC: It feels like the train is leaving the station. 

MB: Totally. 

EC: It’s been happening for me the last couple weeks especially. During the [beginning of the] pandemic it felt less real because those things weren’t happening. It was easier to kind of ignore. Now it’s very hard to ignore. I’m on the platform and the train is leaving. And, it feels like… still, a little bit, and I don’t know if you feel this way… Like I could still get on. 

GW: Yeah. 

EC: Maybe I could grab the side of the train and jump in. It’s about to leave. It hasn't left yet! 

MB: Yeah. 

EC: It’s weird to think, ‘I don’t think I want to be on this train.’ 

MB: I think?

EC smiles. 

GW: Yeah. I don’t know. I feel like I’m contractually obligated by the things people have said to me to pursue this kind of thing. 

EC: What it came down to is I wish it could have worked out for me. Maybe it would’ve. Maybe I would’ve gotten the show. Did the right thing, would’ve been in the right place at the right time and would’ve been the next… whatever. Whoever. But I didn’t wanna participate in the desperate, totally luck-based, totally toxic and sad and desperate thing that was the theatre industry. I had to move on. I had to do something better with my time and my energy and my intelligence. 

MB: You also listened to that! I think a lot of people… 

EC: Have that thought all the time and don’t leave! 

MB: Yes. 

EC: Well, let’s be totally fair. The only reason I listened to it is because there was a global pandemic. 

MB: But still you listened to it. 

GW: I feel exactly the same [way]. About the fellowships that were a hundred dollars a week that I was applying for as I was leaving my one hundred fifty dollars a week apprenticeship… 

EC: We’ll name names: Playwrights Horizons. 

GW shakes his head. 

GW: Crazy. 

11. Sought through determination and honesty to improve our conscious contact with theatre as we understood it, hoping not to completely abandon our previous love for our craft.

EC: Directing is a part of your identity. I am a director. 

EC lifts a play in the air.

EC: I was flipping through Sonnets for an Old Century. 

EC points to a line and GW reads it. GW sighs deeply, then EC laughs as GW smiles. 

GW: Oof. 

GW takes a sip of water as EC turns to MB, smiling. 

EC: I bracketed this. When I was at the O’Neill. 

EC lifts the page.

EC: Look at what I wrote brackets around. 

MB leans forward to read:

             You don’t have to choose between

             passion and security.

EC: Did you not read it? 

MB shakes her head. 

EC: Is it flipped?

MB: No, I saw it. 

EC widens her eyes.

EC: I circled that in… 2018. 

GW: I wish I felt that were true right now, but I really don’t. Although I’m starting to! I don’t know… 

GW rubs his face. 

GW: I don’t know. I just don’t know. 

EC: The way that I have been thinking about it… Clove launched in Canada today. Very exciting. I led that project. It was directing. Gabe showed up at the office and we were in a little bit of a crisis yesterday, right before we launched. I’m learning that being in operations for a company is a lot like being in tech week. All the time… 

What was happening yesterday was a totally eleventh-hour, night before opening night thing, completely. I led our final huddle before we launched, which is what we call it when we get the whole company together and debrief. That’s a production meeting. And I was leading that! For customer service, I was [leading] training; it felt like directing a rehearsal. I’m not saying that these are one-to-one comparisons or that they’re somehow replacing… But for me, that’s the left side of my brain. The very logistical, analytical part: I love organizing, I love leading, I love problem-solving, trouble-shooting. I get to keep that. 

The second part of directing which I am completely getting rid of is the bullshit politics. Which I’m choosing not to participate in. Me being a personality that someone is hiring. Having to be a total people-pleaser. Having to shmooze.

GW: Having zero boundaries.

EC: Zero boundaries. No control over your own career and you feel so desperate and you’re begging for opportunities all the time and when you actually do get a chance to direct you’re so stressed about it going well that you can’t enjoy it. That. That is what I’m leaving behind, what I’m choosing not to participate in. 

EC moves her hands carefully through the air. 

EC: Of course, Part Three is the artistry. The craft. And more importantly, is the fact that I still love a play. I love seeing a play, I love directing a play, I just love making something. Making art. That’s a part I really want to keep that I haven’t had in the last fifteen months. But I want to do it again and I want to be able to, and I really hope, with these new outlets I have and me getting rid of that second part, I really hope that I can do it and that it can just be about the joy of making art. Because that’s what it was about when I did Degas, C’est Moi when I was fifteen. You know? It was! 

EC turns to GW. 

EC: I’m sure that’s what R and J was about. 

GW: For sure. Overall I think I’m starting to successfully imagine a life for myself still using the same skills as a director. Maybe not necessarily the industry-specific knowledge and the play-specific knowledge… 

EC: I was thinking about that recently! That it’s in a little corner back here.

GW: It is! The fact that we walked by a coffee shop today and I thought, ‘that would be a great place to do The Aliens.’ [But] I’m happy that I have that knowledge, because I do think it makes all of us more interesting, more intelligent people, conversationalists. Also looking around at Esther’s apartment right now, the interior design is very well done. I feel similarly about my apartment. I think that’s directing too. Working with space. Problem solving… 

So that’s kind of where I’m at with it. I don’t really miss directing a play a ton. I almost directed a Shakespeare show with some friends this summer and it’s something I’d still like to do again at some point. But it’s not like I need to do that in order to scratch all these itches. Because most of them I’ve been able to scratch in other ways. For me the big goal with directing was to be able to create an environment that was collaborative and artistically-led. I think the impulse I had to maybe do a play was because I wanted to cast my friends and read a play with them and talk about the themes of the play. That is the part of it that I love. Even having this conversation is helping me process it and making me feel fulfilled. 

12. We continue to find ways to share our love of theatre through engaging with how we continue to be moved by the art form.

See Part II, soon.

Micaela Brinsley

Micaela Brinsley can direct plays but wishes she could direct pigeons.

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