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The Drama League Announces The Acting Company for DirectorFest 2020

The Drama League Announces The Acting Company for DirectorFest 2020


The Drama League (Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Executive Director Bevin Ross) announced today The Acting Company for the 36th annual DirectorFest, the only festival in the United States dedicated to the art of Contemporary Stage directing. Directorfest will take place January 10 - February 4, 2020 at various locations around NYC: The New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street), The Drama League Theater Center (32 Avenue of the Americas), LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (31-10 Thomson Avenue), and Joe's Pub (425 Lafayette Street). For festival details and tickets, visit or call (212) 244-9494 x102.

For its 36th year, the festival will include 27 actors in six fully-staged productions and a concert of a new docu-play with music. Taking place over five weeks in venues across Manhattan, highlights of the festival include all-new stagings of works by Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again) and Harold Pinter (The Lover), revivals of rarely-seen works by Tina Howe (Appearances) and Marcus Gardley (The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones), and Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic (The Drowning Girls), a concert of songs from the new docu-play with music by Matthew Dean Marsh and Oscar Lopez (Riot Song), and the North American premiere of a new theatrical immersive experience created by Belgian director Christian Bakalov (Pure).

Chosen last spring from over 400 applicants, the directors leading the festival's new productions this year -- NJ Agwuna, Chika Ike, Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly, Lindsey Hope Pearlman, Ben Randle, Hannah Ryan, and Mr. Bakalov -- recently completed their development programs as part of The Drama League Directors Project.

The festival also includes conversations with 2017 Tony Award Winner Rebecca Taichman (Indecent), 2014 Tony Award Winner and 2010 Drama League Founders Award for Excellence in Directing Kenny Leon (A Soldier's Play), and Intimacy Director Claire Warden (HBO's "Mrs. Fletcher").

The creative team for Directorfest is: Gabriel Stelian- Shanks (Artistic Director), Bevin Ross (Executive Director), Ali Skye Bennet (Artistic Line Producer), Nilan (Associate Artistic Director), Patrick Surillo (Artistic Coordinator), Kate Holland (Production Manager), Cate McCrea (Scenic Designer), Amanda Gladu (Costume Designer), Lois Gordon (Lighting Designer), DJ Potts (Sound Designer), Calvin Stara (Technical Director), Stephen DeAngelis (Casting Director, Hello Again, and Appearances), Gama Valle/Harriet Bass Casting (Casting Director, The Drowning Girls), Erica A. Hart (Casting Director, The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones and The Lover), Justin Ellington (Music Director, The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones), Jesse Kissel (Music Director, Hello Again), Melanie Aponte (Stage Manager, The Lover), Arielle Goldstein (Stage Manager, Appearances), Karen Schleifer (Production Stage Manager, Hello Again), and Evangeline Whitlock (Stage Manager, Pure).

During Directorfest, the featured directors will join the ranks of the illustrious 350+ alumni of The Drama League Directors Project, including Tony® Award winners Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown), Christopher Ashley (Come From Away), Rebecca Taichman (Indecent), Diane Paulus (Jagged Little Pill), Michael Mayer (Little Shop of Horrors), Sam Gold (Fun Home), Pam MacKinnon (The Parisian Woman), John Rando (On The Town), Tony Award nominees Alex Timbers (Moulin Rouge!), Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery), Moritz von Steulpnagel (Bernhardt/Hamlet), and Mark Brokaw (Heisenberg), to name only a few. Many of the nation's prominent theaters are led by Drama League alumni directors including Ms. MacKinnon at San Francisco's A.C.T., Mr. Ashley at La Jolla Play House in San Diego, Ms. Paulus at Boston's American Repertory Theatre, James Bundy of Yale Repertory Theatre, Kevin Moriarty of Dallas Theater Center, Laura Kepley at Cleveland Play House, and many more.


Tickets Available at



Book, Music and Lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa
Directed by 2019 Drama League Leo Shull Musical Directing Fellow Ben Randle
Music Direction by Jesse Kissel

Friday, January 10, 2020 at 7:00pm
Saturday, January 11, 2020 at 2:00pm* and 7:30pm
Sunday, January 12, 2020 at 2:00pm
The New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street
$45 Premium Seating | $25 General Seating | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members
* a post-show talkback with the director will follow the Saturday matinee performance

The four-member cast features Broadway veterans Lana Gordon (Chicago, The Lion King), Angel Reda (The Cher Show), Matthew Christian and Pablo Torres, with musicians Jesse Kissel (conductor/piano), Michael Hess (cello), Mike Lunoe (percussion), and Justin Vance (reeds). The Production Stage Manager is Karen Schleifer. Casting by Stephen DeAngelis.

Michael John LaChiusa's acclaimed musical retelling of Schnitzler's La Ronde -- in which a circle of intimate encounters weave together across time and space, spanning a century of human experience -- receives a groundbreaking new revival in the hands of director Ben Randle. Just four actors tackle twenty characters in ten decades, exploring new possibilities in the intersections of gender, class, race, sexuality, and history. As the connections multiply and fracture before our eyes, Hello Again maps the chasm between power and intimacy, set to one of the most captivating scores of the modern era.

Ben Randle recently relocated to NYC, after 15 years working in San Francisco, including four seasons as Artistic Associate at New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC). World Premieres include Plover (2018 Samuel French OOB Play Festival); Salome, Dance for Me, Sagittarius Ponderosa by MJ Kaufman; warplay and Into the Clear Blue Sky by JC Lee. Regional premieres include Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet and The Submission by Jeff Talbott; other credits include Sweeney Todd (Ray of Light Theatre) and Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Douglas Morrison Theatre). Ben has worked at Cal Shakes, Aurora Theatre, ZSpace, and West Edge Opera, among others. B.A., San Francisco State University; Manhattan Theatre Club Directing Fellow 2017-2018; Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab.

Hello Again and the Leo Shull Musical Directing Fellowship are supported, in part, with funds from The Leo Shull Foundation for the Arts.

A Double-Bill:


by Marcus Gardley
Directed by 2019 Drama League Directing Fellow Chika Ike


By Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic
Directed by 2019 Drama League Directing Fellow Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly

Friday, January 24, 2020 at 7:30pm
Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 2:00pm* & 7:30pm
The New Ohio
154 Christopher Street
$45 Premium Seating | $25 Regular Admission | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members
* a post-show talkback with the director will follow the Saturday matinee performance.

This evening of short plays probing the complexity of relationships begins with director Chika Ike's staging of The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones by Marcus Gardley, whose work -- including The House That Will Not Stand (NYTW) and On The Levee (LCT) has made him "the heir to Garcia Lorca, Pirandello, and Tennessee Williams" (New Yorker).

The three-member cast of The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones includes Cherrye J. Davis as Songstress/Nurse, Martin Fisher as Deadlust Jones and Eric Lockley as Icarus Jones. The Music Director is Justin Ellington. Casting by Erica A. Hart.

Chika Ike is originally from Chicago, transitioning to New York. Recent productions include Kentucky, A Swell in the Ground, Franklinland, In the Blood, No Child, and Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea, as well as assisting Rachel Chavkin on the world premiere of Dave Malloy's Moby Dick at A.R.T. She has worked with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Playmakers Rep, Goodman Theatre, Victory Gardens, About Face, Chicago Inclusion Initiative, and Chicago Dramatists. Drama League New York Fellow, former SDCF Gielgud Directing Fellow, Bret C. Harte Directing Fellow, and member of Victory Garden's Directors Initiative. She is an ensemble member of the Gift Theatre, where she serves as the director of the 4802 New Play Residency.

The Drowning Girls, directed by Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly, weaves fact and fantasy through London's infamous "Brides in the Bath" murder case, where the killer's victims -- his three newlywed wives -- finally get a chance to tell their side of the story.

The three-member cast of The Drowning Girls features Rachel Claire as Bessie, Jessie Datino as Margaret and Lisa Helmi Johanson as Alice. Casting by Gama Valle, Harriet Bass Casting.

Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly is originally from Vermont and Brooklyn-based. In her Drama League Fellowship, she assisted Laura Kepley at the Cleveland Play House, and will be assisting Mike Donahue at Baltimore Center Stage. Her work has been seen at BAM (Fisher), The Public Theater, PS122, BRIC House, and The Bushwick Starr. Upcoming: Radium Girls at Skidmore College, where she's also directed Who Will Carry the Word and Let the Right One In. She was a directing observer on Hadestown with Rachel Chavkin. Three-time Leadership U(niversity) Serving the Field grant recipient with TCG and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Training: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Siti Company, SDCF Observership Class, and Skidmore College. Member, Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab.

The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones and The Drowning Girls play on a double-bill for each performance.

A Double-Bill:


by Harold Pinter
Directed by 2019 Drama League Directing Fellow NJ Agwuna
By Tina Howe
Directed by 2019 Drama League Directing Fellow Lindsey Hope Pearlman

Friday, January 31, 2020 at 7:30pm
Saturday, February 1 at 2:00pm* & 7:30pm
The New Ohio
154 Christopher Street
$45 Premium Seating | $25 Regular Admission | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members
* a post-show talkback with the director will follow the Saturday matinee performance

Nothing is as it seems in this double-bill evening! The Lover, Harold Pinter's playful and provocative exploration of modern marriage, is directed by NJ Agwuna, twisting the boundaries of temptation, fidelity, and judgement.

The three-member cast of The Lover features Greg Brostrom as Richard, Maribel Martinez as Sarah, and Charlie Spillers as John, The Milkman. The Stage Manager is Melanie Aponte. Casting by Erica A. Hart.

NJ Agwuna is a theatre and film director. She has worked on a national and international scale exploring classic text, developing new plays, devising, and investigating new ways to explore trauma and mental illness through theatre. Some of NJ's credits include immersive work with Third Rail Projects and Punchdrunk, Harold Pinter's One for the Road as part of the Segal Center's Re-Reading Oppression, Till: A Musical (2019 NYMF Award, Outstanding Direction), Julius Caesar, Theatreworks USA's Freedom Train National Tour, Endangered: the ECO Musical (AD), and What She Found (won Best Drama at FRIGID). She is currently a teaching artist with Tectonic. Directing MFA: Columbia University, SDC Associate.

Lindsey Hope Pearlman stages Tina Howe's Appearances, a comic meditation on women and self-image in which the search for the perfect dress is eternal... and sometimes, a job for two! As a customer and a sales clerk form an uneasy alliance, they share their hopes, dreams, and a secret plan for a very important occasion.

The two-member cast features LaVon Fisher-Wilson*(Newsies, Lysistrata Jones) as Grace, and Kerry Ipema as Ivy. The Stage Manager is Arielle Goldstein. Casting by Stephen DeAngelis.

Lindsey Hope Pearlman is a Brooklyn-based director and writer. As part of her Drama League Fellowship, she served as Assistant Director for On That Day In Amsterdam at Primary Stages. Her directing work has been seen at The O'Neill Theatre Center, The Flea, Connelly Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Delaware Theatre Company, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Santa Fe University of Art & Design, The Adobe Rose Theatre, Dixon Place, and Barn Arts Collective. Original plays include Lucy (EST/Sloan Commission) and Viv is for Vengeance (Honorable Mention, American Playwriting Foundation's Relentless Award). Assistant Director: Bandstand on Broadway. SDC Associate Member and 2-time SDC Observer. Co-Artistic Director, Up & Down Theatre Company. Member, BREAD Arts Collective. Graduate, London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA) B.A Hamilton College. Up next: MacGyver the Musical.

The Lover and _Appearances_ play on a double-bill for each performance.


North American Premiere
Conceived and Directed by Christian Bakalov

Performances are for four individuals at a time, every 10 minutes:
Wednesday, January 15, 2020 from 12:00pm - 6:00pm
Thursday, January 16, 2020 from 12:00pm - 6:00pm
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center
31-10 Thomson Street
$25 Regular Admission | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members

How does physical sensation transform the way we experience our lives? Enter the jaw-dropping world of PURE, an immersive performance that considers the influence of imagination on our perception of reality. Guided through a walking experience across the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, oscillating between visual art, sound, touch, and performance, audience members will experience a surprising feast for the senses. After rapturous success during its recent European tour, PURE makes its North American debut at Directorfest, welcoming American collaborators for the first time.

Christian Bakalov and his long time collaborators Maria Alvarez, Demir Berisha, Valentina Panova, Tatyana Petrova, and Mario Tomchev will all perform in the immersive promenade. Catherine Porter (Obie Award Winner, co-Artistic Director of Peculiar Theater Project) joins the production as a performer. Bakalov and team will also be presenting a devising workshop from January 12 - 14, 2020 at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center. All participants of the workshop will be joining Bakalov and his team in performance. If you are interested in the workshop please contact Nilan (Associate Artistic Director) at

After studying at the Sofia Opera, Christian Bakalov began his career in France, as part of the Young Ballet of France and CCNN of Nantes. Since 2009, he has lived and worked in Brussels, as part of the performance collective Volksroom. As a performer, he has collaborated with Robert Wilson, Jérôme Bel, Ivo Dimchev, Jan Fabre, Miet Warlop, and Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek. In 2014, he began developing and directing BRIGHT, in which the audience plays the main role. Blurring the boundaries between performative action and installation, Bakalov employs a series of immersive methods in his work to introduce the audience to a parallel universe of his own design. The trilogy ETERNIA, inspired by Spinoza's concept of eternity, has been produced and supported by ArtEast Foundation and Workspacebrussels. The second part of ETERNIA is PURE, which makes its debut in North America at Directorfest. It has previously been seen in Bucharest, Brussels, Paris, Sofia, and Santiago, Chile.

The Stage Manager is Evangeline Whitlock.

PURE is supported in part through the generous support of the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and in partnership with the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (LPAC) and Art Office Sofia.


Songs from the work-in-progress
Directed by 2019 Drama League Director In Residence Hannah Ryan

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at 7:00pm
Joe's Pub
425 Lafayette Street
$25 Regular Admission, plus a 2-drink or $12 food minimum, per person.

Directed by Hannah Ryan (Resident Director, Hamilton), Riot Song is a thrilling new docu-play with music, recounting the tragedies and triumphs of New York's LGBTQ community through the voices of those who witnessed them first-hand. Riot Song blends hours of interviews with real-life figures from Greenwich Village's queer movement, interwomen with thrilling new gospel and R&B-infused songs by Matthew Dean Marsh (We're Only Alive for a Short Period of Time at The Public Theater) and award-winning journalist/playwright Oscar Lopez.

The six-member cast will feature Deon'te Goodman, Robert Hager, L. Morgan Lee, William Mulligan, Niya Norwood, and Scott Robertson. The Choreographer is Charlie Sutton. The Producer is William Mulligan of Bear Back Brooke. The Stage Manager is Megan Smith.

Hannah Ryan is a founding collaborator of Nettelworks: a creative collective. Director: Confidence and The Speech (Charlotte's Off-Broadway), All Dressed Up (Redhouse Arts Center), Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse, Moxie Theatre), Still Life (Keller Gallery), The Guys (Davenport Theatre), Ascended (Zoetic Stage), New York Theatre Workshop Gala (Plaza Hotel), The Big Announcement (Drama League), Let's Misbehave (Mr. Finn's Cabaret), Cendrillon and Gianni Schicchi (Point Loma Opera), Twelfth Night, Midsummer, The Forced Marriage (Point Loma Playhouse). Broadway Resident Director: Hamilton, An American in Paris. Associate Director: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Broadway), Circus in Winter (Goodspeed), The Golem of Havana (Barrington Stage Company, Miami New Drama). Assistant Director: Doctor Zhivago, "700 Sundays" (HBO), Christopher Plummer's A Word or Two (CTG), Fetch Clay, Make Man (NYTW), Sideways and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (La Jolla Playhouse). Member of SDC, Drama League Fellow, SDC Foundation Denham Fellow.


IN CONVERSATION: Kenny Leon WITH Thomas Schumacher

Monday, January 27, 2020 at 7:00pm
The Drama League Theater Center
32 Avenue of the Americas, Ground Floor
$45 Premium Seating | $25 General Seating | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members

With his Broadway productions of A Raisin in the Sun, Fences, Children of a Lesser God, The Mountaintop, Stick Fly, Gem of the Ocean, Radio Gold, Holler If You Hear Me, and this season's revival of A Soldier's Play, Kenny Leon has earned his reputation as one of the most influential directors of our age; his successful collaborations with Denzel Washington, Toni Morrison, Alicia Keys, Angela Bassett, and more prove he is an expert in the fine art of collaboration. In this intimate conversation with the President of Disney Theatrical Group, Thomas Schumacher, Mr. Leon will discuss his body of work and his thoughts on theater today.

IN CONVERSATION: Rebecca Taichman

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 7:00pm
The Drama League Theater Center
32 Avenue of the Americas, Ground Floor
$45 Premium Seating | $25 General Seating | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members

Winner of the 2017 Tony Award for Direction of a Play, Rebecca Taichman has redefined directing and the intricate relationship between playwright and director. Her collaborations with Paula Vogel (Indecent), Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play), Sarah Ruhl (The Oldest Boy, The Clean House), and Danai Gurira (Familiar) speak to her intimate connection to writers through her work. In this conversation, Ms. Taichman will share her thoughts about her career and the future of the field, as well as anecdotes from her rehearsals and productions.


Monday, February 3, 2020 at 7:00pm
The Drama League Theater Center
32 Avenue of the Americas, Ground Floor
$45 Premium Seating | $25 General Seating | $20 Drama League/SDC/AEA/DG Members

Claire Warden, the first intimacy director in history to be a part of Broadway production teams, will discuss the essential work of staging intimacy in a consent-based creative environment. Taking questions from the audience, Ms. Warden will discuss a range of topics, including the pillars of Intimacy Direction practice; the implementation of intimacy directors in theater, film, and television; and common misconceptions about their work. A must for any artist working in today's entertainment industry!



January 11, 2020 immediately following the 2pm performance of HELLO AGAIN
The New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street

Ben Randle, the 2019 Drama League Musical Directing Fellow, will discuss his production of Hello Again with his predecessor in the program, Kemar Jewel, who memorably created the first-ever African-American queer revival of Stephen Sondheim's Marry Me A Little in Directorfest last year. Sharing a passion for the reimagining of musicals as opportunities for underserved communities, Ben and Kemar will share their thoughts on the future of the form and take questions from the audience, alongside Drama League Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks.


January 25, 2020 immediately following the 2pm performance of THE SPORTING LIFE OF ICARUS JONES/THE DROWNING GIRLS
The New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street

Reconstructing history and mythology in their double-bill of Directorfest productions, directors Chika Ike and Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly will come together to discuss their plays, their paths through the American theater to date, and their experiences assisting Rachel Chavkin, Mike Donahue, and other notable directors this season. Drama League Associate Artistic Director Nilan will take questions from the audience and facilitate the discussion.

IN CONVERSATION: NJ Agwuna and Lindsey Hope Pearlman WITH NICOLE A. WATSON

February 1, 2020 immediately following
the 2pm performance of THE LOVER/APPEARANCES
The New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street

On the surface, the plays directed in Directorfest by NJ Agwuna and Lindsey Hope Pearlman couldn't be more different. In practice, however, these works are led by women with strong perspectives on the world these plays inhabit. Both will discuss in depth their approach to the work of these master playwrights, and how they reflect their ideas for 2020 and beyond. Joining them will be Drama League Board Member Nicole A. Watson, who appeared in Directorfest 2013 and is now the Associate Artistic Director of Round House Theatre in Washington, D.C.


Presented in collaboration with Directors Gathering,
Stage Directors and Choreographers, and the SDC Foundation
Jill Harrison, Executive Director, Directors Gathering
Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Artistic Director, The Drama League
Saturday, February 1, 2020 at 12pm
The Drama League Theater Center
32 Avenue of the Americas, Ground Floor
Open to all stage directors, artistic directors, and affiliated professionals
FREE, RSVP Required at

As the American Theatre experiences rapid change in the leadership of its institutions and theatrical productions, questions regarding the "pipeline" -- the way that directors move up the ladder of creative equity and leadership opportunity -- are demanding new answers and practices. Who is ascending the pipeline in 2020? How does the changing landscape affect directors and their work? What are the opportunities that exist now? This town hall meeting, open to stage directors to communally share their experiences, ideas, and hopes for the field, aims to demystify the process of growth and collectively plot a course into the future.

o West 4th St. For info visit


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