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Most innovative theatre directors

Theatrefanboy1
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joined:8/2/15
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Most innovative theatre directors

#1
Posted: 2/27/21 at 10:52pm

What directors, still working today would you see as the must innovative? 

And what is it about their work that you find so fresh and groundbreaking?

For me I think right now my top may be Rachel Chavkin for her ability to take on the tiny details which working in an immersive space.

Others, of course Julie Taymor (I love when she uses primitive techniques)

 Michael Arden, Mary Zimmerman, Marianne Elliott and John Tiffany also make my list

 

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Drew1701
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Most innovative theatre directors

#2
Posted: 2/27/21 at 11:24pm

I have to completely agree with Rachel Chavkin. The idea to put great comet in a turn of the century cabaret was ingenious. Not only did the show benefit from the format, but it became synonymous with the show. 

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Jshan05
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Most innovative theatre directors

#3
Posted: 2/27/21 at 11:33pm

Michael Arden and Ivo Van Hove are at the top of my list for innovation!

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ggersten
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Most innovative theatre directors

#4
Posted: 2/27/21 at 11:45pm
Jshan05 said: "Michael Arden and Ivo Van Hove are at the top of my list for innovation!"


Agree for good or bad - although Van Hove does keep going back to the same bag of tricks....
.I also think Marianne Elliott has to be up there - with no specific signature other than imagination making the impossible real and finding nuances.

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JBroadway
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Most innovative theatre directors

#5
Posted: 2/27/21 at 11:52pm

"Innovative" is an interesting (not bad) word choice. Because I think there's a distinction between being "innovative," and being "creative." Plenty of directors are creative, but what does it mean to really innovate in that art form?

Julie Taymor is very creative, but as you said, she draws from old practices and forms. Although, I guess you could say that her use of technology in Spider-Man was innovative.

Ivo Van Hove is often described as "avant garde," which I guess means the same thing as "innovative," but he's been doing the same thing for decades, and many of the things that make him stand out in the US and UK are actually pretty common in European theatres.

John Tiffany and Michael Arden strike me as very creative, but not necessarily innovative. Love them both though! 

I'd say Chavkin fits the bill, particularly in the way that she participates in the development process. With Comet, Hadestown, and Moby Dick, you really got the sense that her influence was deeply woven into the show from the ground up. This is pretty common with writer+directors, but less common with directors working with new material by other writers.

I also agree that Marianne Elliot is also pretty innovative in the way that she uses physical space and technology. I might say the same about Jamie Lloyd. 

I would say that the folks at Then She Fell (Zach Morris, et al.) are also pretty innovative. 

Lila Neugebauer is pretty traditional in a lot of ways - she doesn't necessarily push boundaries. But I think she has been at the forefront of the hyper-naturalism trend we've seen in recent years. She didn't start the trend, but she does it better than any other director IMO, and as a result, I think that she has helped to push it to new levels. 

Simon McBurney, with Complicité, has done a lot of unique things with sound design in his direction. And I think we're starting to see some other directors employ some of the things he's known for - so in that sense, he's innovative too. 

Updated On: 2/27/21 at 11:52 PM
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dramamama611
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Most innovative theatre directors

#6
Posted: 2/28/21 at 7:27am
^ This....there's a lot of good gor thought in Jbroadway's post.....all of which I agree with.
If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
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HogansHero
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Most innovative theatre directors

#7
Posted: 2/28/21 at 9:27am

re Ivo, I am curious what this "bag of tricks" and "same thing" is thought to consist of. I ask because, having been blown away by Streetcar and More Stately Mansions in the last century, I am wondering how the through line from that to his work in, say, the last decade or so is defined. 

iluvtheatertrash
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Most innovative theatre directors

#8
Posted: 2/28/21 at 10:18am
Robert Icke. His work in the UK and Amsterdam is riveting.
"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
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JBroadway
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#9
Posted: 2/28/21 at 11:10am

@Hogan, I never saw his Streetcar or his More Stately Mansions, so I can't speak to those specifically. However, I have seen 11 of his productions - the oldest of which was Roman Tragedies. I've said this many times before, but I believe that Ivo does his best work when he's directing material written originally for the stage, as opposed to the film/book adaptations that he's been doing more recently. 

As for what, specifically, his "bag of tricks" consists of, here are a few that come to mind:

--mostly-barren stage, particularly with a lot of whites, grays, and off-whites. 

--often a subdued, slightly sluggish pacing to his scene-work. 

--making messes onstage

--live-feed camera work throughout the show, especially following actors backstage, and even outside the theatre. 

This last one (camera work) is interesting, because it's arguable his most "innovative" trick, and we've seen it used quite a lot more frequently in recent years, especially in Europe and the UK (including by Robert Icke - mentioned above). And yet, he uses it so much, that it's also become his most stale schtick. Although I actually did like the way he used it in West Side Story - but again, that goes back to my first statement about his work on adaptations vs. revivals. 

RE Robert Icke: I absolutely love his work - his Hamlet remains one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen. But again, I think a lot of his "innovations" really come from his colleagues and predecessors. The most unique thing I've ever seen Icke do was in "The Red Barn" at the National, where he used sliding black scrims to create tight "frames" onstage, resembling camera frames, without using any cameras. 

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HogansHero
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Most innovative theatre directors

#10
Posted: 2/28/21 at 11:53am

@JBroadway thanks for that. I got the answer I was expecting. I'm sure you can imagine where I was going: those NYTW shows lacked the "trappings" we now identify with Ivo's work, and yet they exposed a way into the plays that was feltnew and exciting (to me at least). (At that point, I had probably seen Streetcar half a dozen times or more, not counting the film or when I saw it repeatedly because I was working on it, and thought I knew it pretty well. I didn't. I had of course never seen MSM before so saying it was a new way in is shaky.) I see elements of that same way in with new trappings now, hence my point. (And I probably agree about his work based on stage works.)

I confess I am not very fond of words like "innovative" because I think most directors are building on their predecessors. And I also don't love "bag of tricks" because I think lots of directors successfully carry certain approaches through decades of work (and others steal them). I am a strong believer in the notion that the only thing that matters is if the story gets told in a compelling and resonant way. [I try to sit down in a theatre (back when we did such things) without a rejection of anything. That doesn't mean that I always think that the approach works in every case, and when it doesn't, I might be inclined to refer to it as a trick. Most innovative theatre directors

ETA: and +1 re Icke

Updated On: 2/28/21 at 11:53 AM
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JBroadway
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Most innovative theatre directors

#11
Posted: 2/28/21 at 12:20pm

I would agree with most of what you said, Hogan. I don't think being innovative is the most important thing, but that's what the thread is asking about!

And of course, there's a reason I keep going to see Ivo shows time and time again: not because he's doing anything new, but because each production allows us to see new material get "the Ivo treatment" - a new way into the material, as you said. And I agree that the "bag of tricks" so to speak, is a common trait among the best auteurs, Ivo included. The problem, for me, is simply that Ivo's adaptations rarely offer a new way in. He takes these films, and then adapts them to the stage with heavy reliance on cameras and screens - so what was the point of the new medium? With shows like The Damned, Network, All About Eve, The Fountainhead (based on a book, I know), etc. it really does feel like he's giving the material a stylistic overlay, rather than actually trying to offer a new way into the story. And that's when it feels like a "trick." But as I said, I haven't found that to be the case with his revivals - which I enjoy much more. 

Updated On: 2/28/21 at 12:20 PM
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HogansHero
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Most innovative theatre directors

#12
Posted: 2/28/21 at 3:11pm

To add a tiny bit more Most innovative theatre directors

1. I don't think auteurs have a monopoly on bags of tricks (or being copied). 

2. I am certainly not advocating for anything where the seams are showing (unless that's the point of course) but that gets us into YMMV territory. You are not rejecting all "tricks," just the ones that are not earned (to you).

3. Technology has always created resistance in some quarters. If you want to have some fun, dig into the history of lighting. When 20th Century directors figured out they had a new toy, some folks complained about the distraction. Ditto sound (still a big one around here sometimes).   

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JBroadway
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Most innovative theatre directors

#13
Posted: 2/28/21 at 3:22pm

I wasn't trying to imply that only auteurs had a bag of tricks - that comment was meant to illustrate my agreement with what you said; a "bag of tricks" isn't inherently a bad thing, and the fact that most of our best auteurs use an established "bag of tricks" is evidence of that. 

And as for the "YMMV" - again, I agree, which is why I'm not rejecting Ivo or his tricks wholesale. But I feel as though, while he may have been innovative at a point, he isn't actively innovating anymore. But I think you and I are on the same page that "innovation" should not be equated with "quality" or even "creativity." 

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#14
Posted: 2/28/21 at 4:02pm

yes we are on the same page. I didn't think we weren't, and most of my last post was more directed at some others who might not be. cheeky

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henrikegerman
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Most innovative theatre directors

#15
Posted: 2/28/21 at 4:59pm

Simon Stone 

ARTc3
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#16
Posted: 2/28/21 at 10:16pm

How is it possible that this thread has gotten this far and no one has mentioned Alex Timbers. His work is extremely exciting, especially some of his Public Theater works like, Here Lies Love.

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Owen22
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#17
Posted: 3/1/21 at 7:40am

Well, besides Rachel and Alex Timbers, and David Cromer, a lot of my favorite directors are a couple West End and  fringe directors in the UK.  Thom Sutherland of the Southwark, now of the Charring Cross is fantastic.  Luke Sheppard. Jamie Lloyd.

 

 

 

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sinister teashop
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Most innovative theatre directors

#18
Posted: 3/3/21 at 2:37pm

The one directorial movement that I've seen in the last ten years that I'd call "innovative" would be the use of non-actors or mixing actors with non-actors or the directing of actors to strip away acting technique. Directors like Lear deBessonet, Richard Maxwell, Daniel Fish, in the UK, The Good Chance Theatre. I'm not particuarly in love with this focus but I'd definitley call it an innovative movement. The other directors listed here are mostly following established avant-garde traditions. And in the case of David Cromer, not innovative at all but a traditionalist and a damn fine one at that.

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#19
Posted: 3/3/21 at 2:37pm

The one directorial movement that I've seen in the last ten years that I'd call "innovative" would be the use of non-actors or mixing actors with non-actors or the directing of actors to strip away acting technique. Directors like Lear deBessonet, Richard Maxwell, Daniel Fish, in the UK, The Good Chance Theatre. I'm not particuarly in love with this focus but I'd definitley call it an innovative movement. The other directors listed here are mostly following established avant-garde traditions. And in the case of David Cromer, not innovative at all but a traditionalist and a damn fine one at that.

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Most innovative theatre directors

#20
Posted: 3/3/21 at 5:17pm
John Doyle certainly had a moment. He has his detractors. But I was a sucker for his innovation of having casts double as orchestras.

Of course, he didn’t invent actors playing instruments. And the vision served some properties better than others. But at its best, it created illuminating moments and did feel innovative
cjmclaughlin10
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Most innovative theatre directors

#21
Posted: 3/3/21 at 7:58pm

I would like to add Sarah Benson (Fairview and An Octoroon), Whitney White (Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, What to Send Up When it Goes Down) and Tina Landau (Spongebob, *Eclipsed)  to the list

 

*I was wrong about Tina and Eclipsed. Please accept my apology  

Updated On: 3/3/21 at 07:58 PM
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Most innovative theatre directors

#22
Posted: 3/3/21 at 9:42pm

cjmclaughlin10 said: "I would like to add Sarah Benson (Fairview and An Octoroon), Whitney White (Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, What to Send Up When it Goes Down)and Tina Landau (Spongebob, Eclipsed)to the list"

 

Sarah Benson did a fantastic job with both Fairview and An Octoroon, but I think the innovation in those shows was mostly owed to the playwrights. I'd say the same thing about Our Dear Dead Drug Lord (which I actually thought was pretty poorly directed).

Tina Landau didn't direct Eclipsed - Liesl Tommy did. Unless there's a different show called Eclipsed? Anyway, I don't think there was anything particularly innovative about the direction of Eclipsed, was there? 

 

I hate to be the designated "negative nancy" of this thread, but I really think a lot of people in this thread are still confusing innovation with quality. 

Related to Sinister Teashop's point, I think a lot of the most innovative work in theatre is being done by artists who are creating (not just writing or directing) theatre pieces that break the molds of form. Devising, re-purposing existing texts, challenging the boundaries between theatre and other mediums, and the boundaries between theatre and real life, finding new ways to utilize physical space, using theatre in unique ways to reach new communities, etc. In a lot of these cases, the line between director/writer/producer/performer is often blurry, which is why it's difficult to think of directors (people known mostly for directing) who are truly innovating right now. 

Owen22
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#23
Posted: 3/4/21 at 3:24pm

It's way easier to spot innovative direction when it's attached to a revival.  Jamie Lloyd has directed the best Urinetown and the best Assassins I've ever seen.  I haven't seen that many productions of Betrayal, but his was my favorite Pinter ever.

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#24
Posted: 3/5/21 at 2:31pm

I agree most of the names listed above, especially Mr. Van Hove. I would like to add Benedict Andrews to the list. I found both of the Tennessee Williams plays he did for the Young Vic - "Streetcar" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to be extremely compelling productions (the first I saw at St Anns Warehouse, the latter only at the movie theatre). I really look forward to seeing anything he directs.

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#25
Posted: 3/5/21 at 3:22pm

Owen22 said: "It's way easier to spot innovative direction when it's attached to a revival."

 

Directing revivals with arresting concepts is how a director can make their name, yes. It's harder to get a sense of the technique of a director who works on new plays or musicals especially if that director is working to let the pieces speak in their own voice for themselves. 

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