BWW Interview: DreamWrights Center For Community Arts' New Artistic Director Lori Koenig
DreamWrights Center for Community Arts welcomed new Artistic Director Lori Koenig on December 2nd. In the midst of the holiday season and jumping right in with both feet at DreamWrights, Lori took some time out to let us get to know her a bit.
BWW: How did you first get interested in theatre?
Lori: Well, it was my mother's fault. She had gone back to college after I was born to finish her degree, and she was majoring in English and minoring in theatre. There was a part for a little boy in a play that she was stage managing and they couldn't find the right little boy. So, they decided to let me audition for it. I was around 11. I auditioned for it, and I got the part. I had hair down to my waist at the time, so they had to pile it up under a baseball cap. Theatre has been a big part of my life ever since.
BWW: What do you love most about the performing arts?
Lori: I think that for me personally it feeds two things. I love things that are intellectually challenging but also physically and creatively challenging. I think that the performing arts, including music-I'm also a musician and sort of a dancer-feed my love of those challenges. There's the intellectual piece, the emotional piece, the physical piece, and it's creative. At the same time there are rules to follow, there are parameters in place. All of those things just come together in the performing arts in a sort of perfect storm that just suits me.
BWW: What excites you the most about your position at DreamWrights?
Lori: I think the possibilities and potential here. After 33 years of being a public educator and doing theatre sometimes for my job and sometimes on the side, I was ready for a radical change. I had been an artistic director at a small-much smaller than this-community theatre when I first got out of grad school, and I thought that this is how I'd like to spend the rest of my time. I'm excited because I think the mission of this place has shifted over the last couple of years to include more adult work, which is very intriguing to me because it feeds that intellectual piece of being able to do those kind of shows, and having the two spaces here to make that possible is really cool. And yet I still get the chance to be with kids and hang out with kids because I never lost my love of kids even though I sort of lost my love of public education after a while-it doesn't feed my soul the way it used to, but working with kids still does, so it's pretty perfect in that way. I also hope to have an impact on the community as well, to up the profile of DreamWrights and the level of professionalism-just because a place is an amateur theatre doesn't mean that the production value and performances should be amateur in nature. It doesn't mean that the processes that are in place shouldn't be professional. There's a reason why community theatres grow professional theatre people. So I want us to be a good training ground in case people decide to make it their career.
BWW: You are jumping in with both feet in this season. Is there a show you are most looking forward to this season?
Lori: I'm really excited about directing West Side Story because it's with teenagers, and I've been mostly a high school teacher for all these years, and so it's my wheelhouse to hang out with teenagers. Plus, West Side Story is such a great classic, iconic and yet still relevant piece of theatre that I think we can do some really exciting things with it.
BWW: You've been in shows and directed shows. Speaking of directing, if you had to pick a favorite that you've directed, what would it be?
Lori: Well, I think it's almost always the last show I directed. I did Tuck Everlasting at North Dakota State University in the spring. It was a musical that only lasted about 49 performances on Broadway. It closed really early. It happened to open the same week that Hamilton opened, and Hamilton pretty much stole the thunder of everything and so it didn't really get a chance. I had loved the book as a kid, and so I was just really excited to have the opportunity to direct it. It's a beautiful show. We had a great production team with all of these theatre majors, and it just turned out beautifully. All of the pieces just fit, so that is my latest favorite.
BWW: What would you say was your most challenging experience as a director?
Lori: Probably the summer I had 80 middle school students doing Into the Woods, Jr. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. It all worked out, but it was a giant thing to try to do with 80 children and have them all feel needed and part of the production. That was with Trollwood Performing Arts School in Fargo.
BWW: I've read that you have a background not only in theatre but also in English and film-do you have a favorite genre for reading, movies, or plays?
Lori: I love foreign films-they tend to tell the story in a more contemplative way. I want film, literature, and plays to be about the human experience and what that means. I prefer movies and books where great characters talk to each other about important things and have revelations.
BWW: You've lived in several different places-do you have a favorite? What are you most looking forward to about living in PA?
Lori: My favorite area was always North Carolina. That's where I did most of my growing up. I did undergrad and graduate school there, I met my husband there, and my children were born there. My parents lived there for a long time even though they were native Tennesseans. So, this opportunity to come back from the middle of the country to the east coast just felt like a chance to come back home. I'm closer to much of my family, and the weather feels very similar. And, of course, the rolling hills and big green trees were things that I really missed being in the middle of the country. In my sort of romantic sense of things, it feels like coming home. Also, being just three hours away from Manhattan is not a bad thing.
BWW: If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue a career in the arts what would it be?
Lori: I've said this a bunch of times to people: Your parents will always tell you to have something to fall back on, but if you have something to fall back on, you're more likely to fall back on it. Pursuing the arts is hard. If you are really dedicated to it, don't have a backup plan. Maybe having a backup plan should be waiting tables to pay the rent. But my mom, even though she was artsy, said, "well, you'd better get a teaching degree so you'll always be able to pay the rent." And guess what? I relied on that teaching degree for a lot of years when I really would have rather been at least taking a few years, when I was younger, to try it out. I didn't try it because I was afraid because everyone was telling me to be afraid. So, my advice is don't be afraid, don't have too much of a backup plan. Give it a shot, and if it doesn't work out, you can readjust.
BWW: I understand you have a dog and cat. Everyone loves pet stories, so tell us a little about them.
Lori: Webster is a 12-year-old blind rescue dog. He became blind about a year and a half ago, but he adjusted pretty well. Our cat is an 8-year-old orange tabby who came to us as a rescue. I might be anthropomorphizing a bit, but I think he has realized that Webster is blind, so he likes to get in his way and bat at him, and then you'll find them sleeping together in the sunlight. Eli has to be an only cat. When he was in the rescue, they had these cat colonies where all the cats would stay. I noticed when I went to put an application in that this cat was not in the cat colonies, he was in the executive director's office. and he came out and got up on the desk and tried to keep me from writing and just was purring, so I asked about him. The executive director said that she was about to take him home herself. She said that he's a prince of a cat, but if you decide to adopt him, you have to know that he will have to be an only cat because he thinks he's a dog and he hates other cats. It has proven to be true. There are these little cats that live next door and they sit on our back stoop, and Eli just has a fit.
Get to know Lori and the rest of the DreamWrights team by checking out their 2020 season. The full calendar of shows and tickets for those shows can be found at www.dreamwrights.org.