BWW Interview: Marilyn Setu, Director of LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL at The Firehouse Theatre

BWW Interview: Marilyn Setu, Director of LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL at The Firehouse Theatre

Thus far, 2018 has proven to be an interesting year for female Americans. As a gender we are banding together behind causes like the #meToo movement; we are shedding light on inequalities when it comes to serious subjects such as consent, recognition, and equal pay. It is shocking the stories of female degredation that are coming forth, and there is still much work to do. One Dallas/Ft. Worth up and coming Director, Marilyn Setu, has recently taken it upon herself to promote fellow female artists by hiring them for her production of Little Women: The Musical at The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch.

Setu herself has worked from Ft. Worth, to New York, and back to Dallas again in a myriad of theatrical roles both on stage and behind the scenes. Most recently, she has described her new foray into the Director's chair as "both terrifying and exhilarating. It has empowered me in ways I never imagined!" This empowerment will be shared with her current production dream team which is 70% female. I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a sizeable ladies' brunch with Setu last Sunday, where we dined on our weight in breakfast foods and dished about the show, women's rights as artists, and The Firehouse Theatre.

Broadwayworld: With a team that is 70% female in composition, it seems that there was a concentrated effort to find a mostly female production crew. Why choose women?

Marilyn Setu: Being a new director, the first time around, I had to make choices for the production team that were safe. They were good choices at the time because that show was a success and did very well, however I felt limited with those choices. So with Little Women what was refreshing for me was the idea that I DO have the ability to choose who I wanted.

At first my initial thought was not to just hire all women. After hiring my choreographer Nicole [Carrano] and my MD Mark [Mullino], I hired Wendy [Renee Searcy] as my set designer. I was so impressed by Wendy's vision and connection to the material, I wanted to see if others felt the same. It kind of snowballed from there. I then turned my focus to other women with the skillset and the vision that would fit our show. It turned out that this amazing team I have assembled aren't just men and women best for the job, but they are also fans of the show and have voiced a deep connection to the material and the message it is telling.

To me it only felt natural to hire more women (if available) to take on these roles because the story premise is organically feminist with a strong flow of female and family strength. The writer, Louisa May Alcott, was a feminist in her time and paved the way for so many women after her. I wanted to provide these roles to any woman that 1. showed interest in taking on the job and 2. women with true talent and skill. Because I have never worked with many of these women that were hired for their roles, I was taking a huge risk. I just knew from reputation how talented these females were and that was the energy I needed.

BWW: Has the process been different working with a primarily female production team?

Setu: Not really. The level of respect and communication HAS to be the same, no matter who you're dealing with, so that has been consistent. Fundamentally, in terms of communication men and women are not the same. Being on the leadership side you have to be in a place where you can understand and communicate with all types of personalities. You can't be rigid enough to force everyone to communicate or work in "your way." The biggest thing I have noted is that I personally feel more comfortable speaking to the other women, communicating my desires and ideas. We are talking to each other as though we are friends and that has been a different level than when I had led production meetings with past teams. It feels more collaborative.

BWW: What advice would you give to young women, or women new to the theatre world, that are trying to break in to the industry particularly on the production side?

Setu: If you're going to go into any side of production, in this artistic world, we usually do the send your headshot and resume to the theatre. It is sometimes as simple as being open to starting from the bottom and working your way up, and sometimes that is the BEST way to learn a particular craft when starting from the bottom. E-mail all the local theatres and ask what's available. Yes, have big dreams, go for those big theatres someday. But you learn SO much by starting somewhere small and volunteering your time to nail together some platforms, sweeping backstage, sewing some costumes... you will learn so much behind the scenes by just making yourself open. Do your research. It is a hard industry to be a professional designer here, so you have to know all aspects of your craft to be competitive and marketable.

BWW Interview: Marilyn Setu, Director of LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL at The Firehouse TheatreBWW: Anything else you would like to share?

Setu: I am extremely proud of the direction Firehouse is going to meet and exceed the expectations of the artists they have employed with this project. I could not be more proud of the support and willingness from the leadership team at The Firehouse Theatre for the opportunities they have created for minorities (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.) I would not be here today if it werent for Derek Whitener's support and unwavering belief that I could direct.

Regardless of critic reviews, agenda, platform the show could receive for the Theatre and the arts community, I truly believe that this will be a beautiful and impactful show. With Little Women only being my 2nd show to fully direct, I can say with absolute confidence that I am inspired and empowered by Louisa May Alcott herself to continue on this path of female strength, empowerment, and acceptance that I can be a leader and that I do have an artistic voice. I hope other women and young girls are as inspired as I am after seeing this show.

Setu and I discussed several Alcott scholars as a part of her research "Jo March was a very flawed, passionate character who did not always do right," Alcott scholar Harriet Reisen said. "[She] made lots of mistakes and succeeded and drove herself and didn't pay attention to the things girls weren't supposed to do." Female actors, designers, and artists would do well to drive themselves to more challenging opportunities like character Jo March and Director Marilyn Setu. Bucking the trends by incorporating females into the visceral levels of the technical elements, she and her production crew have taken this show to a deeply personal, and relatable level that is certain to touch audiences and embolden other theatres to seek out strong female leadership.

Little Women: The Musical at The Firehouse Theatre opens Friday April 20th. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling the box office 972-620-3747. Photo credit to Jason Anderson at Pendelton Photography.

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From This Author Christina Hoth

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