BWW Blog: An All Women Creative Team- Just Doing Our Jobs
Fast Cars. Moonshine. Bluegrass. A play with a sense of freedom. And a creative team of all women putting it together.
When I started the Master of Fine Arts program in Directing last semester at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I wasn't aware of the amount of opportunities I would be given. After the first semester of navigating a new town, new people, and a class schedule of just theatre classes (what a dream, right?), I was asked if I wanted to be the assistant director for a play called White Lightning written by a woman, Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. I said yes for multiple reasons.
Not only does the play share the exciting story of moonshiners and the early days of NASCAR in the South, but the play is directed by a woman, Sarah Hankins, who graduated with the same degree I'm pursuing from UNCG. Working under Sarah and another UNCG MFA graduate, Virginia Hirsch, who serves as Dramaturg on the project, I knew I would learn a great deal. Women directors inspiring me, a woman director! Little did I know that when I showed up at the first rehearsal, the entire creative team would consist of women.
The team wasn't intentional. Sarah said that "It just so happened that we were an all female team."
From director, dramaturg, the scenic, lighting, costume and sound designers, to the movement coach, dialect coach, production manager, technical director... the list goes on. Triad Stage has put together quite the team of excellent theatre-makers.
"When you're working in a group of people who come from groups that have historically been talked over, then some amazing listening and collaboration happens" Natalie Hart, the Scenic Designer said.
And what I've found is that they have a desire to help each other, truly enjoy the process of creating, and lift one another up. In fact, I got to record the mandolin part in the opening bluegrass song because the director knew I was a bluegrass musician and wanted to give me that opportunity.
Yet Natalie reminded me that, "just because it fits the label of all women, we don't want this to turn into a novelty." Women in leadership or on a creative team in the theatre shouldn't be a trend. Natalie said, "We've always been here. We are people trained to do what we do. And this team creates with excellence.
It's been a fantastic collaboration and learning experience.
"I feel like we listen to each other. It's not a race, it's not a competition. I feel like this is a safe place to create" Amanda Valdez, the Lighting Designer said.
It's the idea of not letting fear get in the way of creating art. Which has been a theme of my grad school career so far. Our job as theatre-makers is to create a space where everyone feels safe to share ideas, potentially fail, and then have the courage to try new ideas again.
"I love working with companies that care about not only the art, but also the people who are creating the art" Maria Württele, the sound supervisor said.
And though the majority in this case are women, the men on the team also understand the importance of collaboration. Preston Lane, who is the Founding Artistic Director of Triad Stage, and one of my professors, has been teaching the MFA directors about seeing the creation of art as a pilgrimage. So it's not about men or women, it's about everyone's willingness to go on a journey and learn along the way. The destination gives us the gift of that journey.
In the journey of being a theatre student, I'm not only learning in my classes, but I'm learning from the theatre-makers surrounding me. And though life is crazy with going from an 8am design meeting for the production I'll direct for one project, attending classes, teaching classes, then heading to Triad Stage to assistant direct... (like when do I do homework?) the journey so far has indeed felt like a pilgrimage. Coffee is a necessity for having the energy to soak in all of the advice in these experiences.
The advice they gave me: Amanda said to "be flexible." Natalie believes that we should be taking classes in all areas of theatre so we truly understand the needs of designers, directors, actors, production and management. And Sarah, among many things I've learned from her, said, "I've stopped caring about being the smartest person in the room, but rather the most curious."
Collaboration isn't easy. In fact, for a naturally controlling person like me, it can be terrifying. But being a selfless and servant leader, especially as a director, can lead to the most creative and collaborative journey.
Regardless of woman or man, sometimes we find ourselves trying to navigate a culture of "no." Amanda's advice, "You can't swim against the current, you've got to ride with the waves.
Sometimes grad school can certainly feel like drowning. But what keeps my head above water are the opportunities that UNCG gives me while encouraging me to be the best theatre-maker and collaborator. Stay tuned folks, the adventure is really going to take off.