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BWW Blog: Sharing Their Stories- An Interview with Daniella Topol

Daniella is the current Artistic Director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

BWW Blog: Sharing Their Stories- An Interview with Daniella Topol

Hello Broadway lovers, creators, and theatre students around the world! Welcome back to the blog, and to my new segment: Sharing Their Stories. For the next few weeks, I'll be sharing the journeys and artistic discoveries of notable artists in my DC area, and around the world. Every person I've had the honor to speak with, carries unique experiences and perspectives about the constantly changing world of the arts. I hope their stories serve as inspiration, demystification of the road to artistic success, and as fuel to keep creating.

Studying theatre in college means the constant pursuit of community. We live, play and work in shared space to tell stories and connect our audiences. As a result, one of the hardest parts of pursuing theatre during this pandemic has been the loss of physical community. Once sharing the stage and connecting eye-to-eye, we now battle zoom fatigue to create new mediums of art. While these situations are truly less than ideal, something special about our theatrical community is that we continue to create anyway. Throughout this past year, both in and outside universities, theatre makers use their imagination and innovation to connect and tell more stories than ever before. Whether it's an online performance or a live stream, we artists make it clear that our community will persevere in this virtual world. This shared drive to bond with others and connect stories sums up Daniella Topol's entire career and defines the heart of a true artist.

Daniella is the current Artistic Director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and constantly works to cultivate a true sense of community, while giving voice to new playwrights and the stories they bring. A freelance director, arts manager, artistic director, and a theatre maker, her story not only taught me worlds about the importance of continuing theatre, but how to strengthen fundamental relationships with other artists. Here is her story.

Daniella Topol grew up in the DC area before majoring in directing at Carnegie Mellon University. "In college, you'll be making friends and finding collaborators potentially for the rest of your life. It's hard to hold that mindset simultaneously while just getting through the day to day. But, really finding the people you connect with, that's everything. Finding community was everything." Daniella ended up staying at CMU to obtain her masters' degree in Arts Management. While her desire to eventually Artistic Direct pushed her to Arts Management, she also had another motive. "I wanted to be practical about my career. I was trying to find ways to pay my bills by working IN theatre as opposed to finding jobs outside order to pay for time spent making theatre. You have to think, how can I survive while making life in theatre? Those are important questions to really talk about, especially in order to be fully present in a rehearsal room. You want to be present in the space as much as possible amidst the complexities of paying your bills."

Post Carnegie Mellon, Daniella stayed in Pittsburgh and found work at the regional City Theatre. There she surrounded herself with people of all different skill sets, as well as an artistic director mentor. She credits this multifaceted group of artists for helping to strengthen her career and understanding of the arts. "It was so helpful to find the mentors, those people who give you a lot of perspective. I also found it really helpful to have people in your life in the same place that you are in, people five years ahead of where you want to be, and people who are just starting out in their process. It's a good reminder that you're on an artistic continuum. And there are people who have more experience than you, and people who have less. It's all about finding those people." From City Theatre, she then relocated to New York and worked for National Alliance for Musical Theatre, a service organization for musical theatre producers and organizations around the nation. While Daniella didn't know much about the development of musical theatre, she was experienced in the development of new works. While she could have shied away from the unknown, Daniella chose to bring her strengths to this new table. "I ended up producing their festival of new musicals, being their new works director, and digging in quite deep into the landscape of the path of new musicals. That was very interesting to me." Throughout her path, Daniella always remains aware of what she can offer a position. Then she goes in and does it. I was so inspired by her willingness to approach unexpected opportunities with a confident mindset. In a career path rife with doubt and uncertainty, Daniella inadvertently reminds us to consider the unique strengths we can offer, ones that make us all unique and perfectly situated for new opportunities.

Post National Alliance, Daniella worked for Lark Play Development Center, an incubator for new, diverse theatrical voices and their budding works. "I started at Lark as the managing director, which I didn't really want to be. I didn't want to just be dealing with contracts and paperwork. But I figured that the position would be really good for me, helping me figure out how that manager aspect of a company works. Then, I would be clear and thoughtful about how to run an organization at some point in the future." Her period of learning and growing alongside Lark paid off, and she soon became the artistic program director. From there, she focused on freelance directing for eight years. "I travelled around the country, directing new plays in different cities." She came home to New York about four years ago, and since then dedicated her time to Artistic Directing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

"Being an artistic director is like a play that never ends. It's so engaging, and I love watching other directors work, see what they're bringing to the table. And the relationship between the artistic director and the director can be really a beautiful partnership. Those are the things that are really inspiring to me." On a typical day, Daniella can bounce between planning programs with the artistic team, monitoring the current season, spending time with board members and funders to make sure that the communication is always clear, or navigating new growth with communities. "It's so much about being a jack of all trades, working with so many different things and just staying in conversation as much as possible." Every day at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater involves growing those important relationships to keep the theatre running. While communication onstage tells those stories, the communication offstage contributes to developing those stories and creating strong theatre companies and good theatre.

This open communication and strengthening relationships in the theatre carries more importance than ever, especially in our world today. I asked Daniella if she had any hopes for what the future of arts/artistic directing would look like. Her answer not only sums up what she's worked for throughout her career progression but serves as an amazing vision for a better tomorrow. "I think what's exciting about this moment in time is that we're in such a moment of reckoning. Between the pandemic and racial justice, and how this shows up in this art form. This is a great moment for invention, exploration and talking about what it means to be a gatekeeper in theatre."

As we continue working, studying, and developing theatre together- we have to remember that the key word is "together." If we can go forth into this new artistic awakening together, with an awareness of the unique experiences we bring to the table and a desire to truly bond with one another, we can create a stronger and more inclusive artistic tomorrow.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Leah Packer