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BWW Blog: Sharing Their Stories - Interview with Noah Himmelstein

I interviewed Noah Himmelstein, the Associate Artistic Director at Everyman Theatre.

BWW Blog: Sharing Their Stories - Interview with Noah Himmelstein

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.

I'm starting out this interview article on a slightly deeper tone: I struggle to live in the present moment. I frequently dwell on what happened in the past or worry about what's to come in the future. I'm currently trying to improve upon how I react and adapt to the present, especially in these unclear times. My curiosity about the past and future often reveals itself in my writing, especially throughout my "Sharing Their Stories" segment. In most of my previous interviews, I focused extensively on the artist's past and the steps taken to get where they are today. My goal was to be as specific as possible, down to the artist's thought process, so that I could chart my own path based on the past successes of others.

While I know that the idea of copying another artist's way is entirely unrealistic, charting a map for myself acted like an anchor in the uncertain journey of an artist. But then I interviewed Noah Himmelstein, the Associate Artistic Director at Everyman Theatre (Baltimore) and meeting with him introduced an entirely new perspective on how I viewed my artistic journey. Noah taught me the joys of using your artistic passion to succeed and adapt to the changing present moment, working to create opportunities for yourself when there seem to be none. Honoring the lessons that his story taught me, I will not use this article to focus extensively on Noah's past career journey. Instead, I'll share more of his present work, how he continues to make headlines in the artistic world and change the evolving world of theatre.

A little background (I said I wouldn't focus on the past extensively), Noah originally studied acting at Emerson College. Halfway through his experience, he began taking directing classes and felt his life path shifting. "I really enjoyed directing, getting to play all the parts. For me, it was more fulfilling getting to realize the production from beginning to end than just being part of one component." After college, he moved to New York and secured an internship at a casting office. "Even though I didn't want to be a casting director, I got to learn so much about how directors and actors work in the room." Noah used this position to learn the decisions made at the beginning of the creative process, a skill vital to his later directing ventures. Post-internship, he worked later shifts at restaurants, leaving his days free to meet with directors and create his dream. This decision paid off, as Noah made enough connections to acquire assistant directing positions in New York, beginning with an opera director and other initial play readings. "It was really little things at first, just to get in the room. Because people want people to have their act together, and I hadn't learned who I was yet, let alone how to be in someone else's space. I'm grateful to the directors who let me sit in on their space, and I learned so much from them."

From there, he worked with directors in off-Broadway and Broadway productions, before finally directing his own shows regionally. So, how did he climb the directing ladder? "You go from show to show, building relationships, one project leads to the next, eventually it leads to a production, but there's really no one set path." Noah also taught me that there's no one "model of success" in this business. Instead it's just about seizing the opportunities that come your way, making connections with collaborators, and trusting that your art will work out.

Noah's first solo directing experience occurred in The New York Fringe Festival, with the play Sammy Gets Mugged. While he'd taken lots of directing classes and assisted many times, directing by himself ushered in a new, unexplored stage of his artistic career. "You really just learn by doing. You have to jump off the cliff and do something, even if it's terrible, in order to actually learn." After the Fringe Festival, Noah continued directing productions in theatres of all sizes around the nation, gaining skills and a powerful artistic network. In 2015, Noah connected with an artistic director at Everyman Theatre (Baltimore) to freelance direct a production of An Inspector Calls. From there, he acquired the Associate Artistic Director role at Everyman. Today, he completes the world's happiest balancing act: freelance directing from his base in New York and working in Baltimore for Everyman.

At Everyman, Noah gets to use his creativity and directing abilities to the fullest extent. Not only has Noah directed four productions in their mainstage season, but he gets to collaborate with other staff members, and often plays a part in deciding what the theatre produces next. "I have a creative voice at Everyman, and when the decisions are being made about the season, I get a call as a freelance director. If I'm lucky, I get to pitch a show. My job is to read hundreds of plays and then advocate for their different points of view and what journey we want to take the audience on." He works alongside a top-notch production team, citing their quality of work and the integrity of people there. "The quality of the work matters so deeply to everyone and the level of craftsmanship is world class. That's one of my favorite parts of working at Everyman." Noah knows how to focus on the present moment, embracing the new aspects of his theatre journey as they arise.

He uses that incredible mindset to successfully freelance while remaining committed to Everyman, focusing on the day-by-day requirements for both jobs and creating outside opportunities whenever possible. "I have a responsibility to live in Baltimore for a certain amount of time, and I take that very seriously. But I very much want to be all over the world, taking jobs as they come. I have a great understanding about [my traveling] with the staff at Everyman, and the benefit about that is I continually introduce Everyman to the new people I meet. This benefits Everyman as much as it benefits me." While this lifestyle can sound overwhelming, Noah swears by it for his creative development as an artist. "I think that as any kind of creative person, variety is so important. I'm lucky to go from project to project while having a current of people I can go back to at Everyman."

Using this constant creative flow and new connections, Noah puts forth the lessons and values of humanity into his directing. For Noah, directing a production starts far before the cast list, oftentimes working with a specific playwright years in advance. His process begins with lots of dramaturgy and structural conversations, even before initial readings. "A lot of it is development, which is the most exciting part. I try to let the script say it what it needs as opposed to inflicting a specific process, because every show is so different from each other." He also starts a year in advance with the designers, beginning with emotional conversations instead of practical ones. "It's meeting after meeting, just about the impressions that the story made on us, instead of...oh, does this scene want to be in blue? It's about the emotional core of the piece, and how do we sculpt that through space." Then, when the actors come, they can embark on the production journey as a team, leading each other towards the heart of a play. "You feel like there's so much knowledge to share, and I'm in such a good place to receive what the actors are bringing."

While the world circumstances have changed dramatically, making close contact a trend left in 2019, Noah still uses love of theatre to create new projects that move people on a meaningful level. "There's so much happening in the world, we need theatre and art to process and cope with it all. So, a big part of my work is staying updated on the world, so that we can have conversations about it [through digital theatre]. I'm also doing two short films, including a filmed production of Into the Woods in an outdoor forest [with Young Artists of America, a program at Strathmore]. It's been a great opportunity to learn something new and try a New Medium."

Working in theatre can sometimes feel like a race. We're always worrying about the next piece, the next audition, or the next gig. But, meeting with Noah reminded me about the true emotional impact that accompanies creating and absorbing theatre in the present moment. Whether it's in-person or digital, we still get to share a space and cope with the outside world together. If we can remember the beauty of that, letting it influence our creative process and connections with others, we can work together to create an increasingly moving and connected artistic tomorrow.



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