Interview: Theatre Life with Joy Zinoman and Logan Vaughn

By: Apr. 17, 2017
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Joy Zinoman and Logan Vaughn

Today's subjects, Joy Zinoman and Logan Vaughn, are currently living their theatre lives over on H Street at Mosaic Theater Company. They are the directors for the company's current South Africa: Then & Now repertory, which is comprised of the Athol Fugard's classic Blood Knot and the newer A Human Being Died That Night by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and adapted for the stage by Nicholas Wright. The rep represents the old and the new. It's appropriate that Mosaic's genius Artistic Director Ari Roth has enlisted a veteran director of over 50 years and a hot up-and-coming director to bring the plays to vivid life onstage at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Anyone that's been around DC theatre for some time knows the name Joy Zinoman. She founded and built Studio Theatre into one of the area's leading theatre companies. During her 35-year tenure as Founding Artistic Director, Joy directed some of the area's biggest names in more than 70 productions. How can we ever forget Tana Hicken in her final performance with 4000 Miles or Edward Gero in American Buffalo? Joy also founded the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory in 1975. She is still the Director of Curriculum and a teacher. You might have seen her onstage recently in Uncle Vanya at Round House Theatre after a very long hiatus from acting. Joy has amassed nine Helen Hayes nominations and won twice for Outstanding Direction of a Production for A Number and Indian Ink.

Logan Vaughn is an up-and-coming director with an already impressive list of credits. The list of prestigious New York theatres Logan has been associated with include Lincoln Center, The Public Theater, 59E59, New York University Tisch School of the Arts, and Playwrights Horizons. While at Playwrights Horizons, she assistant directed Amy Herzog's The Great God Pan and Lisa D'Amour's Obie Award winning play, Detroit. In Chicago, Logan has graced Second City Theater, National Black Theatre, Victory Gardens, Teatro Vista, and Court Theatre.

Logan's career isn't limited to the stage though. Her work in film includes assisting the Academy Award-winning producing team behind Precious and Monster's Ball, as well as serving as head of casting for several award winning independent films, including My Name is Jerry and Southern Cross.

We have two generations of directors bringing the old and the new to the stage for two electrifying evenings of theatre. Joy Zinoman bringing her years of experience to Blood Knot and Logan Vaughn's intense staging of A Human Being Died That Night make going over to H Street a definite must. South Africa: Then & Now runs through April 30th at Atlas Performing Arts Center. Ride the nifty FREE streetcar, have some pie next door to Atlas, and be ready to be taken in by the work of two fantastic directors.

L-R Tom Story and Nathan Hinton IN Mosaic Theater's production of Blood Knot. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Joy (JZ)- When did you first become familiar with Blood Knot and the work of Athol Fugard in general?

I have directed lots of Fugard over my 35 years at Studio Theatre. I directed The Road to Mecca, which is the companion piece to Blood Knot. I've been enthralled by Fugard my whole career. It's my first time with Blood Knot. It's an early play and presents a great challenge.

Logan (LV) - Had you been working in another area of theatre before becoming a director?

Before directing I was a casting director. I had the wonderful privilege to be an Associate in the Casting Department of Goodman Theatre in Chicago, led by the great Adam Belcuore. Learning from Adam and our producer, Steve Scott, (who are both great directors) hands down made me a better director and shaped the course of my career

L to R Chris Genebach , Jason B. McIntosh, and Erica Chamblee in Mosaic Theater's production of A Human Being Died That Night. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Logan- Can you please tell us a little something about A Human Being Died That Night?

In this play you will learn about the many atrocities of Eugene De Kock and the apartheid regime. Atrocities at such horrifying numbers most of us would find unimaginable, unspeakable. These facts will test you. Pumla's commitment year after to year to sit across from Eugene in a maximum-security prison and allow him a voice for his own humanity will also test you. To see Eugene De Kock as an assassin and self proclaimed killer as human and not a monster will test you. But I believe these are the necessary tests I, as the director, our company, and you, as our audience, must wrestle through to expose not only our personal truths, but also humanity's truths around what it truly means to forgive.

Joy- As a director, what was so attractive about Blood Knot?

It's a play that requires great acting. Any piece of good theatre requires that. It's relevant in the way of how we are separated from each other. It asks us to respect the Blood Knot between all of us or we will kill each other.

Logan- What attracted you to A Human Being Died That Night?

I was attracted to how challenging this play would be to direct. This play isn't easy in many ways. It's two people confined to one room and the path into the horrifying atrocities of the Apartheid is endless. The material is dense and challenging. But seeing beyond our comforts and what we know is not easy. It's not supposed to be easy. What the victims and survivors of the Apartheid walked through was not easy. So, I, as a director, and my company of actors wrestled with this story, but I think we came to the end knowing more about ourselves and the possibilities of the human spirit.

What are the similarities between the two plays?

JZ- Both plays are set in South Africa. Pre-and post-Apartheid. Mosaic is interested in social justice. With race relations in our country as they are, there is a metaphor in South Africa. This is a great pairing of a classic play with a modern one.

LV- Beyond the two plays being written by South African playwrights and set in South Africa. I would say the biggest similarity between the two is that both plays examine what can happen when two individuals are confined to a single space and forced to confront things that are scary, unspeakable, and, at times, even unnatural.

Joy- You did a six-month search all over the country for one of the two actors for Blood Knot. Why was the search so intense?

I needed a 40-year-old black man who could be Tom Story's brother and that is not so easy to find. I auditioned all over the country, including Wisconsin. I didn't want to compromise. After all of that, I ended up casting Nathan Hinton from Shakespeare Theatre Company who was taking over in Romeo and Juliet.

Logan- What's the most rewarding thing about directing a new piece like A Human Being Died That Night versus an older play?

What's most rewarding about directing a play like A Human Being Dies That Night verses an older play is that it still sadly speaks to some of the current conditions in South Africa. Survivors of the Apartheid are still struggling to find equal pay and opportunities in their own country. And the oppressors are still thriving. This alone speaks to the necessity of us telling this story now.

Joy- You have almost 50 years of experience behind you as a director. A Human Being Died That Night is directed by Logan Vaughn who is an up-and-coming director. What is the biggest piece of advice you can give to a director just starting out in their theatrical career?

Be passionate. If you don't care about it, don't do it. It doesn't matter what you are going for, be passionate about it.

Special thanks to Mosaic Theater's Director of Marketing & Communications Chase Meachum for his assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.



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