2015 Salon: Q&A with Panelist Rachel Chavkin

The Salon is underway, and we’re kicking off next week with a Directors’ Roundtable on Tuesday, March 17th at 7pm for a peer-led discussion by the Curators about how we can create our own opportunities as directors, and what kind of challenges we face in doing so. The Roundtable will act as a precursor to our Q&A Panel on Wednesday, March 18th with professional directors Rachel Chavkin, Alec Duffy, and Daniel Jáquez – directors who we feel have successfully forged their own paths in very different ways. 

We had the pleasure of asking Rachel Chavkin – the founding Artistic Director of the TEAM as well as a constantly-working freelance director of new plays and musicals – a few questions about her work and her advice for emerging directors. Join us on March 18th to be able to ask her your own questions!

Q. You are one of the founding artists of the TEAM – how has this experience in leading and creating work with this ensemble allowed you to expand the artistic opportunities you seek out as a freelance director?

A. I am constantly bouncing back and forth between being a “generative” and “interpretive” artist – and it means that I’ve been empowered to make my own employment (tho that comes with the torrential stress also of then fundraising etc. as well as nervousness about not making the budget goal).

If there’s something I want to exist in the world, for example an adaptation of this Mac Wellman novel Annie Salem that I’ve loved for over 10 years, then I have the skills to not just seek out collaborators, but also work to line up developmental and producing partners. My work with the TEAM also has served as a relatively clear aesthetic signal to the world about SOME of the kind of work I am interested in, and so it’s meant that as a freelance director I’m often getting approached by projects that are political or epic in scope, or maybe want a messiness or bit of chaos.

2015 Salon Panelist Rachel Chavkin

2015 Salon Panelist Rachel Chavkin

Q. What are some ways in which emerging directors can create their own opportunities?

A. Personally write every single human you know who MIGHT have $10 or $20 to give you, and tell them what you wanna make and why they should support you. It’s not that easy, but it kind of is that clear. So there needs to be a vision, and that needs to include a possible path, or 3 possible paths, to achieving the FIRST step of your vision.

Q. Thinking of your trajectory as a director and artist- what is the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received?

A. That assistant directing (by this certain point) was just avoiding the crisis of my own rehearsal room. (Anne Bogart).

Q. What relationships related to the field of theater are the most valuable for emerging directors to cultivate?

A. All of them? You have to have a relationship to your colleagues. Those are my favorite relationships – with other directors or other ensembles. “What are they UP to?”

You should know what playwrights you’re digging, so seeing as much as possible and talking to people whose work you love – even just to say, that was awesome.

Also you are a citizen of this world so you should be seeing as much work as possible to support on that front. I’m happiest being at the theatre like 5 or 6 nights a week. When I couldn’t afford it I ushered or volunteered or did rush or was just seeing the work of other emerging artists for almost nothing. And of course it’s not always possible now with family/home time or work and being in tech or previews yourself.

But yeah, I think for emerging directors getting to know your colleagues and fellow travelers alongside assisting on work and getting to know people one or two steps ahead of you are the biggest things. I wouldn’t sweat agents or producers or artistic directors at that stage – I got to know people at institutions as the work demanded it and the meetings eventually were invited.

Q. What resources exist in NYC that you recommend to emerging directors?

A. First and foremost the Drama League Directors Project, and the SDCF (Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation) Observership Program. SDC in general is awesome and so ready to talk or work with you one on one. And the Drama League is the number one fellowship, I think, for emerging directors. I did the Summer Fellowship in 2004.

Then the Field. Fractured Atlas. ART/NY. All three are service and advocacy organizations for emerging artists and ensembles or companies to apply for grants.

Intern or volunteer at New Dramatists. And then there’s ALL the hubs for new work-in-process – the Catch series, Fresh Ground Pepper, PS122’s Avant-Garde-Arama, and all the reading series, The Lark, The Bushwick Starr, Little Theater at Dixon Place. I’m sure I’m missing a ton of them, because new ones are constantly emerging with each new generation of artists as they need space to make.

Rachel Chavkin will be a panelist at the 2015 Directors Salon Q&A Panel along with Alec Duffy and Daniel Jáquez on Wednesday, March 18th at 7pm at The Wild Project. Admission is FREE! Visit us on Facebook to RSVP and learn more about the rest of the lineup for The 5th Anniversary Directors Salon.

RACHEL CHAVKIN is a director/dramaturg/writer, and the Artistic Director of Brooklyn-based ensemble the TEAM. Four time winners of the Edinburgh Fringe First, winner of the 2011 Herald Angel, the 2011 EIF Fringe Prize, and ranked Best of 2013 on three continents, the TEAM has worked with institutions all over New York, nationally and internationally. In addition to her work with the TEAM, Rachel collaborates regularly with writers and composers on new work. Recent projects include Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds (World Premiere: Ars Nova); Dave Malloy’s immersively staged electro-pop opera Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812; storyteller James Monaco and composer Jerome Ellis’ collaboration Aaron/Marie; and repeat collaborations with playwright/performer/activist Taylor Mac. Rachel is a two-time Obie Winner, and was nominated as Best Director for both the Drama Desk and Lortel Awards for her work on Great Comet. Upcoming work includes multiple projects with Dave Malloy, adapting folk singer Anais Mitchell’s album Hadestown, a theatrical concert adaption of Mac Wellman’s intergalactic Ohio-based novel Annie Salem in collaboration with composer Heather Christian, and the TEAM’s multigenerational cover band project, Primer for a Failed Superpower.


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