Every time an artistic director at a regional theatre announces they’re stepping down — a frequent occurrence nowadays — I contemplate who I’d personally hire to fill these all-important positions.
These artistic directors will arguably become even more influential in the years to come. Why? Well, there’s the wonderful trend of more and more theatres co-world premiering their commissions of new plays by major young playwrights in conjunction with nonprofit off-Broadway companies, compensating for the treacherous financial terrain facing any new play hoping to be successful on the mercilessly-commercial Great White Way. Unless there’s a big-name star attached — and they usually gravitate towards classic revivals or already-successful playwrights (examples from this season: Steve Martin and House of Cards’ Beau Willimon) — producers rarely take a risk on quality alone.
And since any new play is a gamble on Broadway, more and more playhouses once occupied by limited-engagement plays are now housing original musicals with open-ended runs. The likes of Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away will occupy their theatres for years, which once hosted multiple plays every season. As such, more and more playwrights will now look to other places to provide platforms for their work, which is where the regional sector can help to ensure the national play ecosystem continues to thrive (because anyone following theatre of late knows that we’re low-key living in a golden age of playwriting).
All of this is to explain why I’ve spent way too much time brainstorming who I believe deserves to run some of these regional theatres that can take on these monumental responsibilities.
To justify all of this effort, I’ve decided to share my top candidates here now!
So below is the list of some of my favorite directors working today. For the record, these are not my ABSOLUTE favorites; just the ones that I think would make great artistic directors. And since the current artistic director landscape severely lacks women and people of color, I definitely focused more on rectifying that deficit. Not because it’s morally right, but because these theatres would benefit from being led by a different sort of voice than the majority of regional theatres around the country.
Oh, and they’re also some of the best directors working today, period.
Some of these choices are more realistic than others, which I specify below. There are definitely a few pie-in-the-sky ideas, but why not shoot for the moon?
Oh, and note that I have no way of knowing if any of these people could succeed at some of the more imperative tasks for an artistic director: raising money and just being a good person capable of treating an entire theatre’s worth of people with respect and kindness.
But from a purely artistic standpoint, my experience with their diverse work makes me believe they’d at the very least be able to direct productions of all kinds very much worth seeing.
This list could be never-endingly long — yet another sign of theatre’s healthy state at the moment — and I’m sure I forgot a few that I’ll OBVIOUSLY remember right after publishing this, but I wanted to keep the list somewhat short just to emphasize how much I believe in these directors.
I don’t delve into each of their credits, but that information is easily accessible using the Google machine.
Without further adieu (and in alphabetical order, because no way could I rank such esteemed artists):
An off-Broadway stalwart. She can and has directed ALL types of shows to much success, which I think is important for a regional theatre committed to diverse programming (plays, musicals, revivals, etc. etc. etc.).
The only white man on the list. For some reason he’s consistently underrated by the NYC theatre literati. But to me, he’s just a gorgeous director, once again capable of mounting all kinds of different shows. He’s been around for a while yet has never really broken into the scene in the way he deserves…though that might change if his A Band’s Visit wins the Tony. But who knows — perhaps he’d be interested in a steadier gig?
One of the artistic loves of my life. She can do no wrong (in my eyes). She went from directing a revival of Sweet Charity that FLOORED me to directing Harry Clarke, a new, one-man play that also FLOORED me. From an old-fashioned, large musical to a small and intimate piece; seriously, she can direct anything across the theatrical spectrum, and chances are it’ll be top-tier. I would follow her work anywhere.
This is a HIIIIIGHLY unlikely option because she’s a real up-and-comer whose schedule is probably full of NYC productions for the next few years. But if she wanted a permanent job for whatever reason, convincing her would be a reeeeeal coup for any enterprising theatre. She’s proven that she’s a master at directing ensembles — both in new plays and revivals — which is obviously an important skill when working at a regional theatre. My only hesitation: I’m not sure she’s ever directed a musical…
She of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 fame, which was one of the great directing achievements in recent Broadway history. But lest anyone believe she’s a one-trick pony, she also directed Small Mouth Sounds, one of my favorite productions of a new play in recent memory. Very few can match her ability to transform typical theatres into totally immersive spaces, a phenom-like trend that hasn’t really touched regional theatres yet; all of them should be clamoring to be the first, and you couldn’t have a better captain to steer the ship into these uncharted waters than her. But much like Lila, I’m not sure someone with such a bright future in NYC would want to take a job away from the city. But if she does, that theatre would become the luckiest destination in the country.
I’ve actually worked with her before, so I can vouch for how amazing of a person she is. Truly collaborative and open and just the salt of the Earth. She’s also a fantastic director to boot (thus the reason she won a Tony Award last year for Indecent). The epitome of a seasoned veteran. I also think she’d be interested in the job…
I needed to include at least one anarchic pick, and Mr. O’Hara fits the bill. He’s a self-labeled theatrical provocateur, someone who believes in challenging audiences at every turn. Not sure if that’s what a lot of regional theatres are looking for, but I guarantee they’d become more interesting theatres under his stewardship. He also doubles as an equally-adept playwright, so the theatre could world premiere his plays that I’d imagine the likes of The New York Times would send a critic to review. And even though he’s cutting-edge, he also regularly directs Shakespeare and other musicals, both classic and new.
Probably my least favorite director on this list, but his work is empathic and human and achingly beautiful, traits that audiences would undoubtedly respond to.