Professionals Week was one of the most exhilarating, edifying, rewarding, exhausting weeks of my life.
Everyday from 10:00 am to post-show drinks o’clock, we were perfectly and meticulously scheduled to meet with the theatre industry’s best and brightest. My strengths and my weaknesses were put in a pressure cooker…. only its a supportive, encouraging, pressure cooker that feels like a family you’re incredibly proud to be a part of.
Professionals Week week was 5 days spanning Monday, May 16 thru Saturday, May 21st (with the epic Drama League Awards sandwiched in there).
Now, if you’ve ever met me, you’ll quickly gather that I’m an energetic human being. And yet, even I was so exhausted by Wednesday night that I fell asleep, in my party dress, on top of a pile of Playbills …a devoted homage to the end of Diane Paulus’ Broadway revival of Hair.
We spend every day meeting with Tony Award-winning designers (Beowulf Boritt), directors (Diane Paulus), actors (Judith Light), producers (Jack Viertel) - and every meeting was a unique opportunity to start a dialogue and hopefully even build a relationship. We were asked to come in with specific questions tailed to the professionals to whom we were being introduced. So, how do you do that?
Jennifer Ashley Tepper has given me excellent advice on numerous occasions, but one of my favorite pieces of #Jenvice was last year when I going to have coffee with my hero and guiding light, the great Susan Stroman. I expressed to Tepper my fear of being just another Stromaniac. I wanted to be special and memorable. I wanted to ask the most unique question Stro has ever heard that would make her say, “Ilana, I think you’re my spirit animal. Please be my protege and also have I mentioned that you possess the grace of 10,000 swans?”
Sometimes I put a lot of pressure on myself. Anyway, Tepper, who has interviewed everyone and everything influential in musical theatre for her book series, Untold Stories of Broadway (Volumes 1-3, Vol 3 on sale this November 2016!) offered me this jewel: watch some interviews with Stroman and then ask the question I wish the moderator would ask next.
Brilliant, Jen!! 100 points to Gryffindor!! You have no idea how much you helped me out during Professionals Week.
I also noticed that I grew ridiculously and inexplicably attached to the other fellows during Professionals week. Directing can be an isolating profession - we don’t get to meet many other directors. When we do, it can feel competitive and frenemish…. but I was a heartbeat away from getting tattoos of my fellow-Fellows’ headshots.
I’m obsessed with them. I love them all so much. They’re all so ridiculously smart and in such different ways. Chloe has this amazing panoramic insight. Drew possesses this unique, driving intellect. You just know Katie is ridiculously smart. Sean is concise and pragmatic. Jesca is thoughtful and inquisitive. Sara has this infectious, enthusiastic intelligence. Noa is one of those people you just trust, instantly. I adore James' disposition and sense of humor. Candis is my girl and got a Lily Award the day after Professionals week like it was no big deal. Yavor hails from Bulgaria and provided this incredible worldly insight that put some of my American-theatre-qualms into a refreshingly different perspective.
I could go on… But I won’t. All I can say is that I am so excited to cheer on every single one of them for the rest of their very promising careers - and I’m beyond honored to be in a class with them.
One of the most important things I learned that week was more of a coming-to-terms-with: I love big, splashy, dark musical comedy. I love Broadway musicals - and I'm allowed to be proud of that. Big musicals aren’t any more or less important than the devised political theatre happening in a church basement downtown. Broadway musicals have the potential to touch so many people, and I’m allowed to love them with all my heart because I fucking do love them with all my heart. And I’m grateful that my directorial forte aligns with my passion.
I have more musings on the playwright-director relationship dynamic and I’m looking forward to writing about that soon. I’m also SO SO SO excited to return to Signature Theatre in DC this August to assist Joe Calarco on the development of two new musicals. I interned at Signature Theatre 4 years ago and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.