Let's start off with some fun facts! Where are you from? Do you come from an artistic family?
"I grew up right here in Manhattan. Though my mother isn't from New York, she was an actor earlier in her career and had worked on and off Broadway. She was out of the business by the time I was born, but she started taking me to theater at a young age."
How did you know you wanted to get involved in the arts? Is this a dream that stemmed from when you were growing up?
"Growing up in New York, I was fortunate to be exposed to some really high-quality theater at a young age — Broadway and Off-Broadway. I was always performing in the school plays whenever there was an opportunity, and I’ve always been drawn to the stage. I was in four Shakespeare plays by the time I was in eighth grade, while also juggling roles in musicals at the various all-girls’ schools around New York - I was hooked! Like most in this business, I started as an actor, and while I’ve always loved performing, I discovered in high school that I also loved directing and writing. When you direct and write at the high school and college level, you learn to produce by necessity. I’ve essentially kept doing for a living what I always loved doing extracurricularly — I feel very lucky to have been able to keep doing that."
Since you have been credited as a writer, actor, director and producer in several productions, what do you prefer the most? Being on stage or behind the scenes?
"I find that each hat informs the others, and I love straddling different aspects of this industry. Yes, I still love performing, but my focus of late has been on directing and writing. I suppose that’s because what I truly love most is creating something. In many ways, directing is the thread that ties everything else together for me — and it’s where I concentrate most of my time — but it’s hard for me to pick a ‘favorite’ aspect of this business."
We see that you have B.A. in English and Theatre Studies from Yale University, and directed quite a lot of productions during your time there. What was that experience like for you?
"Yale was an incredible playground where I got to direct and perform in over forty different productions, including many of my dream roles and favorite shows. I made it a goal of mine in college to challenge myself in new ways with each production I tackled, and I think that having that opportunity gave me the confidence to enter ‘the real world’ believing that the will to make something happen was truly enough to get started. I also performed with and served as business manager for both the Alley Cats and the Whiffenpoofs, two a-cappella groups that toured around the world; I doubt I will ever have an opportunity to travel like that again."
What were some of your favorite plays/musicals while you were in college? What about today?
"Some of my all-time favorite shows are Sweeney Todd, Parade, and The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, the latter two of which I got to direct and perform in at Yale. I also found a new appreciation for two other shows I acted in at college, Floyd Collins and Assassins. I suppose I’ve often gravitated toward darker material. Then again, some of the first plays I directed were Neil Simon comedies, and my show Applicaton Pending last season was a shameless comedy. Today, what I love most is having a wide range of different projects in development at any given time. I spend most of my time creating and developing new work, and it’s helpful to not be working on too many projects that are alike. As to what else I’ve fallen in love with recently…the show I’ve recommended most highly in the past season (besides Straight, of course!) was Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other – it’s such an incredible play. Aside from Hamilton (which I’ll admit I’ve seen three times already), I’ve also been recommending School of Rock and the current revival of She Loves Me, two shows that kept me smiling long after I left the theater."
Since we are talking about favorite musicals - you are credited as a producer for one of our favorites; the Tony winning musical Hair! Could you tell us a little about your experience working on this show?
"Hair was an incredible experience and an amazing company. Some of my closest friends and most frequent collaborators came from that cast and team — the tribe. I learned a ton and got to work with some truly awesome people. That was a really special production."
You are currently directing STRAIGHT which is now running off-Broadway! What has been the most rewarding outcome of putting on this show for others to see?
"Straight has been a dream experience. I’ve had such a fun time working with this cast, these writers, and everyone on our team. This is a play I’ve been developing for over five years with the authors, so it’s incredibly gratifying to finally be in production. We always knew the play would spark debate and conversation, but I don’t think any of us realized to what extent. Witnessing the audience’s response to this play each night has been really exciting, and hearing almost daily from fans of the show how the play has kept them talking for days and weeks after seeing it has been particularly rewarding. I have a feeling this play is going to get done a lot after the New York run, and I’m excited for the conversations it continues to provoke around the country and around the world for many years to come."
What would you want audiences to gain from seeing a performance of STRAIGHT?
"First and foremost, I always want our audiences to be entertained, because that’s what we’re in this business to do. Beyond that though, the best plays are ones that keep you talking and debating and discussing long after you leave the theater. I knew from the first draft of Straight that it would be one of those plays – a wonderful combination of entertaining and thought-provoking. There’s really nothing more satisfying."
What, in your opinion, is one of the most difficult parts of your role as a director for this specific show?
"This may sound so obvious, but one of the challenges with a play like this is making sure that the actors and I are always focused on telling the story, rather than focusing on the “issues” or the "importance" of those issues. Every line and every moment in this play has to come from a true and honest moment for these three characters; it has to be in their voices, not mine or the authors’. People often ask me who I root for in this play, and my answer is that I root for and against all three of these characters in different ways; I understand what each of them is going through, but I can also find reasons to judge each of them. Fortunately, the authors and I have shared a common vision for this play from the beginning of our collaboration, but with a play this smart that deals with some big ideas, it would have been easy to fall into the trap of over analyzing. My job and the actors’ jobs on Straight have been to tell the story and trust the words, not to preach or sell a message. It can be tempting to try and ‘show off’ as an actor or even as director, but when I think of the other directors whose work I most admire, they are the ones whose fingerprints I don’t necessarily see in every moment, even when I know they’re always present in the work."
If you could describe this show in three words, what would they be?
"Entertaining, Provocative, Vital"