Doug Oliphant

Doug Oliphant

Directors Lab West 2011, Days 7-8

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LA STAGE Times has been covering Directors Lab West 2011 with reports from DLW production coordinator Doug Oliphant.  Click here to view all DLW 2011 updates.

Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18

Directors Lab West Sessions 2011

Each year the Lab chooses a theme around which all its sessions are based and a play around which many group workshops are organized. For 2011 the theme is “Exploring the Bigger Picture”Â and the play The Good Person of Szechwan.

Self-Promoting Without Annoying Your Friends

“It’s “˜Darwin-esque’ ““ shows that are crappy will die.” ““ Jon Armstrong, producer Hollywood Fringe

Jon Armstrong and Meghan McCauley from the Hollywood Fringe Festival started off Day 7, speaking on the Fringe and how it works.  Many of our labbies are from out-of-town and had a handful of questions on how LA’s Fringe is run.  Armstrong spoke of how this Fringe is modeled after the original Edinburgh Fringe, which was created in response to artists’ work being rejected from the city’s mainstream arts festival.  For this reason, HFF isn’t curated.

HelpfulAnnoying Comparison by Cindy Marie Jenkins for her Workshop on Effective Social Media

Social media expert extraordinaire Cindy Marie Jenkins then followed with her tricks-of-the-trade discussion about the most effective ways to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and personal websites.  Facebook, Jenkins claimed, is an important tool to get word out to friends of the projects you’re working on.  It’s free marketing, very easy to use, update and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not taking advantage of it as a resource.  Twitter, while not as popular as Facebook, is easy to use and the mass audience you can reach on it, when tweeting about a current project of yours, is incredibly powerful. LinkedIn serves as a professional e-resume.  If Facebook is to keep in touch with your friends, LinkedIn is to keep in touch with your current employers and stay open to future ones.  There’s less need for frequent updating on LinkedIn, so simply joining it and making sure your online resume is up-to-date is all you need to do.

Finally, a personal website should serve as the central hub for all your information.  Social media sites should redirect people to your personal website so they can get all the most current and in-depth information there. Your personal website is what you want the first search result to be when someone Googles your name, as it should offer the most up-to-date view into who you are.  Fewer than half of our labbies use these sites to their full potential (according to the hand-raising poll Jenkins took), and many felt overwhelmed by the idea of having to manage everything.  Jenkins reassured the group that while you don’t have to use any of these, it’s wise to try””or if it’s just not for you, have a friend help you, because without an online presence you’re invisible to the e-world.

Who the Hell Are You?!

“I got obsessed with Chekhov. I have a tattoo of a seagull I swear. He’s my boy.” ““ Erin Daley DLW “˜11

Lab Participant Dylan Levers Reveals his Identity in the Session 'Who the Hell Are You!'

Finally, after seven painful days when no one knew who the most important person in the room was, the directors were allowed two minutes to share with the group who the hell they are.  That could be done through reciting your bio, sharing the kinds of theater you’re drawn to, singing a song, or anything else that expressed who you are.  I was the evil timekeeper and would stop people if they went over their two-minute time limit, though most people were pretty good about staying within their allotted time.  Standouts of the session included Lab attendee Ryder Thornton sharing that he has a keen interest in cooking, Rich Martinez revealing that he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals when he was 18, and Tom Beyer’s greater love for his own cat than for any other human being.  As informative as this session may have been, most people managed to find out about each other throughout the week in between sessions, during lunch and dinner breaks, or after the day concluded at the bar.  Either way, it was nice to hear everyone take a moment in the spotlight and learn a bit more about one another.

Dance Where the Music Takes You

“I love editing. Most of it needs to be thrown out in the end.”Â  – Heidi Duckler

Participants Nick Olivero and Jenny Mercein Share their Devised Chair Dances

Engaging the directors visually and physically, Heidi Duckler led the group through videos of her dance company’s work and got everyone up and dancing on their own.  Duckler’s choreography is difficult to define. Lucky for me her website states her company’s mission statement, “Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (HDDT) creates ephemeral contemporary art experiences in extraordinary places that boldly redefine the relationship between audience and art. Through cultivating innovative collaborations with artists, arts organizations and local communities, HDDT brings meaningful interdisciplinary dance to new audiences throughout Los Angeles and the world.” One of the most memorable pieces Duckler showed us was Laundromatinee, a show that toured laundromats around the country.  Dancers would move on washers and driers in their underwear, creating beautiful images with the machines, finding comedic moments along the way and breaking the confines of the traditional, “5,6,7,8″ dance format.  Another piece set on public scaffolding at sunset proved to be equally inspiring, and reminded me of parkour, a movement technique I’m fascinated with that’s based on the idea of traveling from A to B in the quickest and most efficient path, which may involve navigating scaffolding if you so happen to come across it.  Duckler concluded the session by asking the directors to create their own dance using their chairs.  Lab participants Nick Olivero, Jenny Mercein and Tracy Woodward shared their pieces and we observed the natural beauty that’s possible to create by simply moving with a chair.


“Sometimes I need to yell. You just happen to be there.” ““ Boston in “Twist”

We ended our penultimate day by seeing a preview performance of the new musical Twist at home at the Pasadena Playhouse.  This new musical is based on the Dickens story of Oliver Twist and is reimagined for a multi-ethnic cast, adopting themes that make the story more relevant to our society today.  Director/Choreographer Debbie Allen has created dazzling choreography that brings the show to life.  The show continues previews for another week before opening on Tuesday, June 28.  We were lucky enough to have a talkback with producer Forbes Candlish who gave us some insight into the history of the show and where it could go from here.  He spoke about the business in general, questioned why we all wanted to pursue this career and joked about the things you’d have to do to get out of it.  A veteran of the theater world, Candlish shared his experience with moving shows to Broadway and the wild ride shows take before they end up on the big stage.

All about the Playwright

“Once a marine, always a marine. But once a playwright, though, not always a playwright.”

““ Todd London, New Dramatists

Todd London of New Dramatists with Moderator Kappy Kilburn

Our final day started in an exciting session with Todd London of NYC’s New Dramatists.  He spoke of the importance of playwrights and directors’ relationships with the current playwrights in their cities.  Not wanting to repeat his speech he gave at the TCG Conference, London opened up for questions early on and allowed a dialogue to exist between him and the Lab participants.  He encouraged everyone to check out the library of plays at New Dramatists, as a rewarding way to discover new works by today’s leading playwrights.  Being the head of one of the nation’s leading new play development programs, London is both an extremely valuable resource for directors looking to develop new work and an influential figure as he’s overseeing the playwrights who go through New Dramatists program.  We were extremely grateful to have him with us, and his session left our NYC directors eager to return and spend hours taking advantage of the library’s resources.

The “˜Bigger’ Word Begins

“Maybe we are wrong to believe in our leaders because our leaders are wrong to believe in us.” ““ Sekou Andrews

I remember being excited for this session before I knew anything more than it being a session with two talented spoken word performers.  I shared my excitement with one of the Lab participants, who had an uninterested response, claiming to have seen spoken word and to know what it was all about and that it simply wasn’t his cup of tea.  That same person approached Steven Connell and Sekou Andrews after their session to thank them for changing his perspective and inspiring him through the possibilities of spoken word theater.  And for me, this session was everything and more I could have hoped for.  Truly gifted performers, brilliant poets and truthful actors, Connell and Andrews captivated me and the rest of our Lab each time they performed segments from their Radar LA show The Word Begins.  Re-occurring themes of childhood dreams (I can almost rhyme as well as they do!) were the focal points of their contrasting poems.  In between performances they talked about how they met, were inspired by each other’s work and dreamed of getting their poems to reach a larger audience through some kind of theatrical means.  They began working with director Robert Egan who helped them turn open-mic night poetry into material that might appeal to nonprofit theaters.  One of the biggest issues the big theaters have with the show is that they don’t know how to market it””while many believe the content and the show to be a great addition to their season, they commonly give the excuse, “If such-and-such a theater will do it, then we will too”.  Surprisingly, they said, the hip-hop-influenced show appeals to both young and old audiences.  Connell and Andrews described how the ladies with walkers were the first to jump out of their seats and give standing ovations when they’ve toured the show.  I can see why””the journey they take us through is mesmerizing. I didn’t expect to be so caught up in their performance, but their beautiful words, passionate performances and clear journey kept me wanting more and left me tired from laughing but with eyes brimming with tears.

Broadway Talk

“It’s not enough if it is just okay.”- Ted Rawlins

Ken Sawyer Speaks to the Lab along with Ted Rawlins, Paris Barclay and Moderator Che'Rae Adams

Only a panel with Broadway on its mind could properly follow an act such as that by Connell and Andrews.  Directors Lab West alum Ken Sawyer (DLW ’02) spoke about a show he helped develop that is now on its way to Broadway.  He was joined by his sometime colleagues and Broadway veterans, director Paris Barclay and producer Ted Rawlins (who co-produced  Broadway’s recent Million Dollar Quartet).

The process behind a Broadway musical is always fascinating, but rather than repeat what we learned from Twist producer Forbes Candlish, the discussion turned practical as the panelists described how their working relationship came to be. Barclay has been an industry-leading director and producer in both theater and television for many years now, and one day several years ago was sent a blind invitation by Sawyer to see a play he directed at a small theater in Los Angeles.  On a whim, Barclay attended and was extremely impressed with Sawyer’s work.  Rawlins was also impressed after Barclay invited him to see Sawyer’s work.  Sawyer followed up, expressing interest in directing a new play that Barclay and Rawlins were producing, but unfortunately did not get the job.  The play had another life in another theater and Sawyer followed up again, but once again did not get the job.  Finally, a third production was set to happen, and Barclay and Rawlins hired Sawyer.  He delivered the best production of the show (One Red Flower) yet and the trio has since gone on to have many successful collaborations.  Moral of the story?  Be persistent, make the best 99-seat theater work you can make, and don’t be afraid to make that phone call or send that email.

Radar LA

Closing out our Lab we collectively attended the Radar LA show Neva at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles.  Created by the Chilean theater company Teatro en el Blanco, Neva was a show spoken entirely in Spanish with English supertitles about three actors in Russia.  The show was remarkably simple, taking place almost entirely on a small rectangular platform that contained a space heater (doubling as the only source of light for the show), an arm chair, and a few simple props.  The actor’s passionate performances were clear despite the language barrier, and one monologue in particular stood out as it brought the show to a close.  Both a sad and comic play, Neva was a great closing show for our Lab to see, giving us broader insight into another culture.

As our evening came to a close, sad farewells were bid to one another as Lab attendees said goodbye and shared some last laughs over drinks at the REDCAT lounge.  It was a fantastic week, filled with inspiration and new-found friends, connections to artists across the country and a deeper appreciation of what theater in Los Angeles has to offer.  We are extremely grateful to the Pasadena Playhouse for hosting, and each guest artist’s generosity for volunteering time to speak with us.  As a major advocate for the Lab, I hope that my blogs have helped pique any director’s interest in applying next year.  Follow us on Twitter (, hashtag #DirLabW), friend us on Facebook (, and stay tuned to our website ( for more information on Directors Lab West 2012.

Directors Lab West is a forum that brings theater directors together with peers and seasoned professionals for an opportunity to collaborate and grow together as artists. Directors Lab West is modeled after the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York City. Like its NY counterpart, the Lab is a series of discussions, working sessions, panels and symposia with some of the nation’s and region’s leading directors, playwrights, designers and other theater practitioners.