Although a goodly number of directing slots at Washington area theaters are filled by companies’ own artistic directors, there isn’t a deeply staffed bullpen of truly gifted freelance directors who live here. Stars such as adapter-director Aaron Posner, and Jeremy Skidmore, the former head of Theatre Alliance who now runs a talent agency, are exceptions. Other skilled helmsmen, such as Jerry Whiddon (once of Round House Theatre), John Vreeke, and Keith Alan Baker and Serge Seiden (the latter two longtime administrators at Studio Theatre), fill a few additional slots each year.
This leads many organizations to canvas far beyond the Capital Beltway for directorial timber and why directors, even more than actors these days, have to keep a packed suitcase by the door.
The trend itself is not new; cities across the country with big theatrical ambitions have been importing and lending out their directors for years.
(To underline the pendulum swing: Molly Smith, Arena’s artistic director, recently staged “My Fair Lady” at the Shaw Festival in Canada; Eric Schaeffer, longtime leader of Signature Theatre, presided over “Million Dollar Quartet” in Chicago, then New York; and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Michael Kahn directed the Gounod opera “Romeo et Juliette” in Houston.)
What’s different this fall in the Washington area is the convergence of major directorial players. Among the guest directors are a Tony winner (Robert Falls, directing the local premiere of “Red” at Arena Stage), as well as a bevy of veterans who’ve run some of the nation’s best-known regional theaters. Ott, who was artistic director of Seattle Rep and Berkeley Rep, is staging a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” for Round House Theatre; Lewis, until recently artistic director of CenterStage in Baltimore, is guiding the cast of Arena’s revival of Alice Childress’s “Trouble in Mind.” And Broadway-tested Nicholas Martin, who headed the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, will be at Arena to direct Amy Freed’s fractured historical comedy “You, Nero.”
At Studio Theatre, the recently installed artistic director, David Muse, seems to be in a hunt for fresh faces in the director’s chair. Alongside Posner (with “Lungs”), Seiden (“The Golden Dragon”) and Muse himself (“The Habit of Art”), Studio is giving opportunities in the first half of the season to a pair of directors who have not previously staged shows in the area. Narver, who has worked largely in Seattle, will direct Lauren Weedman in her solo show “Bust,” about working in a California prison, and New York-based Susan Fenichell is director of Studio’s “Time Stands Still,” a drama by Donald Margulies about the psychological and physical toll of the Iraq war on an American photographer.