Addison — When we finally reached the first rehearsal of Hit he Wall, I had been officially Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre for six months. I had been in Texas for a total of around three of those six, having been gone to direct or otherwise.
As you know from my previous article, I’ve often felt at sea in my new position in this new place. Starting rehearsal was a huge relief. This is where I am at home: the rehearsal room. This is how I engage with the world, how I express my truth, how I live and breathe my best self. And this is what finally made me start feeling at home at WaterTower Theatre. After six months of navigating a new job, a new place, new people, a new culture, and too much queso; I returned to the place that is my home no matter where I am.
Finding comfort of the creative process holds a bit of irony, because the process of creation is anything but comfortable. At this point in my life, after working on over 100 productions, I realized recently, each one terrifies me, knocks me off my guard, challenges me, and stretches me. I think this might partially be because of how I approach the work. I’m not a director that has a movie in their head of what the play will look like (although I’m always jealous of directors who do), I know what the play will eventually feel like, and I know why it will feel that way. This leaves me very open to the artists with whom I’m collaborating; I serve as a barometer, editor, arc-shaper, lie detector, and opportunity-maker more than the dictatorial-sounding connotation of “director.” I can “direct”; I will, at points, “direct,” but in my experience it is more effective to pull authentic artistic vision from the artists involved, instead of enforcing my outside external ideas of what this production will be.
What the work I do requires, then, are a few crucial things: a ton of preparation, creating an atmosphere where exciting things can happen, an egoless ability to drop and change ideas, and a strong sense of what theatrically “works” and what doesn’t. And while this might sound like the process is rudderless, it is anything but: I am the rudder. I have a sense of where we are headed, even if I don’t know exactly how that will come into focus from the beginning of the trip. So what is comfortable at this point is that I know and expect that the unexpected will happen, and I’m open to the information that is coming at me from actors, designers, the play itself, to inform how I am creating in the room. I trust my ability to shape and edit a creative, collaborative process. And it is this trust I have in myself that allows me to stay open to others.
Every day of our rehearsal process for Hit the Wall was a day of discovery. I can’t think back on one rehearsal that wasn’t creatively invigorating. Ike Holter’s script gives us so much to work with: the poetry, these situations, the history of the event—and some of the most exciting, open-ended stage directions to interpret. Every artist involved in this production has a piece of themselves in it, and no one of those could have switched out and left us with the same results. And that’s what is truly so beautiful to me when I watch the show now, these artists are all beautifully committed to each other and the production in a way that is profound.
And without gushing too sentimentally about the artists of this community, each person who worked on this production was inspiring and brave. I can’t say enough about the incredible band, actors, designers, and technicians that put their whole selves into Hit the Wall. I’m not going to lie, there were moments that were hard. I sometimes did feel like I was directing a play in a foreign country; sometimes the way I talk and think and work challenged others and therefore became a challenge to me. But every person on this production cared more about making it work than being comfortable. And that is a true testament to being an artist.
And now that I’ve gotten my bearings here, working as a director in my own theatre, I think that I can take some of that comfort in the uncomfortable, and apply it more to the rest of my life and work here in Addison. This play is doing many things that are incredibly powerful that I won’t go into now, but what it’s done for me personally has been an inspiring and grounding experience. I feel incredibly lucky to be here, making art in this community, with and for the people of DFW.
» Joanie Schultz was named Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre in December. In April, WaterTower announced the first season selected by her. Hear an extensive interview with her on the Little Big Scene Podcast, here.
» An Artistic Director Prepares runs on the last Friday of the month in TheaterJones. Except for this month; we waited a week after Hit the Wall opened (it was beginning previews on the last Friday of July).