When people ask how I got into directing theater, my response always floors them: I directed my first play, Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, at the tender age of 14.
I had no ambition to direct at the time. It was something that adults did—knowledgeable theater professionals bestowing their expertise on kids like me. It was Stephen Stearns, founder of New England Youth Theater, who introduced the (insane?) idea to select a play for me, give me the keys to the space, and let me direct my teenaged peers unsupervised for two weeks in the summer of 1998.
I don’t remember receiving any “directing lessons” from Stephen that summer. Instead what I received was the implicit trust that I could succeed if I took the initiative to lead, encourage, and experiment with some of my very best NEYT friends.
That experience was instrumental in shaping most of my ideas around my craft. I always try to treat the art of directing like an unbelievable, unexpected privilege: one in which I can coax adults into playing like they did as children; one in which I’m surrounded by collaborators whose ideas can make my project exponentially better than if I were alone; one in which the fear of failure dissipates no matter how big the risk.
Since that summer, Stephen Stearns and NEYT continued to help me grow as a director. They’ve employed me for their summer programs, provided space for alumni productions, and even granted me scholarship funding to pursue further training. A two-time May Award recipient, this year I graduated with an MFA in Directing from Ohio University, and moved to New York City to continue my theatrical career.
The friends I made as a student at NEYT, as well as the students I taught years ago in summer programs, are now some of my most frequent and favorite collaborators. When it comes to experience with heightened language, vocal training, and comedic instincts, NEYT actors bring a trusty, solid foundation to both the stage and the rehearsal room. But there’s something even deeper there as well: a sense of pure joy and enthusiasm that gives the final product an enchanting, endearing quality that isn’t easy to find in the professional theater world.
NEYT empowers young people to take big risks, embrace failure as part of the learning process, and use their successes to build confidence. The values it imparted in me then are vital aspects of my work today: trust, respect, consideration, and empathy, for your collaborators, for your community, for the characters in your story. These values remain central to the NEYT experience today.
NEYT gave me the opportunity to explore the heights of my potential. When Stephen Stearns handed me a commedia dell’arte classic to direct at 14, I never thought to question whether or not I was capable or experienced enough to do so. It simply sparked my imagination, made me wonder what could be possible, and encouraged me to attempt it. This is the attitude we desperately need from future generations. When they imagine a future for themselves, I hope they don’t get bogged down questioning their own capabilities. I hope they pursue their dreams with the self-assurance that was instilled in me and my peers as the founding class of NEYT.