Saturday, 26 November 2011

Jackson Gay

Jackson is a New York City director. She is on faculty at the New York Film Academy and Primary Stages ESPA School of Theater. She holds an MFA in Directing from Yale School of Drama.  Jackson is the recipient of the Jonathan Alper Directing Fellowship at Manhattan Theatre Club, the Williamstown Theater Festival Directing Fellowship and the Drama League's New Directors/New Works Fellowship. She has directed for the Atlantic Theater Company, Alley Theater, Second Stage Uptown, Goodman Theater and Playwrights Horizon.

Jackson will be leading a workshop, ‘Playwright/Director Collaboration’ at Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia on Dec 7th and and Dec 14th 2011.  For more info on how to join the course please visit

Jackson Gay
Fri Oct 28th 2011
New York, 1pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a small production company, that does film, TV and theatre.  And we’re working on a new musical by book writer/lyricist Cheri Magid and composer Evan Palazzo.  It started off as an idea for a screenplay and we all decided it would make a great musical. It’s called First Lady of Christmas and tells the story of Dorothy Shaver, the first president of Lord and Taylor and a major advocate of American designers during the Depression. Sarah Lawrence College here in NY, offered to let us develop and produce it with their students.  Sarah Lawrence has a fantastic theater program and Christine Farrell and Robert Lyons of SLC have been incredibly supportive. As we speak, we are putting it up on its feet and it opens Nov 17th.

Can you tell us a bit about your faculty roles at the NY Film academy (NYFA) and Primary Stages?

At NYFA, I have taught script analysis and acting for film.  At Primary Stages, where I teach the most, I teach scene study, monologue classes, dramaturgy and film producing.  I taught a class devoted to (Bertolt) Brecht and one devoted to Tennessee Williams.  I teach different classes there depending on what the students are wanting at any given semester.  All classes are focused on contemporary work--writers that are emerging onto the theatrical scene and writers who are being produced at this moment in time.

Who or what inspires you?

I have a six year old daughter, Lola, and she’s a big inspiration to me.  I grew up in Texas in a much stricter, fundamental christian upbringing, where we really were told, to be seen but not heard kind of thing and, thankfully, Lola is having a completely different childhood.  My number one joy is seeing her become a strong, spunky young woman. She inspires me because she encourages me to continue to do the same thing and follow my passions.  And she makes me laugh, a lot. The person who has inspired me most in my artistic life is the director Paul Berman.  He is the first person who really honed in on me as a director and pushed me to go for it.  He introduced me to Beckett, Chekhov, Witkiewicz, Muller, Kroetz- writers that continue to have a huge influence on me.  Paul Berman continues to be someone who I turn to and I guess I still seek his approval in many ways, if you know what I mean...

What is your directing approach or style?

I started off as an actor, so I consider myself an actor’s director.  My approach is text based.  I tend to start and finish there.   I try to look at the script in terms of what they are doing, what is the action?  Focus on that and everything else will come out of that.   I love discovering things with the playwright, actors and designers.  Which is why I love working on new plays, because no one really knows completely yet and I like that part of it, figuring it all out together. 

What advice would you give to a director starting out in their career?

I know so many people that didn’t go to grad school, or college actually, that are doing extremely well and are fulfilled artistically and having a great artistic life.  For me, I don’t know how I could’ve done it without going to grad school.  Because I came from Texas and didn’t know anyone on the East coast, it was a way to actually get to work and meet people.  A great way in, is to make contacts with directors that are working in the industry and ask them if you can assist.  And not just assisting on one particular production, because a lot of times you’ll run into problems because the theatre has somebody they want you to use, or that sort of thing.  But to actually ask if you can assist that artist.  Directors do a lot at once and have many balls in the air.  I feel like people can get a lot from from seeing what’s involved in a complete way, doing a lot of different projects at once.  I have assistants I have absolutely recommended for things and that’s how it happens.  People recommended me for things and that’s how I got my foot in the door.  I try to not forget that.

Doing good work is number one.  Doing good work is going to get you more work.  And number two, is who you know.  Some of it you can control and some of it you can’t.  But what you can control is being your own advocate, and inviting playwrights to coffee, assisting directors.  What you can’t control, let it go.  Let it go and do good work.

You are teaching a course soon for PlayPenn.   What is one thing you can give us as an insight to a good playwright/director relationship?

Number one is making sure, before you get into the rehearsal room, that you know what each other’s expectations are and what the playwright wants, what they’re going for.  There are many ways to accomplish that prior to the first rehearsal.  Like having the playwright read the play out loud to you.  That’s an incredibly helpful tool- it’s stunning how much you learn from he or she reading it out loud.  The way they say lines, the tone they have, the beats they take etc etc.  There are so many things you learn without having the playwright tell you anything.  It will keep you from huge amounts of misery and miscommunication.

Dream projects?

I directed this play for my thesis production at Yale, but I have always wanted to direct it with age appropriate actors.  Three Sisters.  Really, I would love to work on any Chekhov play.

Final question.  Is the director dead?


Thanks Jackson for sharing your thoughts!

“Words shouldn't be faster than the thought. Only the thought creates reality.”
 Liviu Ciulei

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