Introducing W/D Lab Member… Mary Birnbaum!

mWe continue our 15th Writer/Director Lab with Anna Greenfield’s new play THIS IS GONNA BE GREAT, directed by Mary Birnbaum. This interview with Mary continues a series of interviews with the participants of this year’s Lab. Come and join us the reading at Access Theater, April 29 at 7PM.
1. Briefly tell us about THIS IS GONNA BE GREAT?

THIS IS GONNA BE GREAT is the tragicomedy of one girl’s adolescence and the negotiation of her changing relationship with her tightly (too tightly?) knit family. It’s a raw, maudlin orgy of hormones, so my thinking is that we want to go big, wacky, fast and funny in performance without ever losing a sense that this is really how these people feel and express themselves. I want to make sure the performativity of each character is borne from her/his necessity of trying to communicate or figure out WHO they are within the context of this time of change. 

2. What part of the Writer/Director Lab process was the most instructive and entertaining? How are the directors utilized?
It is a crazy instructive experience to bear witness to the very different processes of five very different writers. In the lab, everyone has to commit to the unfolding mystery, structure, characters and world of each piece and it has been seriously entertaining to see these seeds of ideas take form as each playwright goes about massaging out the story she/he wants to tell. Also, tremendously instructive and entertaining to hear Ken and Jenny and my labmates discuss the work, they are brilliant and hilarious. 
In addition to bringing our brains and hearts to the table, in January the directors presented staged snippets of our plays. I think every team learned something about their play; for me, it was about figuring out characters, relationships and tone of the world Anna is creating. 
3. How do you think the Lab will influence your future work?
The easy answer: I have just met some truly excellent collaborators who I am excited to work with in the future.  
The harder answer: My respect for detail and the care that is taken on each word has increased exponentially.  I think I have become more literal in the lab; the essential task is to tell stories, and our job as directors is to help those stories be the most compelling/full/specific they can be, and a lot of times that hinges on their detail. Through our discussions, it has become apparent that there are a million different ways to talk about a play and a story; I think in the future I will be able to be much more flexible in my communication with writers.
4. It’s the 15th anniversary of the Lab! Looking back over the history, which plays that have come out of the Lab are you inspired by and why?
I am looking on the website and I cannot believe how many plays I have read/seen/loved that have come from the lab. CREATURE, MARIE ANTOINETTE, WELCOME TO JESUS, 4,000 MILES, TAKARAZUKA! the list goes on and on. The list of artists who have participated in the lab is insane, and I feel honored to be among them.  Also, the plays that we are making now are so inspiring. 
5. Do you have any advice for emerging young freelance directors?
See as much other art as possible. It’s very easy to get sucked in to just seeing a show every day of the week (how lucky are we to live in New York?) but to have a real conversation with the culture, it’s imperative that theater artists continue pushing the boundaries and engaging with mediums outside of our own. Also, work with people who are scary to you because they are so voracious, brave, committed. If there’s a conflict in rehearsal, you know real work is happening because people have strong opinions and feelings invested. That’s the point of rehearsal, to all get in the same play. 

Mary Birnbaum is a NYC-based theater and opera director. After getting her AB in English Language and Literature from Harvard, she attended Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris where she studied movement and design and began to devise theatre. In 2009, Mary founded Art Party and as Artistic Director has created original pieces in collaboration with Flux Factory, The Foundry, American Opera Projects, the New Museum and Bryant Park. In 2010, Mary joined the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at Juilliard as its inaugural directing fellow and is now the Associate Director of the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program where she teaches acting for singers and directs undergraduate and graduate students in various operas. Mary was selected to be a member of the 2012-3 Soho Rep. Writers/Directors Lab and the New Georges Jam. She also has assisted director Stephen Wadsworth in opera and theater at the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe, Seattle Opera and on Broadway at Manhattan Theater Club. In the summer of 2013, she will  associate direct SIEGFRIED and DIE WALKURE for Stephen Wadsworth’s Ring Cycle at Seattle Opera.www.marybirnbaum.com

THIS IS GONNA BE GREAT will be read at ACCESS THEATER, 380 Broadway (at White Street). 7PM Start! 

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