Introducing W/D Lab Member… Zi Alikhan

Director and protege: Zi Alikhan

We continue this year’s Writer/Director Lab Reading Series on May 9th with Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill by Stephanie del Rosso, and directed by Zi Alikhan. Here are some thoughtful answers from Zi about his life as a director and the interesting things he has pursued previously.

1. Briefly tell us about the play you are directing for The Lab.

ZA: To me, Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill is about exploring true emptiness for the first time, an emptiness that isn’t immediately refillable, evaluating its resonance in your person, and deciding if and how you process it. Steph has this distinct gift of finding poetry and lyricism in the ugliest of everyday human interactions, which makes her people and their situations at the same time instantly recognizable and highly theatrical. 

 2. Who – or what – are the greatest influences on your directing?

ZA: I went to school for sociology before I went to school for theatre, so I’m a huge nerd for people who study people and the books they write. I tend to dive into a ton of this kind of research, especially ethnographies when I can get them, when starting to dream up a world.

Directing-wise, I find myself in awe of people I call ‘theatrical alchemists’, directors who turn ordinary objects, space, and conversations into experiences that feel like magic. Lear DeBessonet, Sarah Benson, Ivo van Hove, John Tiffany. 

And also probably my mom.

3. What part of the Writer/Director Lab process was the most instructive and entertaining?

ZA: Many people will tell you that directing is the most solitary discipline in the theatre; it’s not often that directors get to spend time with other directors and examine a play from the collection of their individual perspectives. The four directors in the Lab this year come from wildly different experience and have hugely disparate interests, so it’s been a whole new education getting to soak in the wealth of knowledge that is Mike, Tiffany, and Jaki (and on top of THAT, our incredible writers and mentors).

As far as entertaining, it would either be trapping Tony [Meneses] in a bathroom stall during my Director Project or listening to Ken say ‘La Jeté‘…that got me every time.
The Director Project Zi refers to is the halfway point during the Lab process when the directors show 15-20 minutes of the play they are working on, with actors, script-in-hand. -Ed.]

 4. How have your dramaturgical skills developed over the course of the past nine months?

ZA: A director I really admire was asking me about this experience a few weeks ago, and the thing I was able to zero in on for her was how my time in the Lab has developed a much greater sensitivity in me as a collaborator. Even in the work I’ve done while in the Lab, I’ve found myself a better listener, more interested in interpreting the voices in the room in conversation with my own (feelings, right?). 

I was talking to Jacob just last night about the relationship playwrights cultivate with their plays, how it becomes something between a baby and a boyfriend to them over the course of their creating it. Directors rarely get to witness the moment of inception, where the idea first comes out of the brains of a writer and onto paper, and cultivating and nurturing that moment has been the primary focus of the Lab this year. Because of that, we’ve paid witness to the entire gestation process of each play, and have heard every word that maybe didn’t quite fit, marveled at every triumph, and seen just how intimate and revealing a process it is to make one of these things as a writer. I feel like our jobs as directors through this process has almost been to serve as both historians and godparents to these plays, keeping track of the ups and downs for use in later conversations and rehearsal, and eventually babysitting it on a Monday night in May. 

5. The Lab has produced some pretty great plays. Looking over them, do any stand out to you and why do you pick those particular plays? 

Looking back at the history of the Lab feels like examining the most incredible family portrait. It’s crazy to feel like part of a lineage with people like Anne Washburn, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Jackie Sibblies Drury, May Adrales, Rachel Chavkin, Trip Cullman, Evan Cabnet…the list goes on and on. In a way, it makes what feels like the giant, scary ladder of this industry feel a little more climbable. I’m so grateful for that. 

Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill Fill by Stephanie del Rosso, and directed by Zi Alikhan, will be read as part of the Soho Rep. Writer/Director Lab Reading Series on May 9th at 7pm at Soho Rep. Doors open at 6:45pm and it is First-Come-First-Served. All are very welcome!

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