Jen Wineman directed Josua Conkel’s play SPRAWL in this year’s Writer/Director Lab. FEED puts our set of questions to her and she has some really interesting answers.
1) Briefly tell us about how you directed SPRAWL.
On the day of the reading, we assembled our cast of nine and worked through the script for about five hours. I’ve been getting to know this play as it’s been created over the last seven months, but this was the first time the actors had seen the full script. The most important part of our condensed rehearsal period was making sure that the tone of the storytelling was consistent throughout. If pressed, I would call SPRAWL an over-the-top sci-fi comedy horror extravaganza in two acts, so it was important that the actors all embrace the idiosyncratic style Josh created for the play. We were fortunate to be working with a cast of very smart actors who all have great comedic impulses and strong senses of theatricality.
2) What part of the Writer/Director Lab process was the most instructive and entertaining and how are the directors utilized during the process?
It’s been exciting gaining access to what is normally a very private process. Because the playwrights would bring in pages each week that we’d read aloud, we all got a glimpse of how each of these writers thinks about structure, character, and story. The directors all had an opportunity to direct a workshop presentation of our playwright’s play midway though the Lab process. Those workshops helped the playwrights to see how what they’d written was working, but they were also very helpful for the directors. For me, I learned a lot about the rhythm and style of SPRAWL, which affected the kind of feedback I gave Josh from then on and prepared me well for directing the public reading.
3) How do you think the Lab will influence your future work?
As a director who focuses mainly on new plays, my relationships with the playwrights I collaborate with are really important to me. Not only did I get to meet five incredibly talented playwrights in the Lab—all of whom I would be thrilled to work with in the future—but I will also come away from this experience better at giving feedback and more sensitive to the processes of different kinds of writers.
4) Do you have any advice for emerging young freelance directors?
I think it’s important to direct as much as you can. If people aren’t hiring you, then gather some friends whose work you admire, and put up a play together. The only way to get better at directing is by directing. And the only way to get people to hire you as a director is by directing. Don’t wait for people to give you opportunities. Make your own!