Let's face it. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, "pecking orders" exist in certain areas of the performing arts world.
Sometimes we joke about it. For example, in this recent post we noted that while a majority of movie goers know Steven Spielberg, very few have heard of Kathleen Kennedy, the accomplished producer behind many of his hits. The inference? Directors get all the love while producers sometimes languish in the shadows.
But sometimes these pecking orders can have a profound impact on an individual's career development. Take the world of theater. Preston Whiteway, executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, speaks of a "hamster wheel" phenomenon plaguing aspiring directors.
Here's how it works. Emerging directors pay their dues as loyal assistant directors for years, waiting for that big break — the opportunity to move up the pecking order and direct — except the big break never materializes. And so they're stuck on a hamster wheel, watching the same directors move from show to show. To quote Whiteway, "How do you ever get that full production if no one’s going to take a chance on you?"
Well, aspiring directors can take heart. Whiteway and his theater colleagues are attempting to break this cycle. The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, in partnership with the Kennedy Center, National New Play Network (NNPN), and Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, recently announced the creation of a new National Directors Fellowship.
The five-year fellowship will provide a total of 25 early-career directors with 18 months of professional development opportunities and hands-on experience, culminating in a potential directing opportunity at an NNPN theatre.
It's worth noting that Whiteway's analysis concerning the assistant directorship hamster wheel was corroborated by the playwright faction as well. His colleague Wendy C. Goldberg, who serves as artistic director of O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference, noted that the number of opportunities available for playwrights far exceeds those available for aspiring directors.
The program exists thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation, and it goes to the heart of Whiteway's aforementioned question, addressing the root causes that prevent producers from taking a chance on new directors.
The directing fellows will have esteemed working directors available for mentoring and advice while working on various projects. The program concludes with a residency at an NNPN core theatre where director fellows may have the chance to direct or assist on a production. There's a resume booster for you.
Most interestingly, the program is casting a wide net. It would be easy for Duke to tailor its application criteria towards individuals with MFAs in directing, but the program's architects are intentionally keeping things, to quote Whiteway, "a little bit vague. Part of this grant is about finding folks who aren't necessarily on the MFA directing track."
The O’Neill will accept applications for the fellowship January 12-16, 2015.