Catching Up With Michele Travis

New York Madness Head of Directing Producer for the October Madness,

Michele took a bit of time out of her busy calendar to talk with us about theater.

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What advice would you give to emerging directors who are fresh out of a program? 

We all have to make our own opportunities, by producing and by building collaborative relationships with writers.  You may not need or want to start a theater company, but it’s important to have a network of writers, actors, and designers, people with whom you share an aesthetic and methods of working.  Only say “yes” to projects that truly interest you — anything I agreed to do solely because I thought it would be good for my career has never been worth the trouble.  I’ve learned to stay away if I don’t really care about the project or have a good feeling about the other people involved.

 What’s one production you saw that changed how you thought about directing? 

 Mark Brokaw’s production of HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE made me realize I was on the right track in the kind of work I wanted to do.  It was tremendously energizing, to see such a perfect production of a new play. The director was not imposing on the writing, but rather working closely with the writer to communicate her vision and tell that story with a physical life that mirrored the structure of the writing.  I love Paula Vogel’s plays, her imagination and theatricality, and this production moved and inspired me.

What would you say is the hardest thing about being an artist now in New York City and how do you find your way through that to get to enjoying making the work? 

 I don’t think about it much, honestly.  I love New York City; it’s my home.  It is hard to be an artist anywhere in the U.S.   There’s not a lot of respect for people who love what they do but don’t make vast sums of money doing it, and one of the challenges of working in a creative field is not letting outside judgments of your choices get to you.

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KING BART by Maggie Bofill directed by Michele Travis with Kyle Carter, Veronica Newton, Eric Percival Sticky Series April 2016, photographed by Michael Olivieri

 What are you favorite plays to work on and why? (Bonus points if you say New Plays! 🙂 

I mostly work on new plays.  I have very little interest in directing the umpteenth regional production of whatever got a good NY Times review two seasons ago.

When it comes to classical plays, I only get excited when I feel like they have something to say about how we live now, without a lot of weird imposition and directorial noodling on my part to build in “contemporary relevance.”  I’ve been developing an 8-actor adaptation of Beaumarchais’ MARRIAGE OF FIGARO for years, and it has not ceased to feel jaw-droppingly prescient to me.

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APPLE MARTINI by Anthony Noack directed by Michele Travis with Ali Ayala, Tricia Fukuhara, James Pravasilis Sticky Series March 2015, photographed by Michael Olivieri

 As you know, NYMadness has been 50/50 since inception so we walk the talk here. How you think we can change the lack of women’s voices on stage elsewhere? 

I tend to vote with my ticket purchases and avoid companies that program all-straight-white-guy seasons, and when there’s a comment card, I leave a note about how much I appreciate the company’s commitment to diversity.  Let them know we’re noticing!

 What do you do when you’re looking for inspiration for a production or do have some kind of special place/file where you store ideas for shows? 

If I’m working on a specific play, I’ll do research for that play: a lot of reading, looking at art or photographs.  I carry a notebook and jot things down about a current project, but I don’t save up ideas for hypothetical productions.

 What is one play you really want to direct and why? 

I’m obsessed with Annie and the Fat Man by Gina Femia.  I read an early draft and worked with Gina and some wonderful actors on readings during her revision process.   It’s beautifully written and absolutely itself; I’ve never read or seen anything like it.  Her writing has a very New York specificity and energy – this story couldn’t take place anywhere else, yet I think audiences anywhere could find something in the relationships and the characters’ humanity that spoke to them.  Gina and I joke that it is “our play together” but if anyone else directed the first full production, I really would be devastated.  The actors who participated in the readings have expressed similar attachment; we are all very loyal when it comes to this play.  The characters inspire such protective feelings; Gina and I talk as if they are alive and we hang out with them.