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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday Special - Working in Theater: An Interview with Susanna Wolk, Director and Assistant Director


Today marks the second post in our Working in the Theater series. This series in which we  interview people who work in different theater related jobs runs periodically on Saturdays. Today we will be interviewing Susanna Wolk (SW), a director and assistant director who has worked on the Broadway productions of Significant Other (Associate Director), Waitress (also 1st National Tour), and Finding Neverland (also A.R.T., 1st National Tour). Her work as a director has been seen at 54 Below, Theatre Row, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Dixon Place, Club OBERON, The Flea, 13th St. Repertory Theater, A.R.T.’s Loeb Mainstage, and more. She is a Manhattan Theatre Club Directing Fellow and has assistant directed productions at A.R.T., MCC, the Geffen, Second Stage, Williamstown, New York Stage and Film, and more. Susanna graduated in 2014 from Harvard University where she studied English and Dramatic Arts.

1) What is your job title?


SW: I’m currently wearing a couple of different hats. I'm a freelance director— a recent project, Constellarium was part of Rebel Playhouse’s season and ran at Access Theater.

I’m also the associate director of the Broadway production of Lobby Hero, which is currently in rehearsals, and I’m the assistant director of the musical Waitress.


2) How would you describe what you do?


SW: As an associate / assistant director, I'm there to support and contribute to the work of the director in rehearsal—depending on the show, this can mean anything from teaching blocking, doing research, taking notes and communicating them to actors and designers, giving feedback, and talking through a thorny moment. Then, once the show opens, I’m there to make sure the original artistic vision is maintained—this usually means frequently watching and noting the show as well as working with stage management to train and put in any understudies or replacements. 


3) How did you come to be doing the job that you do?


SW:I was a really a shy kid growing up, and theater was how I found my voice, found my community, and learned about the world. I became obsessed with the intensely collaborative spirit that went into telling a story. When I got to college, I quickly realized that directing was a really exciting way to synthesize all these different passions that I had within theater.

I went to Harvard, and while I was there, I basically lived at the American Repertory Theater—directing shows in their spaces, assisting on their season shows, interning in the office. It was there that I had my first experiences as an assistant director and became involved with shows like Finding Neverland and Waitress.


4) Did you have to get any special training for your job?


SW: I am very lucky that I've gotten to assist some brilliant directors. Being able to learn from them in rehearsals and be a part of their processes has been the best training.


5) What is the best part of your job?


To me, there’s nothing better than sitting in the back of a theater and watching something you helped create reach an audience. Theater is such a uniquely collaborative art form and as a director / associate / assistant director you’re there to create a space for others to do their best work. When it works, it’s thrilling to watch the seed of an idea blossom and proliferate throughout a rehearsal process, and then see it make an emotional impact on an audience.


6) What is the worst part of your job?


SW:I wish that theater could be more accessible to more people and play a larger role in culture at large.


7) What are some of your favorite shows that you have worked on?


SW: My most recent directorial project, Constellarium, is very near and dear to my heart. It’s written and performed by the wonderful Arif Silverman. Part science fiction, part political thriller, it’s an interactive show for audiences of all ages that imagines what would happen if the Earth were destroyed and all the people of Earth became refugees on a faraway planet—although some days this does not feel like science fiction! Arif has brilliantly created such a rich and vibrant universe complete with alien species, geography, law, history, and it was so fun to bring that to life together—we really went overboard with guide books, art, music, coloring books, maps. The message of empathy, compassion, and leadership could not be important right now, and I love that Rebel Playhouse gave us the amazing opportunity to share that with younger audiences. 

One of my favorite experiences has also been being a part of the National Tour of Waitress—in an effort to engage local communities, we cast the role of Lulu, Jenna’s 4-year-old daughter locally, and as part of my job, I get to go to every city the tour is going to and cast children! It’s been an incredible experience to see the country and share the show with a wider audience.


 8) What show if any would you loved to have worked on?


SW: Wow too many to name! I’m a total musical theater nerd—I would have loved to be around for a pivotal moment of boundary-pushing and change, like when the curtain rose for the first performance of Oklahoma and audiences experienced the sparse beauty and simplicity of “Oh what a beautiful morning” for the first time


9)  Who are some other people in your field that you admire?


SW:I feel deeply indebted to the incredible directors I’ve gotten to assist, especially Diane Paulus and Trip Cullman, both of whom have taught me so much about what theater can do.
I am constantly inspired by my friends Madeline Smith, a genius music director, and Sammi Cannold, a genius director.


10) What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

SW: Be kind to everyone. Make friends with writers. Your assisting work will feed your personal work and vice versa, so find a way to balance them if you can!

We thank Susanna for taking the time to answer our questions.

For more information about Waitress or to purchase tickets, visit waitressthemusical.com.

For more information about Lobby Hero or to purchase tickets, visit 2st.com/shows/current-production/lobby-hero.

Tune in tomorrow for this week's Sunday Scoop.

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