Spotlight: Jessica Hutchinson, Director


Here’s this week’s installment of the director-to-director interview series.  Enjoy!

Meet Jessica Hutchinson

Hometown: I was an Air Force Brat, but I claim Omaha, Nebraska 
Current City: Chicago
Theatre affiliation: Artistic Director of New Leaf Theatre
1.     What attracted you to directing?
I started as an actor, but midway through college and then again shortly after I moved to Chicago I became increasingly intrigued by the idea of looking at the big picture.  Especially after a less-than-ideal experience or two as an actor, the idea of creating the space in which a group of artists – actors and designers – could work together to tell a cohesive story was really exciting.  I like being able to facilitate big swirling pots of creativity that include ideas and inspirations from the whole team. 
2.     Did you receive academic and/or practical training in directing? And how has (not) having this formal education/training shaped your directing career?
I took a couple directing classes in college, but my degree is in performance.  I’ve taken a fantastic Viewpoints class here in Chicago, but much of my learning has happened in the rehearsal room and through working within the producing ensemble at New Leaf.  My design team is incredibly supportive and also challenges me to grow in ways I couldn’t working on my own. 
3.     Which director (or other theatre artist) (dead or alive) has had the greatest impact on you as a director?
Anne Bogart and her work with Viewpoints has been huge.  I love her ideas about creativity, about the importance of the people with whom a director surrounds herself, about establishing a shared vocabulary.  That said, I think my colleagues here in Chicago are all incredibly influential.  I feel really fortunate to live in a town with such a vibrant group of minds making such engaging work all around me.
4.     In your personal library, what is the most indispensable text on the craft of directing? Or, alternately, have books/practical guides proven unhelpful?
Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s book on Viewpoints is incredibly valuable to me.  Also, Backwards and Forwards has been super helpful, especially during the processes of new plays where development is still taking place.  
5.     Defend/Describe the importance of ‘the director’ in contemporary theatre.  (Has the director’s place/status changed in the time you have been directing?)
I like to think of my job as being the agent of synthesis in the room.  I’m not interested in coming in to a process and saying “here is my vision, please execute it” to my team.  Instead, I like being able to provide a starting point or a foundation for the project and then shepherding our shared journey through the questions the project presents.  I think that’s how the role of a director is shifting, at least for me – the director isn’t the one with all the answers; she’s the one who gets to ask the right questions. 
6.     How would you characterize/describe your own directing style?
I’m greedy with my collaborators’ brains.  I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of really smart cookies, and I’m not shy about having everyone’s brain in everyone else’s business as we explore.  Ideally, I like to establish our rehearsal room as a safe space, find a shared vocabulary among our ensemble, and then experiment until we find the best ways to tell the story we want to tell.   
7.     What quirks, habits, rituals, etc. (if any) inform your directing process?
I tend to have a kind of bounce-in-place-dance going  when I get really jazzed up working on a scene.  Some of my actors like to use that as a tell of when things are going especially well.  
8.     What style/type of work do you find most compelling to direct?  If you have an area of specialization, what are the unique challenges/needs of directing this kind of work?
I love plays that really interrogate the ways we as humans connect with and disconnect from one another – and ourselves.  I find relationships between people fascinating – the ways that tiny turns can totally change their course, the way we can build or destroy them in an instant either without realizing what we’re doing or through meticulous calculation.  I’ve also been really drawn to new work – and the major challenge of that is often not knowing exactly what the play’s going to want from you until midway through a rehearsal process.  It’s a good reminder of the need for agility and adaptability in my work.    
9.     What is your fondest directing experience/memory?
One day in rehearsal, one of my frequent collaborators and I had a moment of shared vocabulary that was almost eerie to the rest of the room.  While giving notes, I said “Hey, Marsha, in that moment, could you be a little more… ” and she finished with “… you mean a little less…” and I said “Yes, exactly.”  To the amazement of the room, we both knew exactly what the other was talking about.  Being that in tune with another artist is a rare gift. 
10.  What is the most challenging work you have directed to date? Why?
I feel like whichever project I just finished always seems like the most challenging.  I think that’s a good thing – that I keep finding new ways for my collaborators and I to challenge one another.  Lighthousekeeping – the show we just closed at New Leaf – was the biggest undertaking we’ve had as a company so far.  It was an epic story on a more epic scale than we’ve ever attempted; it was a ton of work that was often hard in unexpected ways, but I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish with the piece.   
11.  What advice would you give to a young or aspiring director?
See as much as you can. Steal as much as you want. Serve the story the play wants you to tell.  Don’t worry about what others think of your work.  Decide what your measures of success are – and constantly reevaluate and re-calibrate those measures.  
12.  What is your current directing project?
I’m in the process of casting my next show, a new play called Burying Miss America by Brian Golden.  It’s a beautifully and deceptively simple two-hander about the grown children of Nebraska’s first and only Miss America and the struggles they face together and as individuals following their mother’s death.  New Leaf did a reading of it as part of our Treehouse Readings series last season, and I’m really thrilled to get to spend more time with it this fall.     
Thanks, Jessica!
  • July 27, 2011