Interview with Jessica Holt, Director of Private Fears in Public Places

In Ross Valley Players on July 22, 2009 at 9:14 pm








Director of Private Fears in Public Places

Director of Private Fears in Public Places

1 .How did you become interested in directing?

After college – I attended UCLA – I completed a year-long artistic internship at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto.  Robert Kelley, the Artistic Director, kind of took me under his wing and mentored me, and I assistant directed a couple of shows for him.  At that point, I had acted, stage-managed, dramaturged, produced and written about theater extensively (I was the Theatre and Fine Arts Editor for the UCLA Daily Bruin), but I hadn’t really directed.  I will never forget when he asked me “So…have you ever considered directing?”  And it took me the first hour sitting next to him in rehearsal to realize that directing was THE thing I had been searching for in theater.  Kelley was a great teacher, and I carry the lessons I learned from observing him with me to this day. 

2. What do you like about directing?
I love people so I love all of the intense interpersonal collaborations that theater necessitates.  I adore working with actors – I am endlessly fascinated with acting and the choices that actors make (good and bad!).  I like to really get in there, in the thick of it with an actor, and really try to figure out what makes a character tick.  I also like the early stage of directing – the idea phase, the dream phase.  It’s the place where anything is possible, and your imagination can just roam free.  You imagine everything as you it would be in your perfect world.  Build it boldly and beautifully.  It’s an important time because it’s when you really begin to understand what your vision of the world entails.  Then when there is that inevitable thud to back to earth when your fantasy meets the reality of actually DOING the play in time and space, you still can hold on to some of those pretty ideas and let them inform the reality and creatively solve any problems that might arise.  A strong vision allows for flexibility because you know what does and does not belong in the world.  I love working with designers and syncing up with them in the idea phase.  Theater is such an intensely collaborative art and I learn something new about the play from every other artist involved on the production.  I love the moment during the rehearsal process when everyone in the room sees the play finally take shape and say “It’s a play!”  There’s something so pure and child-like about this moment.  It’s wonderful.

   3. What do you dislike about directing?
A directing mentor of mine, Christopher Herold, told me that sometimes the director is the least favorite person in the room.  You can’t always be everyone’s best friend in the rehearsal room, and that can be difficult for a person like me who wants to please everyone!  But there are times when, as a director, you have to push actors to go places they don’t always want to go in their exploration of the character, or sometimes you have to do some disciplining, and that’s never fun.  I have been called “kind but firm.”  I am very work-focused in the rehearsal room.  For those people who just want to goof off in rehearsal — I have little tolerance for them.   But I try to engender a kind of rehearsal room where everyone is as invested in the material, the process, and the end result, as I am. 





  1. 4. Do you have a favorite director or someone you would aspire to?
    I have several directors that I absolutely adore.  Robert Kelley, who I mentioned before, certainly makes this list.  He started TheatreWorks forty years ago when he was right out of college, and has created a wonderful legacy.  He understands that theater is a visual medium, and that bold and strong staging is everything to creating powerful theatrical experiences.  Mark Jackson, who has directed Macbeth and Faust Part 1 at Shotgun Players and Miss Julie and Salome at the Aurora (and so many brilliant others) is another director who believes this.  Mark’s work is a sensorial feast.  He really knows how to incorporate all of the elements that set theater apart from something like film or television.  I love directors that challenge us to rethink the limits of what we thought was possible on stage.  Mark is one of those directors.  What I love about both of these directors, too, is how incredibly humane and humble they are.  I admire their work and careers so much, and definitely hold them close in my director’s heart as I work.  I also love the work of Rob Melrose (Artistic Director of Cutting Ball in San Francisco) and Kent Nicholson who has flown the Bay Area coop and is taking New York by storm.  At a more national level, I am completely thunderstruck by the work of Tina Landau and Anne Bogart.  Amazing.

       5. Do you have a favorite show to direct?

    Favorites are always hard because there are just so many to choose from!  Whatever I am directing tends to become my favorite at that time.  It has to become your favorite in order for you to generate the kind of fervor and shared interest from everyone else involved necessary to create a piece of art.   So, I think, I will artfully dodge this question and say that every show I direct is my favorite!   6. How did you become interested in drama / theater?
    I have always been interested in the arts. When I was four, I began playing the violin through the Suzuki method.  That’s an ear-based method, and for me, it really got music in my body.  And I was always a bit of a drama queen when I was a kid, and did all the church plays through out elementary school.  I also loved to sing. By the time I was 11 I was begging my parents for voice lessons on top of the violin lessons.  I had just seen a production of Bye Bye Birdie starring Tommy Tune that had blown me away – it was at the Orpheum or the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco on a national tour.  I think it was the maybe 1990. Anyway, I thought – I want to do that!  At that point, I began to move away from the violin and focus on singing, which brought me parts in the school musicals.  That then introduced me to straight plays, which I loved.  I will never forget doing a production of Comedy of Errors in high school and thinking “This is it!”  My parents were great and really encouraged me to explore my interest in the arts, and drama and theater ended up feeling exactly like home.   7. What do you find to be your biggest challenge as a director?
    Hmmm.  That’s a hard question!  My first impulse is go with fear.  Fear that it won’t come out the way you had hoped, fear that no one will understand it, and fear that everything will fail.  So I guess my biggest challenge is to get out of my own way, my own head!  If ever I am feeling afraid, I just have to remind myself that my job is to be a storyteller and to tell the story of the play as faithfully and as fully as I/we are able.  A director wears many hats throughout the process of creating a stage production, and chief among them must be storyteller.  When I remember that, everything becomes much more manageable.   8. What has been your biggest triumph as a director?
    I think Private Fears in Public Places may be my biggest triumph to date.  It has been such an incredible privilege to work on this beautiful, rich material with this talented group of people.  I am so proud of the work of our designers and actors, and feel like the piece really reflects the vision that I originally had for this play with great clarity. 

       9. Is there one play you looking forward to directing?
    There are so many wonderful plays to choose from that it is hard to say.  I know that I have wanted to do a production of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour for some time now.  It’s such a chilling and disturbing play and it fascinates me.  Even though it is historically dated, it still continues to resonate with our social and gender politics today, and I think the rise in prominence of girl culture makes it even more of an interesting story to tell again. Other plays I would love to direct include Naomi Wallace’s Trestle at Pope Lick Creek and anything by Sarah Ruhl or Sheila Callaghan.  I also love the Greeks, and can’t wait to direct Medea.  I have a really fun, spirited concept rumbling around in my mind right now, and just need to find the right theater and group to do it with.

    10. Do you think your generation approaches directing/storytelling differently than say the baby boomer generation?
    Possibly.  I think I straddle a couple of styles of directing, and I not sure if one is more closely aligned with styles that came out of the baby boomer generation than the other. I am simultaneously a negotiator and the captain of the ship.  I am definitely a very strong, assertive presence in the rehearsal room and at production meetings, and while I engage in open and interested creative conversations with all of my collaborators, at the end of the day, I will have the final say over what is decided, how something should or should not be done, what should be included or not.  I think this way of thinking may come from my exposure to directors working in the generation before me.  However, I also think that a good director, no matter what age or generation, must be clear, direct and strong in their ideas, and must be able to impress that upon others.  Directors must lead.  They must direct!  That’s our job.  I think my generation may differ from the baby boomer generation is in the way we have embraced new media in theatrical work.  While I haven’t used it yet, I am very interested in the way digital video is being used as a design element in theater, adding an extra-textual layer in addition to the extra-texts of the sound and lights.  It seems to me that younger directors are more apt to incorporate this new element into their work.  Not sure if I can make any more sweeping statements about different generational approaches, but it is certainly a fascinating question to ponder!

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