A small group of actors, audition sides in hand, sits in the hallway of the Art Square building, waiting their turn at Cockroach Theatre’s season callbacks. In the black box theater, Darren Weller is trying to pull more energy from a young actor auditioning for the racially tense play, Spinning Into Butter.
“…when you’ve got really solid direction, you affect every aspect of the production for the better.”- Levi Fackrell, Cockroach artistic director.
“You don’t know where you’re going with this, you just know [these words] started a fire in you,” he says. Weller, resident director of Piff the Magic Dragon, is one of four professional directors the Cockroach team hired for the upcoming season.
This is the first year the Arts District theater company, known for its modern, risky and controversial plays, is able to compensate directors. Some local troupes, such as UNLV’s Nevada Conservatory Theatre, hire professionals to direct, while many others rely on volunteer actors without much offstage experience. Cockroach’s artistic director Levi Fackrell says this is because the local theater scene is relatively young.
“I really wanted to put the focus on directors this season, because inevitably, when you’ve got really solid direction, you affect every aspect of the production for the better,” he says.
Rounding out the crew of directors are actress and CSN theater professor Mindy Woodhead; Kate St-Pierre, an art director for interdisciplinary experimental company The LAB (and lead singer in Cirque’s KÀ); and Steppenwolf-trained actor Chris Brown, director of outreach for local theater company A Public Fit.
But hiring professional leadership is just one way to lift all ships. This summer, Woodhead was hired on as development director, an effort to get bigger budgets by attracting corporate sponsors and cultivating a donor base. Furthermore, both Brown and Woodhead have discussed establishing a rigorous training program.
“[Training] needs to be in place because that is what imbues a community with a standard. Not a standard in a negative way, but one that is foundational. It’s hard to build on quicksand,” he says.
Despite the lack of training programs, the four were impressed with both the old and new faces who auditioned for the 2016-2017 season. “There is so much that hasn’t been explored as far as [actors] and talent go,” Woodhead says.