When you grow up in the middle of the Midwest, Broadway is the ideal -- it's the Emerald City, everything is glittery and shiny and gay, and you're Dorothy, stuck in your Gingham dress tapping your heels together and hoping that one of those humid summer tornados that tears through the Plains will sweep you away to a land of ruby red kinky boots. And then, all of a sudden, when you least expect it, that tornado hits and you're swept up for life. For some, this may sound like the sequel to Wicked, but for me, this is my reality. I mean trade the slippers for a pair of Doc Martens and Toto for an iPhone, and essentially you have me -- your typical twenty-something Bosnian-Iowan plopped in the middle of the Yellow Brick Road, or should I say, Great White Way.
There's that adage that someone's friend's mom always tells you when you say you
have an idol. "Never idolize someone. They'll always disappoint you," then said mom tells you a story of how she idolized [insert prestigious person's name here] before she met said person and found out he/she was actually quite [insert unfortunate personality trait here]. You'll probably find that this story will be repeated to you roughly 7,549 times by the time you're 25, and by now, you've found out that your favorite 90s sitcom stars were actually all notorious con-artists, and you've decided to never have an idol again, but back to the point... You're conditioned to believe that not all that glitters is gold, and Broadway is the most glittery gold around. Luckily for you, theatre school also pounds that mentality into you. Suddenly, your Emerald City becomes institutionalized as "commercial theatre," and of course, anything with the word commercial in front of it can't have artistic integrity, so you're SOL on that front too. In my reality, however, Broadway never meant glitz and glam. To me, it was about the incredibly wide net that a Broadway production could have, and a moment of transcendence when a room of strangers connects unknowingly. It was less so about what's happening onstage, and more so about what's happening in that electric abyss between the audience and actors. As a director, that interchange always guides my hand, and Broadway seemed to have potential to both concentrate and explode that moment to countless audiences. However, to tell you the truth (and maybe this is the theatre school talking), I had begun to lose the notion Broadway had that pull any more. Rather than being a home for propellent new works and the definition of theatrical excellence, Broadway had become, for the most part, stagnant. New works were scrapped for the newest adaptation of The Hunger Games: The Musical and theatrical legends had been replaced with My Fair Lady starring Kim Kardashian (note: I would pay very good money to see that). And then, as it tends to happen, all of a sudden in the midst of all of these theatrically nihilistic thoughts, a very strong tornado gust blew my way in the shape of a new play by Terrence McNally called Mothers and Sons.
Of course, I had never gotten to that point if it wasn't for the guidance and mentorship of my very own Good Witch, the magnificent and unimaginably talented Sheryl Kaller, who saw a production I directed in a small black box theatre and plucked me up out of obscurity to take me along to the Emerald City as the Assistant Director of an incredible new work. Along the way, I met what I'll describe as a combination of the Tinman, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion because he is full of heart, brains, and bravery, our lead producer, Tom Kirdahy, who showed me that new plays with soul belong on Broadway where they can serve as a catalyst for necessary dialogues. And then, I pulled back the curtain to reveal a man I'd idolized (and I used that word in full confidence) since laying in my Iowan bed at 4AM reading Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Terrence McNally. Don't be fooled, however, Terrence is no false idol or quivering man huddled behind a curtain, but rather, one of the most prolific, kind-hearted, and hilarious men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and a true magician and musician of the written word. Most of all, I've had the privilege to work on an incredible play -- a piece about now. It doesn't side shuffle around the issues, but addresses them head on -- it attacks them and questions them. It is a play about a ripple effect, how every generation is affected by the one prior; how heartache and pain don't disappear but continue to exist and persist for eternity, and how the world around us never stops spinning even in the wake of such immense human destruction and loss. As brought to life by our team of four master actors, Mothers and Sons is a show that grips you by the heart and doesn't let go, but rather forces you to question your role in the evolving portrait of America. In the middle of this perfect storm, I realized this the type of theater that needs to be on Broadway, because it's a tool for change and reflection. These are the stories that need to be hurled into that theatrical abyss -- stories that the next generation and the previous generation need to see and hear. Slowly, but surely, the face of Broadway theatre is changing, and it's plays like this which are altering the tide for future generations of theatre artists. The creation and celebration of new monumental American plays is a necessity in making sure that new works have gravity and urgency needed in our theatrical canon.
So here I am making my Broadway debut, while at the same time sitting in room with world-renowned theatrical legends listening to our play reverberate through the backstage loudspeaker. As our conversation rolls on we stop for the occasional moment to listen to the reactions of the audience. "Huge laugh on that line. She's on a roll!" and then back to stories about female power divas. And in these moments, I realize that yes, this is Broadway. No, it's not the idealized Emerald City you dream of, but it's a reality just like any other. It's messy, it's funny, it's hectic, it's wild, it's tiring, it's wonderful, it's scary, and it's real, and it feels incredible knowing that behind the curtain there is someone pulling the levers, and we're all working together to create something lasting and meaningful. So no, maybe I'm not Dorothy, but I've been lucky enough to be on an incredible first journey with a team of unforgettable characters and irreplaceable mentors. Not all that glitters is gold, but I've realized that the people you surround yourself with are the closest you'll get to gold in this industry, and I think I've struck a pretty good bunch. I guess I should take this Gingham dress off now?