Q&A with Director Robynn Rodriguez

Posted March 20, 2019

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A Q&A with first-time APT director Robynn Rodriguez

APT: It's your first time directing at APT. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you fell in love with theater?
Robynn Rodriguez: I'm originally from the San Francisco Bay area in California. My parents took us to a lot of theater. I fell in love with the theater by going to see a lot of musicals initially. They took us to musicals in San Francisco, you know, Broadway shows that would hit the road. That's how we started to go see the theater as kids. And eventually, it expanded itself, largely because Bill Ball started coming to San Francisco with the American Conservatory Theatre in the late '60s. Going into San Francisco to see plays at ACT was a huge part of my formative life. Because in those days you could actually go to public school and be bussed into San Francisco to see plays. So I saw a lot of very famous ACT productions during my formative years – the televised versions, because CBS would air Bill Ball's production of Cyrano de Bergerac or The Taming of the Shrew, but I also got to see those live as a kid. 

So I fell in love with it. And my parents were always very supportive of that. I came into the theater primarily as an actor. And I am still very much an actor. I've worked regionally my whole life. Certainly a long time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I spent 22 seasons of my life as an actor. In my 40s I started to feel like I wanted to expand creatively, and thankfully I met a young person who was an intern at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the '90s, David Ivers, who became a very successful actor, and then became a very successful director. And when he became an artistic director, he remembered that I was interested in directing. And he and Brian Vaughn gave me my first opportunity to direct at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. It was Shakespeare's King John. Cut your teeth on that! Of course, I said yes, and I directed my first play professionally in 2013. So on many levels it was a trial by fire, but boy. I'm so grateful to them, because it sort of opened up my life and my work in a really wonderful way. So since leaving the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I continued to act. But I act and direct now. And it's wonderful, you know? They both feed each other. 

APT: What brought you to APT to direct for the first time? 
RR: Oh, I’ve heard of APT for years. You know, my husband (scenic designer Michael Ganio) has designed for APT for a very long time. We're very close friends with Cate Davis and, of course, Ken Albers, who hails from Milwaukee and Milwaukee Rep and APT, so you know, we constantly heard about it. But I never have had the time to visit, because I’m generally working in the summertime somewhere, certainly during the Ashland years, I never was able to go out to see anything. Last summer when Michael went out to design As You Like It and Exit the King at APT, because he had back-to-back techs with a week in between, he said why don't you come out and see me when I'm in between techs? And of course, initially when we made those plans we thought that I would be able to spend time with him, and with Ken and Cate. So I came out last summer to APT for the very first time in my life. I had never even been in the state of Wisconsin until last summer. So I went to visit my husband. And of course, I got to see the outdoor stage for the very first time. So I saw a show, I ran into Brenda briefly. Michael and I had gone to dinner; she was coming in as we were leaving. And it wasn't until I was working at Arizona Theatre Company in the fall when she called to ask about my interest and availability about a play that she was considering doing for this upcoming season. And that opened up a conversation, and then all of a sudden I got an offer. So I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to get to work at APT. 

APT: Can you tell us a little bit about A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur?
RR: Well, I think one of the things that excites me primarily is that as a young director, young in quotes, I have only directed Shakespeare plays. So this is my first time directing a play that's not Shakespeare. I'm very excited about that. I'm thrilled that it's a Tennessee Williams play, because on a level, you're looking at one of the great, iconic American playwrights. Williams is a poet as a writer. That's exciting. The language in his plays is a key component to the rendering of a story, and that’s exciting to me. I'm excited that it's a Williams play that involves four women. I think that is a thrilling opportunity for, not just the theater, but for all of us that are women who do theater. There are not a lot of classic plays that focus on something a story like this, that's so unique to women. So here's an opportunity to have a premier American playwright, writing a play for four women of a certain age. So I'm thrilled to get the opportunity to unpack it with a group of really formidable women in wonderful parts, and with some wonderful designers. I think it's going to be an exciting project for us all to work on. 

APT: It’s early in the process, but what do you love about the play so far?
RR: Really, I think there's something for everybody in the story of it. And it's been an exciting thing for me in terms of just learning the history of St. Louis, Missouri, for example. It’s fascinating, because of the time in which it's set, which is a very key component. The depression brought a lot of women into the work force. And not working was not an option. A lot of women chose not to marry, or couldn't marry, because of their inability to make a living. So the dilemma that some of the women in the play have is really one that American society was experiencing at the time – trying to bounce back from the effects of not only the first World War, but the depression. And it impacted women in a very, very specific way. So it's exciting to explore that, and see they way they handle it. 

APT: Is there anything else you want to tell us about you or the show or the world at large?
RR: We're living in a time where culturally we've got to be aware of a lot of things. And as women, we have to pay attention. If we want control over our independent lives, we have to pay attention to what's going on all around us. And the issues that arise for the women in A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur about how to exist in the world, and what it is to be in relationships, not just with men, but the question of what is friendship? What is your relationship to your community? To your place of business? To the world? It's something that women experience in a way that is different from men for a lot of reasons. And those reasons have been with us for all times. And they will be with us for the foreseeable future. 

In this play, there's something going on around these women, and the pressure that they feel is acute. I would argue that the pressures that they feel are pressures that we still feel. And I think the play asks us to pay attention to that. And that's the wisdom and genius of Tennessee Williams, writing in 1979. There's a lot that comes up for me with this play, and I think a lot will come up for the people who see it. I can’t wait.