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CATF in Context series discusses the role of the theater director

By Staff | Jul 18, 2018

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Celebrating the beginning of the Contemporary Arts Theater Festival, the first CATF in Context discussion was hosted Saturday morning at Shepherd University’s Center for Contemporary Arts II, G03.

Funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council, the event featured three of 2018’s play directors — Courtney Sale, Reginald L. Douglas and Sam Weisman — discussing the process of working with designers and directing actors to create a play based on its playwright’s vision.

“I’ve always been involved in the arts, but my original passion was for politics. I was doing lobbying for Mrs. (Nancy) Pelosi, but it felt so impersonal — it was focused on numbers. I decided working as an artist would help me to impact people in a personal way,” said Douglas, who directed “Berta, Berta.”

Specifically, Douglas said he tries to impact people by depicting the truth through his directing of a play.

“Creating work that speaks and creates conversation that reflects the great realities and truth of our world is very important. We came into the play with a good plan, to really focus on the story. Because of this, ‘Berta, Berta’ was very easy for me to direct,” Douglas said about the premiering play. “My goal as the director is to guide the audience through the realistic and spiritual aspects of this piece.”

Sale, who directed “The Cake,” said a director’s purpose is to be “the primary driver of culture” through story telling — an art form that led her into her current career.

“Story was the way I learned and communicated as a child, even though I didn’t grow up surrounded by the arts,” Sale said, before explaining her path to becoming Artistic Director of the Seattle Children’s Theatre after working in theater in New York City.

“I got to this point where I said, ‘I just want to work in theater where the bathrooms all have toilet paper,'” Sale said, with a laugh. “I’m in a position right now where I get to nurture new talent throughout the school year, and then come to CATF and create adult plays during the summer.”

Weisman, who directed “A Late Morning (in America) with Ronald Reagan,” said the weaknesses preventing people from being good actors could be strengths in other theater roles. Weisman began his career in theater acting after working as a movie and television actor in Hollywood. He soon discovered he was best suited for directing theater.

“As an actor, it’s important to be naive and open. You have to pretend to not know what you know, to understand the story but stay within the role,” Weisman said. “I came to theater acting late, and my mind was thinking ahead because of my experience in Hollywood. Thinking ahead in a play is a problem as an actor, but it’s necessary for directors to do, while still being open to change in the play.”

Weisman said he has enjoyed his time in Shepherdstown, and the challenges of being a CATF director.

“It’s been an interesting process, to try to create a play on the spot,” Weisman said. “With this play, I am curious to see how this will grow.”