Interview by Laura Ng
From directing drama and technical theatre to choreography, multiple SFBATCC Award- and TBA Award-winning theatre-maker Carl Jordan talks about transforming a spark of fear into stage pictures, and how a collaborative environment can challenge artists to push their visions of possibility.
|TBA featured member Carl Jordan. Photo: Sarah Nelson
Your CV includes work as director, choreographer and technical director—multiple facets for which you’ve received a number of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards, plus two TBA Awards just this past season. Does one part of your brain tend to jump first when cracking open a new project?
I love the collaborative aspect of theatre. My background includes training in dance, drama and technical theatre, and having extensive knowledge in all of these areas gives me the ability to communicate well with the technicians and artists I am working with, and to visualize stage pictures. What gets my juices flowing is a great story—that’s what jumpstarts my brain and informs my choices. I know that I should go ahead with a project when my imagination is sparked, and also when I encounter challenges that provoke a little fear. Fear can be a great motivator!
Favorite play or production that you were part of or inspired by?
My favorite production is usually whatever I am currently working on, which right now is One Man, Two Guvnors, which just opened at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. But I also love directing shows that people say could never work. I was told Return to the Forbidden Planet—a mashup of rock and roll, sci-fi and Shakespeare—was just too weird, and had too many difficult technical elements. It had a great story, though, and I used the naysaying to deeply challenge me. It went on to win Best Overall Production and Best Director at last year’s SFBATCC Awards. Clybourne Park has very intense and painful themes that have to be balanced with humor, plus incredibly difficult set design demands. The script is brilliant—incredibly profound and challenging. This play pushed me hard to bring my "A" game to rehearsals. Luckily, I also had a brilliant and receptive cast to work with. The show won Best Overall Production, Best Director and Best Ensemble at this year’s TBA Awards. The key to making both of these productions work was doing a lot of homework and casting fearless and honest actors.
I’m inspired by artists that push the limits of what’s possible: Bill Irwin’s reinvention of physical comedy, the smartness of William Ball’s directing at A.C.T. and how he approached each piece with a unique vision, Lin-Manuel Miranda and how he is creating new forms of musical theatre.
What do you like about the Bay Area theatre scene, and being a TBA member?
The Bay Area is rich with amazing and fantastic theatre companies. I’m a freelance director, which gives me the ability to work anywhere—and I would love to work with even more companies, so contact me!
TBA is a great resource for me on many levels. I’m a TBA Awards adjudicator, which gives me the chance to see great work at so many different theatres. I’ve used the Talent Bank and I attend General Auditions when I’m casting shows; I love networking at events like the TBA Awards and connecting with other theatre professionals.
What advice would you give an emerging theatre professional (or an earlier you)?
Here’s what works for me: follow what sparks you and don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers when exploring your take on a project. Start with a great story, hire great artists and approach each production as if it is the last one you will ever do. It’s really important to listen to actors, and I like when they bring ideas to the table. The actor is living the part and brings a unique vision, and guiding that vision inspires me. Also, never yell, and always treat others with patience, respect and grace. At the end of a show, I tell my companies that if they’ve enjoyed working in a positive and kind environment, pay it forward in their next production.
Anything coming up soon that you are excited about?
After One Man, Two Guvnors, next up is Venus in Fur, with TBA Awards finalist for Best Actress Melissa Claire and Scott Coopwood, who’s currently in Macbeth at Berkeley Rep. It’s being produced by Marin Onstage in May and moving to the Sonoma Theatre Alliance in June. Then, The Comedy of Errors with the Curtain Theatre in August. It is so much fun to do Shakespeare in a fantastic redwood grove—Old Mill Park, Mill Valley.
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.