Fighting the beautiful battle

HRDC visiting director Kat Yen premieres References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot at the Loeb.

By Jake Stepansky '17

When I found out the set for References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot on the Loeb Mainstage would include a house made entirely out of fluorescent lights, I was skeptical. After meeting visiting director Kat Yen, co-founder of Spookfish Theatre Company in New York City, I knew that she would get the job done. Yen, along with a dedicated student cast and crew, have been working tirelessly to present an updated version of References, working in conjunction with playwright Jose Rivera to stage the show exactly as he originally intended and also editing and building on the text along the way. Yen and I discussed the process of creating and working on a world premiere production, which runs through Oct. 24, and about her role not only as a director, but also as a mentor.

Kat YenWhat has the process of working on a world premiere been like? How does working on an evolving work differ for you from working with an original or an established text? I’ve actually never directed a play professionally that wasn’t a world premiere. I directed two productions in undergrad that weren't (Blasted by Sarah Kane and Oleanna by David Mamet), but since I graduated and co-founded Spookfish Theatre Company, I’ve only worked on new plays that have continued evolving. I love the developmental process of a new play and honestly couldn’t imagine working on a play where I’m not a part of that in any way, shape or form or unable to talk to the playwright about ideas and changes. A play is a living thing made of many parts and people, and having the playwright be involved in the production in some way is essential to that collaboration. It would feel strange to not be able to chat with playwrights about the play/production or have them not be part of the process at all. It would feel like something is missing. Just like I’m uninterested in figuring out blocking using dolls – I want to rehearse with real people and use their instincts and ideas, dammit – I’m not as interested in a playwright just on the page. I’m interested in who they are as a person and how that influenced the play and writing process, so I can attempt to truly understand the play I am directing.

What has been particularly challenging or rewarding about working on this production? It has been so rewarding working with such remarkably talented students in our cast, designers, and crew, and such a breath of fresh air being around enthusiastic, dedicated artists. It has of course also been rewarding getting to work on Loeb Mainstage and directing a world premiere of one of my favorite plays since college but really, the best part has been the people. What’s been challenging are the things that are challenging in every theater production: getting everything up in time, calming nerves, timely communication and getting to a point where we can all really trust each other as a team.

What do you hope you’ve been able to teach or communicate to your cast and staff on this production about working as an artist and making art? The only thing that matters is making good, necessary work you are proud of. You need to be the first person willing to go to bat for what you care about and not be afraid to speak up for it.  If you aren’t satisfied with the quality of something, take care of the problem now or reach out for help about it immediately. If you want things done to your expectations, you can’t be afraid to do them yourself. No one will care about your work as much as you do, so if you aren’t fighting the battles to get that beautiful work out there, who is? Treat everyone as well as you would like to be treated. And never do a show you hate; it will kill your soul and love of what you do.