A young life in the theater

by Tom Lee

It’s taking a village to create the drama and atmosphere of Catfish Row in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess at the American Repertory Theater (opening for previews on August 17), and one of the busiest villagers is assistant director Mia Walker ’10. As an undergraduate immersed in theater, Walker assumed a range of duties for numerous productions: props mistress, assistant producer, set designer, actor and director. A special project she directed in her senior year was produced by the Office for the Arts’ Learning From Performers program: Edges, a song cycle by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, whom Walker engaged for a two-day Harvard residency. Harvard Arts Beat caught up with Walker as rehearsals for Porgy and Bess continue at the Loeb Drama Center.

You’ve been busy since you graduated; what have you been up to?

This past year, I have assisted for [A.R.T. Artistic Director/CEO] Diane Paulus on The Capeman at The Public Theatre in New York, Prometheus Bound at the A.R.T., and now The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess at the A.R.T. I also worked at Berkshire Theatre Festival last summer, and directed productions at The Flea Theater under the mentorship of Jim Simpson and with my friends' new production company, Plaid Couch Productions.

Porgy and Bess is getting amazing buzz. What’s it been like working with Diane Paulus and the show’s creative team, and the cast?

It has been an incredible process watching the show develop from the early stages—meetings before the workshop, then the workshop, and now full-on rehearsals for the production. The creative team, led by Diane's vision and boldness, is genius, and the cast is a beautiful blend of organic and professional. The production is definitely something special, and I enjoy being part of the process while also watching and learning from it.

What’s the most significant lesson you learned about doing theater when you were an undergraduate?

I learned many, many lessons doing theater at Harvard. Harvard was my black box playground—I practically lived in the Loeb Ex. We made our own rules; every day was success and failure all at once. The most significant lesson I learned is to cherish collaboration.

Having now gained a good foothold in the field, what advice would you give to young people interested in pursuing a career in the theater?

Shut up and listen.

Mia Walker blogs about the rehearsal process for Porgy and Besson Broadway's Best Shows.

[Caption: Mia Walker '10]