Get Into It: “Theatre Director”

The “Get Into It” interviews find interesting people and asks them three questions about their interests. Ideally, this will have nothing to do with literature. Too often while bopping around the litmag web haunts, it can feel like a claustrophobic room of monomaniacal chatbots. “Get Into It” should serve as a reminder that we are all practicing an art, or refining a craft, or competing in a sport. Let’s hear what’s driving others to proliferating browser tabs and insomniac nights. And maybe we’ll find a new obsession while we’re at it.

I first came to know the work of Brian Bell, a theatre director and actor who divides his time between Chicago and Germany, through Cabaret Vagabond, where he is the creative director. Intelligence without condescension, humor without irony, and above above all, an earnest reverence for art is conveyed in everything Brian touches. Currently, he is raising funds for Projekt G. This is a “devised theatrical work.” It was created in Berlin and will be traveling to Fukushima this summer.

What are you into?

I”m into telling compelling stories. I’m into community experiences, where you walk away with a lot to talk about and having seen something (whether an image or a quote or a song or a bit of spectacle or all of the above) that you’ve never seen before and could not see elsewhere. I’m really into dialogue, and interacting with people about tough, sticky human issues. Being a theatre director allows me the extraordinary privilege of spending my time in a room with astonishingly creative people thinking about big concepts and finding ways to bring them to an audience. Its a really incredible way to work, and the theatre is such an immediate, visceral medium. I cannot think of anything I would rather be doing.

How’d you get into it? 

I started off operating the spotlight for my junior high production of the musical Anything Goes when I was 11. Although the task itself was not that exciting, I fell completely in love with the community. As almost anyone who has been involved in the theatre can tell you, some of the best people in the world work there. And the community of artists is a really incredible thing to be a part of. I was hooked from my first production, and then when I got into high school and college I started to realize that I was interested in telling the entire story, not just interpreting one of the roles. I was always a ‘big-picture’ person, and started to feel a little stifled when I was in a production and I thought I had better ideas than the director about how to tell the story. Once I realized I was having those thoughts, it was either knock it off and fall in line as an actor, or start looking for ways to get on the other side of the table, making the decisions. I directed Georg Buechners wild, brutal, chaotic play Woyzeck for my senior thesis, moved to Germany the following fall and never looked back. After a few years in Europe though, I recognized that I really wanted to work back home in the states in my native language. I’ve been in Chicago ever since, though through the course of working again in Europe a bit last year and this summer, I’m getting ready to transition back overseas.

What would you recommend to someone getting into directing? 

I would tell them to get over themselves, suck up their ego and assist as many directors as possible. Now at the wise old age of 29 I’m realizing the staggering amount that I have yet to learn, and will always be learning. In my early twenties I was so focused on producing my own work (not waiting! now! now!) that I missed some opportunities to learn from more experienced directors. This let me make my own mistakes and learn from them, but also meant I was making a lot more mistakes than maybe I had to. Every young director has to find their own balance between being in the room with an experienced practitioner, and making their own work. Its a hard balance to find, and really important to do both. Other than that, I would say they should steel themselves. Its a long slog. You’ll need both strong nerves and thick skin. And, I would add, its totally worth it.

Know an interesting person? Got an idea for Get Into It? Drop me a line.

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