On Jan. 1, Vivienne Benesch became producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional theater in residence in the College of Arts and Sciences. Recently, she shared her views on creativity.
Q: Why are you excited about coming to PlayMakers?
A: I already felt at home at PlayMakers. I have the great joy of having directed three productions here. And coming to a community with this kind of engaged audience is really the thrilling part.
At my previous position [the Chautauqua Theater Company in New York], there was a commitment to lifelong learning and true value placed on the arts as part of the fabric of what it is to be human, so it feels like a natural fit to come here, where those things are equally valued.
Q: What is your vision for PlayMakers?
A: Intersectionality … is one of my personal loves — discovering the roads of connectivity in the quest for creating richer and deeper art. It’s something that this place does so well already. I’m eager to learn and be part of that interconnectivity because I do think that is what keeps us creative and relevant. One of the ways in which we can stay relevant is by partnering with the many other resources of the University … It’s very important to me that the conversation not stop in this building.
Q: How do you engage creativity in directing?
A: My creativity is at its best in being a great listener and then being brave in experimentation. You have to be incredibly well-prepared, but you also have to be responsive in the moment. There are great directors who come in and know everything. They tell you how your wrist and finger should be, (and) there is freedom in that structure … but your boundaries have to be such that you can also continue to create within them.
Q: How do you engender creativity in actors?
A: Much of it has to do with encouraging and identifying what already lives within them that relates to any given character. If you have cast [a production] well, you have already chosen people for whom a lot of what is necessary exists. Then it’s really a process of encouraging and getting other things out of the way so that the essence of why you cast them can come forward.
Acting is a combination of rigor, bravery and imagination. Each person needs something different to do their best work.
Q: Do the performing arts inspire creativity in audience members?
A: I hope so. In live performing arts, the chemical reaction between the observed and the observer is entirely unique to each person, whether it’s about learning something that you had no idea about before or … whether it makes you angry, or even if you’ve decided that it wasn’t worthwhile … you’re still engaged in the crafting of your own aesthetic, in the constitution of who you are. So the most important thing is walking in the door. It doesn’t have to result in someone going out and creating a painting — no, no, no. It’s engaging your mind.
Read more about Benesch at www.playmakersrep.org/meet-vivienne-benesch/.
Read an American Theatre magazine interview with Benesch about her plans for PlayMakers.
See Sweeney Todd, the last PlayMakers play of the current main-stage season (through April 23).
Interview by L.J. Toler ’76