We look forward to welcoming Amber Paige McGinnis, a director and filmmaker based in Washington DC, for her Everyman Theatre debut as the director of our 2018/19 Season opener, Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel. A recent Richard Bauer Emerging Artist Award winner, Amber has directed an abundant arsenal of films and theatrical endeavors, including Stephen Spotswood’s Girl in the Red Corner for The Welders Playwrights’ Collective and Peter Shaffer’s Equus at Constellation Theatre Company, among a vast multitude of others. In winter of 2017, her experiences were profiled in both The Washington Post and Broadway World. Here are some highlights from the two interviews, as well as an early glimpse at her vision for Dancing at Lughnasa:
FROM THE WASHINGTON POST
On her interests in performance and cinema:
She fell naturally into performing as a child. Her mother ran a dance studio, which explains why some of McGinnis's early credits here included choreography. Her college major at North Carolina's Gardner-Webb University was religious studies, but she made it a double major with theater once she started taking classes.
On her affinity for strong female leads:
McGinnis understands if some people think of her as a feminist director; a lot of plays focused on women have come her way. "But I hope I'm not being pigeonholed," she says. "That'd make things really boring."
On upcoming projects:
Actually, McGinnis's life may be changing: Soon she'll be off to Minnesota to shoot her first feature film, an independent picture (with a quarter-million-dollar budget) called "International Falls." She's also writing her own screenplay of a story set in the South, which is part of finding her sense of direction after a divorce a few years ago. She married at age 20. "Writing my own stories," McGinnis says, "is new to me."
FROM BROADWAY WORLD
When you first started working in theater, was directing the only thing you wanted to do or were there other areas of interest?
The first thing I ever did was play "Squeakers the mouse" in a Christmas production at my church. This is where I peaked as an actor. Thankfully I was also a dancer so I grew up on the stage doing more moving and less talking (which is still my preference to this day) and worked closely with my mom who ran the dance studio. It wasn't until college that I took my first directing class and it was an instant fit. Like many career origin stories, mine started with a professor who believed in me and said, "you're a born director." I haven't looked back since.
Where did you receive your training?
I received my first formal training for theatre in undergrad at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, then attended Baylor University in Texas for my MFA in Directing.
What advice can you give to someone who is fresh out of college and wants to have a career as a theatrical director?
When I got out of college I was working full time at an outlet mall in Gaffney, SC and had to drive an hour (up hill both ways) to pick up theatre work in Charlotte. I said yes to everything. Stage Managing, board op, Assistant Directing, Choreography...So my advice would be to take every opportunity you can to build trust and prove your work ethic with other theatre collaborators. If you do good work with kindness, often more opportunities unfold. BUT...if they don't...you gotta be brave enough to make your own opportunities.
Q&A WITH EVERYMAN THEATRE
We are open-armed and excited to welcome Amber into the Everyman Theatre family. We were privileged enough to book an interview with her for ourselves, featuring an inside scoop detailing her vision for Dancing at Lughnasa, which will debut at Everman on September 4, 2018.
What excites you most about directing Dancing at Lughnasa?
Coming from a background in dance, I’ve always been intrigued by the universal language of dance. When we move we are channeling a form of communication that came before words, connecting to our most primal instincts, and I think Brian Friel examines this idea in a beautiful way.
Your work is often central of powerful female protagonists. What about Lughnasa fits that bill for you?
Lughnasa is a memory play told through the eyes of Michael, a young man who grew up in a house with his mother and her 4 sisters. It’s semi-autobiographical, as Friel dedicates the play to the memory of his aunts from Donegal, “those 5 brave Glenties women.” As the play looks back at the lives of those women, I see echoes of my own family, Irish immigrants who settled in North Carolina in the 1800s. I see my grandmother and her 3 sisters in all of the backbreaking toil, love, and oppression examined in the play. My hope is that I can honor their legacy through my work and shed light on how far we’ve come as women (and how far we might still have left to go…)
Dancing at Lughnasa is rich in Irish culture and history. Can you share with us any connection you have to Irish culture? What about your interests in the history depicted in the play?
As I mentioned, my family immigrated from Ireland a long time ago, but my husband also grew up in Northern Ireland. Meeting him, and now having spent time in Ireland, I understand a bit more about how this island is wrought with beauty and conflict. But I’ve only scratched the surface. Directing this play, which is set in 1936, gives me an opportunity to dive deeper into the culture and examine the embedded religious, political, and economic oppressions of the time.
Vincent Lancini mentioned in a recent meeting that Lughnasa strives to capture the rare and powerful emotion that is simultaneously laughing and crying. How do you plan to bring this phenomena to life on the stage?
Lughnasa is very Chekhovian in this regard. Like Three Sisters, I think it can be possible to simultaneously mourn the loss of a life you wish you had, while finding ways to celebrate the one you have. Life is full of beauty and loss, and the two are never quite as separate as we’d like to think. So how do we bring this to life on stage? By honoring a structure that is driven more by character than by plot and digging deeply into the dreams, disappointments, desires and disillusionments of our characters.
This is your directorial debut here at Everyman Theatre. What excites you about directing members of a Resident Company on this particular play? What else would you like to share with readers about the casting of this show?
I have been a long-time fan of Everyman Theatre, and I’m really excited to be working with this family of artists…and it does feel like a family. Vinny and the team at Everyman go out of their way to create a welcoming environment for artists, and it’s easy to see why so many talented people have made this theatre their home. We have a lot of great company members in this show: Megan, Bruce, Danny, Tim- all people I know and have wanted to work with for a long time. Joining them is an amazing ensemble of women to complete the family of 5 sisters. I made a comment to these women during callbacks that it was truly my honor to get to share a room with so many strong, talented female artists. And that was just for callbacks! You can imagine how excited I am to start rehearsals.
Dancing at Lughnasa hits the stage at Everyman Theatre beginning September 4, through October 7, 2018.