CATHERIINE ASELFORD: I grew up around theatre. My father was a theatre musician – house band at the National, played all the shows at Ford’s, rehearsal piano for opera and ballet, etc. I wasn’t too interested in musicals – I guess because I was so familiar with them, they held no glamour for me. When I read Macbeth, I decided I wanted to be an actor. Later, at Catholic U, I read The Revengers’ Tragedy and decided I wanted to direct. I switched to the Directing Program. Back in the ‘80’s, directors often pitched scripts to theatres – far more than they do today – and I was seduced into directing by literature I loved.
JL: How long have you served as Artistic Director at your company? What drew you to the position? What keeps you there?
CA: I was one of the four founders of The Georgetown Theatre Company. After the original Artistic Director moved to NYC to direct operas, I took on the position in 1993. I was reluctant, because I didn’t want to become an administrator.
JL: What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your tenure?
CA: Success follows money; money doesn't’ follow success.
JL: What excites you most about being an Artistic Director? What is your greatest challenge?
CA: Creating programs – whether a production, a reading series, or a collaborative performance event – excites me. Creating good work is also a challenge, because everything has to go right—one thing going wrong can ruin a project. As an Artistic Director, I get the opportunity to turn my ideas into programs, and the challenge of making the programs happen.
JL: If your work as an artistic director doesn’t pay the bills, what else do you do? Also, how do you balance your role leading an organization with your work as a director? Are you ever able to direct outside of your company?
CA: I never supported myself as a director. For a short time, I supported myself as an actor, then as a theatre teacher (I went back to school to get my Maryland teaching certification). I’m now Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, an arts center in Old Town Alexandria.
I think it’s important to direct outside one’s own company. Otherwise, a director risks cutting herself off from so many influences.
JL: Looking at your body of work as an artistic director and a director, how conscious are you and selecting plays by women or people of color when deciding your season? Also, when it comes to hiring administrators, designers and other directors do you take race and gender into consideration?
CA: When we founded TGTC (now Guillotine Theatre), only the Folger Shakespeare Theatre was presenting classics, so our goal was to present classic plays by other authors. Because of that early mission, we chose mostly shows by dead white men. In 1993, we opened the mission up to include adaptations of classic literature, and since then we’ve produced lots more plays by women. One of my favorite novelists of color, Alexandre Dumas, is adapted to play form all the time (he was also a playwright himself); we presented two adaptations of his works, both by women playwrights.
When it comes to hiring other artists – performers, directors, or designers – I’m colorblind. Some directors deliberately cast actors of colors in certain roles in order to make a point. I focus on what the actor – aside from skin color -- can bring to the role. Of course, when working on plays that deal with race issues, the director needs to take race and ethnicity into consideration when casting. I don’t do too much cross gender-casting, but when I do it’s because there are so many talented women, and so few women’s roles in Renaissance through 18th century plays.
JL: DC audiences are …
CA: More intelligent than some producers, directors and playwrights realize. Come on, people, don’t be afraid of big words and big ideas.
JL: DC actors and designers are …
CA: Incredibly creative!
JL: DC playwrights are ..
CA: Increasingly part of a national community of writers, who are produced all over, not just in their home cities.
JL: DC critics are …
CA: Getting younger, and that’s good! Peter Marks is the best POST lead critic we’ve had since Richard Coe (I’m not sucking up, I just hated the last two critics), but more and more reviews are coming from the keyboards of people in their ‘30’s. These young reviewers tend to call out productions that skimp on basic storytelling, or that don’t hold the audience’s interest.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming theatre artists who have just moved to D.C.?
CA: If you’re an actor, audition for everything. If you’re a director or designer, volunteer a lot.
JL: What's next for you as a director and your company?
CA: DC SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day is next for us. It’s Saturday, March 23. DC SWAN Day features the Staged Reading Marathon, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Marathon is 12-15 short plays by women playwrights from all over the USA (and sometimes abroad), directed by DC area women directors. This year, we are presenting a “best-of” selection of plays read in the 2008-2012 DC SWAN Days. Check us out at www.georgetowntheatre.org