CECILIA CACKLEY: I was lucky enough to go to a high school with a huge theater program--we did 8-10 shows a year, almost all directed by students. For me, theater was a natural extension of all the games of 'playing pretend' from when I was a kid. I went back and forth between theater and music education as my main career goals, but when I ended up at a college with a theater department but no music education major, that pretty much decided things for me. The experience that got me hooked on puppetry was a retrospective exhibit on Julie Taymor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts that I saw when I was in high school. It made my brain explode with all the storytelling possibilities of puppets.
JL: How long have you served as Artistic Director at your company? What drew you to the position? What keeps you there?
CC: I've been calling myself the Artistic Director for a couple of months now. The company itself came into being very slowly and then all at once this past fall as we really starting preparing for our first full-length show. Since I've been the person who organizes everything, I ended up with the title 'artistic director,' and I'm still getting used to it. I'm excited to get to collaborate with new and old friends and tell stories in exciting ways with puppets!
JL: What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your tenure? Also, what skills and traits do you feel a successful artistic director should have to support the health and growth of an organization?
CC: This lesson is something I was told by an author, but I think it applies to theater artists as well as writers. If someone tells you "No" it really means "Not yet." That has been very valuable--to remember to be patient but also have perseverance. I think artistic directors need to be good listeners, with open minds. I think they need to be willing to take risks. Being organized and able to manage a lot of stress is also really helpful.
JL: What excites you most about being an Artistic Director? What is your greatest challenge?
CC: I love having the opportunity to tell the stories that I want to tell, and collaborate with lots of different artists. I'm excited to get to share puppetry with as many people as possible, both children and adults. My greatest challenge is balancing the various projects within the company, which include school workshops, performances of old shows and creation of new shows. It's a lot to keep up with and can be overwhelming sometimes.
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?
CC: I used to teach elementary school full-time, but I left that about nine months ago so I could do more work as a puppeteer. So far, teaching artist work, stage-managing and part-time work in a bookstore have been enough to pay the bills. I will do pretty much any kind of work as long as it has some combination of art, books and children. Balancing the artistic work with the work of running the organization is definitely a challenge. I try to schedule specific times to work on business things and specific times to work on building puppets or sketching ideas. Genna Davidson and Pat Germann, who are my main collaborators, help me stay organized, and I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to continue working as a director or performer with other companies as well.
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?
CC: It's hard to say, since our body of work is still so small and almost all of it was created by me. But several of the sources for stories that I've turned into puppet shows are by women and I'm very interested in stories from different places around the world, especially Africa and Latin America. My hope is that our repertory will be diverse and so will our collaborators. I guess time will tell.
JL: DC audiences are ...
CC: Enthusiastic and diverse.
JL: DC actors and designers are ...
CC: Some of my favorite people in the world.
JL: DC playwrights are …
CC: Imaginative and out-of-the box thinkers.
JL: DC critics are ...
CC: People who have their own artistic tastes, just like any other audience member.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming theatre artists who have just moved to D.C.?
CC: Reach out to companies who are doing work that you love and ask if you can be involved in some way! Everyone is always eager to work with new people who share their enthusiasm for the arts.
JL: What's next for you as a director and your company?
CC: As a director I'll be working with Young Playwright's Theater in February on a staged reading in their New Writer's Now series. I'll also be continuing to build puppets for Wit's End Puppets' first full-length show The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet which will run at the Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint April 26-May 19. It's an original story of one puppet's journey through fear and the unknown, and it uses a combination of puppets made from found objects and paper. I will be performing, and Carmen Wong is directing; we're all really excited to share it with DC audiences!