KATHLEEN AKERLEY: When I was something like seven or eight years old my sister Helen and my friend Valerie and I wrote and performed a play called The Pearbird, about a brother and sister living in the woods who are saved during the cruel winters from subsisting on bark by a magical bird who makes special food grow on the trees. This magical food in our version (I’m sure it would be different in the Peter Brooks version) was popcorn spread out on an old dress (so it was more of a magical shrub, I suppose), which alluring set element of course was more than the audience could resist, and the fourth wall was broken by most of our neighborhood friends. I never decided to get into theater, I just did theater (Valerie and I also, around that time, wrote and performed The Sleeping Man and The Thief, which was the role-reversing slapstick it sounds like it would be, and a year or so later collaborated with several neighborhood friends on an old, short play, that I now can’t find evidence of anywhere, called Eileen McSweeney’s Ghost). Many things have inspired me to stop doing theater, but I never had to be inspired to do theater.
JL: How long have you served as Artistic Director at your company? What drew you to the position? What keeps you there?
KA: Since 1998, when the company was established. I started the company to do a production of Macbeth that I couldn’t get out of my head; I stay in the position because every summer I get to take my brain out for a spin in the company of good friends who are also skilled artists.
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?
KA: Valuable lesson: how to cope in a lose-lose situation and live with my choice. Skills and traits: I personally feel – this is just for me, I’m not saying everyone should share this value – that a successful artistic director will recognize the difference between the ‘health’ and ‘growth’ of a company, but that’s my soapbox about maintenance economies that no one needs me to re-mount.
JL: What excites you most about being an Artistic Director? What is your greatest challenge?
KA: Getting to take something that exists in an isolated part of my brain and express (in this context a massive verb with any number of footnotes and drop-down menus) it for and with other people. My greatest challenge by far if I ran the company the way many people have encouraged to me run it would be networking but fortunately I have Heather Haney as a company member (she is our voice of Twitter, among other skills) and anyway try to operate the company in a way that minimizes the need for fund-raising; the greatest challenge for me in running the company the way I want to run it is not feeling like I died any time a company member moves on.
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?
KA: I work part-time in a law office, freelance as an actor, director, playwright and teacher, and have just finished my training to be a massage therapist and hopefully will get my license later this month. Because Longacre Lea only does one show a year I and the other company members can easily balance working with the company and working with other companies.
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?
KA: I don’t think of gender in anything except mate selection and, where needed, in casting; I don’t think of race except when Chris Holbert makes jokes about calling the curtains ‘blacks.’ I know these are not trivial matters – I have more than an academic awareness of how discrimination plays out – but to me the best choice I can make is not to discriminate at all.
JL: DC audiences are ...
KA: … unlikely to have nougat centers.
JL: DC actors and designers are ...
KA: … kind of like the farmer and the cowman: the actors demanding water rights, the designers building fences. I can stretch this feckless analogy further if need be.
JL: DC playwrights are …
KA: … the sun, I am the moon, they are the words, I am the tune.
JL: DC critics are ...
KA: … comin’ ‘round the mountain when they come.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming theatre artists who have just moved to D.C.?
KA: … Don’t be impressed by anyone, including yourself; don’t disrespect anyone, including yourself.
JL: What's next for you as a director and your company?
KA: I’m directing the ‘Voodoo’ Macbeth for American Century Theatre – not trying to recreate Welles’ production so much as searching for the modern equivalents of his intentions. As for my company, we'll be on hiatus this year but fully committed to the 2014 return.