Amber Jackson: I guess you could say I found my way into theatre through film. I grew up watching the old MGM classic musicals and my appreciation for theatre evolved from there.
JL: What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
AJ: The first play I ever directed was a short 10-minute piece written by my theatre professor, who is also a playwright. We rehearsed that thing to death. So I started coming up with exercises for the actors to help keep it fresh: Do the whole scene with just movement and no words/Do the whole thing but say it in your own words/ Play one of the other characters in the scene. I still love to incorporate exercises like that in my rehearsal process when there is time.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your work as a director?
AJ: I feel like one lucky lady because my “day job” is actually writing and directing film for a company called WILL Interactive. I love it. I love the challenge of switching between theatre and film as two powerful storytelling mediums. While WILL focuses 90% of its time on film, the one exception is a live production on the topics of Suicide and Domestic Violence Prevention for the US Army at Fort Hood, TX. I have had the honor and privilege to direct this work for 3 years, and it is by far the most fulfilling work I do.
JL: In DC, we have the Capital Fringe Festival, the Intersections Festival, the Source Festival, the Kennedy Center's Page-to-Stage Festival, the Black Theater Festival, and the Hip Hop Theatre Festival. We also have the Mead Lab at Flashpoint Theater Lab Program. Have you participated in any of these? If so, can you speak about your experience?
AJ: Yes, and I love them all!!! My very first project in DC was directing a piece for Inkwell Theatre at the Page-to-Stage Festival. I think it’s a fantastic way to join the theatre community together to celebrate new work. I have had the privilege to work with the Source Theatre Festival twice: I directed a 10-minute play in 2011 and a full-length play this past summer. Jenny and the team there are so committed to bringing quality new work to the DC area and offer so many opportunities for directors looking to get their feet wet. (Their new mentorship program is an amazing idea). I haven’t directed any projects for the Mead Lab at Flashpoint (yet), but I was part of the creative ensemble that brought John Michael MacDonald’s The Nightmare Dreamer to life this past spring. I’ve been kickin’ around the idea of submitting a show to the Fringe Festival, but so far I’ve only participated as an actor…I was in one of the scenes for Faction of Fools’ Tales of Marriage and Mozzarella this past summer.
JL: How many plays have you directed in the DC area? How many of them were written by women? By playwrights of color? How conscious are you selecting plays by women or people of color when deciding your season?
AJ: If you count staged readings and assistant directing, I would say I’m around a couple dozen directing opportunities so far. I love working with female playwrights. I would guess that probably 2/3 of the plays I have directed since coming here were written by females. But in terms of picking my work—which is rare, since a lot of my projects have been chosen for me—I don’t think I actively pursue plays by a specific race or gender. I just pick the best play with the story that speaks to me the most.
JL: How do you feel the DC theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to work?
AJ: I don’t feel as though my gender has held me back. What does hold me back though is a lack of opportunities to direct full-length plays if you don’t want to produce them yourself. In my opinion, many of the smaller theatres in town were started by Artistic Directors who were looking for opportunities to direct. They end up directing a lot of their own shows, so there is little room for the outsiders to find their way in. And too many of the “big name” theatres in town hire their directors out of NYC, which is B.S.
JL: If you could direct at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
AJ: Woah, that’s tough. I guess Woolly Mammoth would be my first choice. I love their commitment to new plays. Sarah Ruhl is probably my favorite playwright, and I love that her work has been featured there. After directing Gregory Moss’s play, The Uses of Enchantment, this summer for Source, I’m very excited to see what may come from Woolly’s relationship with his work. Also, Mia Chung’s You for Me for You was a play I had the honor to direct for a short Inkwell evening two years ago, and I was so excited to see it at Woolly this year. I think the heartbeat of the work they do just closely matches the style of storytelling I am most attracted to.
JL: DC audiences are ...
AJ: Split in two. (in my opinion) I think it’s rare to see the Shakespeare/ Kennedy Center crowd mingle with the black box theatres.
JL: DC actors and designers are ...
AJ: Amazing! I haven’t worked with many different designers yet, but for the actors—between the films I cast for my day job, and the numerous readings I’ve done with Inkwell, I’ve probably worked with 150-200 actors in the area. They’re wonderful, hardworking artists.
JL: DC playwrights are ...
AJ: Wonderful for doing work here and not feeling like they have to take it all to NYC.
JL: DC critics are ...
AJ: Not focused on the big picture.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based director or a director who has just moved to D.C.?
AJ: Find a theatre home. Constellation was my first theatre home. Building that community and having a home base has been invaluable.
JL: What's next for you as a director? Where can we keep up with your work?
AJ: I’m all over the place! I’m bee-bopping between theatre and film a lot these days. My next theatre-directing project is with Burning Coal theatre in Raleigh, NC. I’ll be collaborating with my dear friend (and playwright and actor) Rebecca Bossen on her play, Blue Straggler, which I was originally introduced to through the Inkwell. You can find me on the stage this spring at First Stage Theatre in Never the Sinner, directed by Jeremy Skidmore. I’ve also just joined the core team of producers at Inkwell, so I’ll be focusing a lot on New Play development in the coming year. You can also look for updates on my website: www.amber-jackson.com