Jacqueline Lawton: What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
Karin Abromatis: In college I directed Maria Stewart by Goethe. I remember drawing tons of maps of the blocking I wanted to do (which I don’t do anymore). And I remember the actors complaining about how much physical work they were having to do (which I still do! And actors still grumble about it, when they’re not having a ton of fun doing it and we’re all laughing our heads off). The thing I learned that still informs my work is to always look at the actors and set in 3 dimensions. There is so much metaphor and subconscious visceral response in visual design, that I always want to find the “architecture” that supports the text and the underlying meaning.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
KA: This is still so clear to me. My English teacher my sophomore year of high school suggested that I audition for the school play. We had just finished a unit on public speaking-I guess I did pretty well. So I auditioned for Antigone and was cast as Antigone and I memorized the ENTIRE script, because I thought it was so incredible. Performing that role, in that play about speaking truth to power changed my life. Bingo, I was hooked! It still took me until my junior year of college to switch majors though-bye bye pre-med.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your work as a director?
KA: I’m very lucky in a way. I get to do what I love full time (overtime). I teach acting and movement for actors at George Washington University, where I’ve been on the adjunct faculty since 1998. This semester I’m teaching a Mask/Movement class in the Opera Program at UMD and next semester I’ll be teaching at Catholic University. I’ve also been adjunct at Georgetown University, Montgomery College, and even Towson. I only teach at two or sometimes three schools at a time. Movement coaching and choreography and fight directing are areas where I get a lot of calls to work-and I love it! And then on the other side (this is where most people talk about their real world jobs with benefits and regular hours) I make pottery and jewelry (another well paying gig-ha!). Although I have no $ benefits, I do have great joy and satisfaction in all my work. And the bills get paid-somehow.
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?
KA: I wrote, directed and produced Domestic Snakes at the Fringe a couple of years ago. It’s a solo show about women and their hair (and other things) that I originally performed way back in 1990. My daughter, Lindsay, performed it at the Fringe Festival. The Fringe is such a great opportunity to get work up in front of an audience. And I’m so glad to have had that chance to do that show with Lindsay, especially since she is no longer able to perform since developing ALS this year. I also directed a staged reading of 5 Little Monkeys by Ernie Nolan from the book by Eileen Christelow for Adventure Theatre at the Kennedy Center Page to Stage. We had a great time putting that up last year. It was so good to try out that new script in front of an audience. We got excellent feedback from a really invested audience. Working on a new play is so fun and so scary. Which is the definition of awesome, isn’t it? So far, my only experience with the Source Festival was as a collaborative blind date artist. That was amazing! Tzveta Kassabova, choreographer and printmaker, Kristina Bilonik were fabulous to work with. We created a performance piece (Memoria Brassica) about memory and its loss, and used over 500 cabbages onstage! That program was very supportive and nurturing and a real creative shot in the arm for me.
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?
KA: Just checked my resume-looks like I’ve done around 14+ as a director and over 80 as a movement or fight choreographer! See what happens when you’re around long enough! One of the earliest shows I directed was Free to Be You and Me at the Capital Children’s Museum. Nick Olcott was one of my actors! That was in the 80’s. Only a handful of these shows were by women, Sidra Rausch was one (I directed two of her shows), Wendy Wasserstein’s American Daughter, and I directed a production of Dream of a Common Language by Heather McDonald at George Washington University about 10 years ago. I’ve worked on other shows by women, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Sarah Ruehl, and the fantastically funny Renee Calarco (If You Give a Cat a Cupcake), but yeah, out of that list of 80+ shows, probably not more than 20 or so were by women or people of color. Working with the brilliant Jennifer Nelson at ACTCo. and with Tsunami Theater did give me the opportunity to work on shows by African American and Asian playwrights. Since I don’t get to pick a season, that question doesn’t apply, but I do get very excited about plays that have a certain muscularity or poetic imagery to them, so I look for that first whoever writes them.
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?
KA: Many theater companies have been created directly in response to lack of representation of gender and race groups in DC, so we have made a pretty good start. Its harder for women and people of color to get work as directors without being slotted into doing “women’s shows” or “black shows”, but in my case I think it also has a lot to do with me not being very good at self-promotion. I just have to keep working on that!
JL: If you could be direct at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
KA: I’d be thrilled to work at so many of our theaters. Two that come to mind right now are Rorschach and Constellation, because they are open to new plays, quirky plays, and new ways of doing plays. I love working with a very physical approach to plays. I tend to look at plays and especially sets as playgrounds for actors and directors to collaborate on, and both these theaters have a strong reputation for working that way.
JL: DC audiences are ...
JL: DC actors and designers are ...
KA: Generous, talented, smart and I love them!
JL: DC playwrights are ...
KA: Juicing it up!
JL: DC critics are ...
KA: Getting better. I really appreciate critics who love theater and want the art form to succeed even when a particular show perhaps has flaws.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based director or a director who has just moved to D.C.?
KA: Work on everything and anything that comes your way. Learn good business skills!
JL: What's next for you as a director? Where can we keep up with your work?
KA: I’ll be directing Big Love at Montgomery College, Rockville in April and then The Cat in the Hat at Adventure Theater in May, opening in June. We’ve got a local star all set to play the Cat, but I’m not sure if I can say who it is yet! I’m thrilled! You can keep track of me on my website (especially if I update it! Did I say I was a little weak on the business end of things?). www.KarinAbromaitis.com
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!