JACQUELINE LAWTON: What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
SUMMER L. WILLIAMS: My first professional show was JESUS HOPPED THE 'A' TRAIN. I loved and feared the thing at the same time because I thought I had to know all of the answers, had to have solved the puzzles of the play before we'd begun. I quickly learned that was totally wrong.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
SLW: I fell in love with theatre when I was 15. I went to a summer program at Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia and the late Wesley Montgomery was my instructor. He was fascinating, and spoke with such passion--I was awestruck. One day he pulled me aside and gave me a copy of SPELL #7 by Ntozake Shange. It was the first time I saw a real place for me in theatre.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your work as a director?
SLW: I teach theatre and direct at Brookline High. No idea how I balance it but my work at the high school offers me opportunities to flex different muscles.
JL: Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts about working in Boston. Finish this sentence...
JL: How do you feel the Boston theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to get your work produced on the main stages?
SLW: As a co-founder of Company One, I feel we are constantly investigating race and class. We are dedicated to creating opportunities for challenging dialogue with artists and audiences. IMHO, it feels as if the theatre community is hasn't fully entered the conversation especially as it pertains to audience development and institution infrastructure. In some ways I think as a black, female I benefit but that can be limiting.
JL: Tell us about the play you’re working on and what excites you about it
SLW: Lydia has created what I would consider her most daring, scathing play to date. It speaks about race and intellectualism in ways that I've never heard presented onstage--it's very exciting to work on something so brilliant and so dangerous particularly for Boston.
JL: Why should audiences attend the XX Playlab Festival?
SLW: The festival offers direct access to new plays by female playwrights with distinct voices and who are unafraid to challenge audiences. The conversations surrounding this thing are going to be extraordinary.
JL: What advice do you have for up-and-coming directors?
SLW: Direct whatever you can get your hands on and be determined to make your own way. As an up-and-coming director, I try to stay focused in that way.
JL: What's next for you as a director? Where can we keep up with your work?
SLW: I’m currently directing Lynn Nottage’s BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK at Lyric Stage Company and this summer I’ll be directing Idris Goodwin’s HOW WE GOT ON at Company One.
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!