JACQUELINE LAWTON: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
HELEN PAFUMI: I only briefly considered going into anything else. I discovered the stage early and because it was always a part of my life, it would have been more surprising if I had chosen something other than theatre. I briefly thought about politics, and painting. Both are still part of my life, but I am glad I chose to follow my current path.
JL: How long have you served as Artistic Director at your company? What drew you to the position? What keeps you there?
HP: I co-founded The Hub Theatre with two other amazing individuals – Marey Oakes and Maggie Ulmer – back in 2008. I have served as AD since our inception. Of the three of us, I was the natural producer. Maggie has a theatrical education background and Marey came from the administrative side of non-profits. We were a great trio. As the company changed, so did our lives. Marey serves on the Board and Maggie is in our company of artists. They are still my great sounding boards.
I started The Hub in Fairfax because I felt that proximity to the city should not be the main factor in whether or not a community had high level, professional theatre. I am excited that Fairfax is growing in that realm with other professional organizations cropping up. I am driven to keep going by the fact that we are providing a new level of artistic service to this community. As urban sprawl continues, so does my belief that the future of theatre needs to lie in not just our urban centers, but in our outlying communities as well. I am very passionate about helping to define what that is, and will be. There are amazing artists and audiences in Fairfax County. Being in service to my community keeps me from ever thinking to narrowly about the plays I produce or the theatre in general.
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?
HP: The most valuable lesson I have learned is that the best idea in the room is what should be used. I have always known this logically, but it is a difficult practice to actuate. Respect cannot be sacrificed for it. The best collaborative artistic teams, board members, and staff all know this. They are able to lead with clarity and command respect, while still leaving room for the best idea from any corner.
As for traits – I respect anyone coming through our doors, from those we work with to those who buy a ticket. I believe in a high level of collaboration, organization as well as artistry, an eye for great talent regardless of resume, a strong understanding of budgeting, strength of vision, adaptability, strategic thinking, and a passion for the mission of the company. That’s a run on sentence, and there are still more to go.
JL What excites you most about being an Artistic Director? What is your greatest challenge?
HP: I am most excited about sharing great work. When you get a stellar artistic team together with the right cast, working on the right play… the effect is what makes theatre magical. Buoying great artists and creating artistic collaborations is very rewarding. But the best moment is sitting at the back of the house, watching the audience take in everything we have collectively created.
The greatest challenge is in making that magic without letting the gears show. Lack of money, time, staff, and equipment are the realities that can threaten an otherwise outstanding artistic product. It takes some major sleight of hand, and a great deal of help, for each production.
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?
HP: The Hub is my full time job now. Part time work includes acting from time to time, as well as dialect, audition, and public speaking coaching. I also teach creative drama to kids. I have not tried directing a full production outside of The Hub. I am sure I would if the time and play were right. As an actor though, I now will only take work outside The Hub. After the last show I did with my company I realized the burn out that would happen if I tried to produce and act at The Hub regularly. Being on stage in a Hub show cuts off my ability to take in our product as a producer or an audience member, and it is far more important for me to do that. And luckily, this area is graced with plenty of talent who are more than happy to take those roles.
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?
HP: I give very little conscious thought to gender or ethnicity when I do my hiring. I bring on the best people and slate the best plays for a season. So far it has been very equitable when it comes to staffing. As for plays, although I have a good track record with gender equity, the same cannot be said of color. To be fair though, the last three plays by people of color that I asked for the rights to, were denied to The Hub. Still, its something I am aware of and am actively looking to address.
JL: DC audiences are ...
HP: Fun to watch a show with.
JL: DC actors and designers are ...
HP: Folks I am lucky to know and work with.
JL: DC playwrights are ..
HP: A force to be reckoned with.
JL: DC critics are ...
HP: Doing their jobs.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming theatre artists who have just moved to D.C.?
HP: Go to the theatre, intern (The Hub’s always looking!) get involved with the Source Festival, Fringe, attend open calls. Just get yourself out there.
JL: What's next for you as a director and your company??
HP: I just directed HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE by Marc Acito at The Hub. I am incredibly proud of the work that went into developing and producing that production. Next up I am producing A MAN, HIS WIFE, AND HIS HAT by Lauren Yee, at The Hub, which has just started preproduction. Find out more at www.thehubtheatre.org
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!