JACQUELINE LAWTON: What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
MEGAN SANDBERG-ZAKIAN: The first plays I ever directed were epic holiday pageants in the living room. I learned that when your little cousin gets stage fright and you have to call in your dad as an understudy, you may be surprised at how much more effective the replacement casting is. It turns out that dad wearing a scarf over his head and talking in a high voice is always a hit. Seriously, though - as the great Erik Ehn says, theater is hospitality. I always try to carry something of that living room feeling with me.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
MSZ: In fourth grade I was home sick from school and started to watch a movie called “The Dollmaker.” In the first ten minutes, a little deaf girl is playing on the train tracks, is hit by a train, and dies. I cried my eyes out. And I thought, “I want to make people feel as much as I feel right now.” It sounds terrible, but I think that was the initial impulse. Hopefully now it’s moved beyond wanting to make people cry! To this day I haven’t seen the rest of that movie.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your work as a director?
MSZ: I’ve been extremely fortunate have a series of producorial jobs at arts organizations I love, from The 52nd Street Project youth theater in NYC, to the Black Rep in Providence, RI, and now Underground Railway Theater in Cambridge, MA. I’m just as passionate about nurturing institutions as I am about nurturing plays, so it has worked out really well so far.
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?
MSZ: I’ve only lived here for about a year, but I’ve been heartened by the dialogue that’s been taking place in our community during that time. In particular, there is a strong group of young female directors that works frequently on the large and mid-size stages in the greater Boston area, which I find very encouraging. Non-white directors and, in particular, designers, are less well represented - but there has been some good movement around shifting these paradigms.
JL: Tell us about the play you’re working on and what excites you about it.
MSZ: Rehearsing Natalia’s play, Old Ship of Zion, is like sitting around on a Sunday afternoon with your seven most fun friends, alternating between hilarious jokes and heartbreaking personal stories, breaking out into beautiful song every so often... I hope watching the play feels that way too. It’s a unique combination of accessible and poetic.
JL: Why should audiences attend the XX Playlab Festival?
MSZ: Natalia is definitely the next big thing. You’ll want to say “I saw her there first!” Plus, it’s free.
JL: What advice do you have for up-and-coming directors?
MSZ: Almost all the mid-career and established directors in the field I've met are open, generous, and responsive. People are busy, so sometimes you have to be persistent, but contact directors whose work you admire, tell them why, and begin to build collegial relationships. Sometimes those turn into mentorships or assistantships, but even just having a collegial conversation with a more established colleague can be transformative.
JL: What's next for you as a director? Where can we keep up with your work?
MSZ: I’m one of the co-founders of a group called The Cabaret Series which is producing an evening of all-new music called “Homebrew” at Central Square Theater on March 11th; more info on that and other upcoming projects at www.cabaretseries.com. And I’m at megansz.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!