• Billie McBride, “Vigil,” 2013
• Haley Johnson, assistant director in “12 Angry Men,” 2014
• Piper Lindsay Arpan, “Red, Hot & Cole,” 2017
• Shannan Steele, “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women,” 2018
• Billie McBride, “A Picasso,” 2018
• Kelly Van Oosbree, “A Little Night Music,” 2019
• Sheila Ivy Traister, “Other Desert Cities,” 2019
• Billie McBride, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” 2019
The managers of Cherry Creek Theatre (CCT) have made an unprecedented move in the company’s history — some say in the history of all of Denver’s theater community: They have hired an all-female team of directors for the upcoming 2019 season.
Since the curtain rose on the CCT’s first production in 2011, the company has only had three female directors out of 24 total. The company’s 2019 season includes three shows that will be performed at the Pluss Theatre of the Mizel Arts and Cultural Center at 350 S. Dahlia St. in the Virginia Vale neighborhood.
Denver theaters have hired female directors in the past.
Susie Snodgrass, the first female artistic producer at CCT, said the difference here is she and CCT managers have consciously made the decision to hire an all-female team for the entire season.
“We have incredible male talent in Denver,” Snodgrass said. “I don’t ever want to speak against that. But right now, I have chosen to help women along.”
Both Sheila Ivy Traister and Billie McBride found the Denver theater community difficult to break into when they first started working here as actresses and directors.
McBride, who will be directing CCT’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” in the fall, said 20 years ago, there were not nearly as many options when it came to theater.
Traister, who will direct “Other Desert Cities,” CCT’s spring production, said many theaters could be doing more to be inclusive.
“Opportunities for women and people of color have certainly improved in recent years, and the concept of inclusion and diversity is on the lips of most of the prominent companies in town,” Traister said. “There is still a gap in practice, and there needs to be a willingness on the part of existing establishments to go outside their comfort zone, to seek new and different stories — and new and different faces to tell those stories — to become truly inclusive.”
The culture now is supportive of female directors, according Kelly Van Oosbree, who is a director and choreographer. She will be directing CCT’s 2019 season opener, Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”
“I have often been recommended by other female directors/choreographers for projects, and I have done the same in turn,” she said. “I think Colorado theater companies want the best person for the job and, luckily, our community is blessed with some really fantastic women who can get things done.”
When it comes to staffing, Snodgrass said she’s not going to hire a woman just because of her gender. “She has to be good,” she said. “I seek those people out.”
Talent is only half the battle, she said, noting she also asked her directors to take the job because they’re passionate about the shows.
“If you don’t like what you’re doing, it will show on stage,” Snodgrass said. “If you’re excited to put it on stage, your actors are going to get that and your staff are going to get that.”
The 2019 season opens on Jan. 24 and includes Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “Other Desert Cities.”
According to Van Oosbree, “A Little Night Music” has not been produced in the Denver area in at least 15 years. Both Van Oosbree and Traci Kern, the musical director, are thrilled to start working on Sondheim’s challenging material and find skilled actors and musicians who are up to the task.
The characters of “Other Desert Cities” are scripted with an explicitly white family demographic, Traister said, inhibiting her from choosing a diverse group of actors like she would prefer. However, she is excited to dive into the complex issues this play addresses such as race, class distinction and politics, among many others.
McBride is looking for the perfect duo to cast in leading male roles in “Tuesdays with Morrie’s.” McBride plans to have a loose idea of what she wants to do with the show before casting and then craft the rest of the story with her actors during rehearsal. She said she thinks it will be interesting to see what she brings to the production as a woman directing two men.
Snodgrass, Kern and McBride all agree women are different from men in the way they think and the emotional perspective they bring to their work. They bring a side to artistry that’s different, Snodgrass said. Kern added that she hopes more theaters will take steps to add diversity.
“It has been fantastic to be on a team with talented women,” Kern said, “to be celebrated for that and, hopefully, be the start of that becoming more the normal, not a novelty.”
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