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Kimberly Senior: Fantastic Host

For director, Kimberly Senior, culture has always been a way of life. So, it came as no surprise, when she chose directing for the stage as her life’s work. I was able to chat with Kimberly about theatre and the art of directing a couple of days after the opening night of Sex With Strangers. Read on.

How did you discover theatre? I grew up in New York and New Jersey and my parents took me to see theatre starting at a young age. As a child, sitting in the audience, it was exciting to me that theatre became not only an experience of watching — it transformed into a ritual of community and storytelling. It’s risky to be an audience member. There is a deep responsibility to laugh or to be vulnerable as an audience member — and I found that element exciting.

“It’s risky to be an audience member.”

Why directing? For me, being the director is not being “the boss”. I’ve always viewed being the director to being a fantastic host. It is the director’s job to create the right environment for the artists to thrive. By taking something one dimensional and turning it into something with three dimensions, frankly, makes directing the coolest job in the world.

SWS kiss
Sex with Strangers cast members Stephen Louis Grush and Rebecca Pidgeon. Photo: Michael Lamont

What drew you to Sex With Strangers? I grew up in the Chicago theatre community with Laura Eason. I’ve been involved with the project since 2009 when it was produced during Steppenwolf’s First Look Festival. I met Randy Arney there when I was 21 years old so, for me, Sex With Strangers is having a sort of homecoming by being here at the Geffen. I couldn’t wait to get started on the play again and I consider it a love letter to Laura.

As a woman in the field of directing, the work can be challenging — particularly when getting hired. Are you finding that the climate, at least in the theatre, is changing? I do see the climate changing — slowly. In my opinion, the answer is patience, modeling and mentorship. I tried for years to get an audience with one particular Artistic Director in Chicago. I finally cornered him and said “Why don’t you hire women at your theatre?” And you know what? He came to see all the shows I directed after that, he advised me and finally — I got a job directing at his theatre. The people coming up through the ranks tend to mentored by the same type of people, but that is changing. And I am so proud to say that my assistant director is now directing on the mainstage of that same theatre. It takes time, but it is happening.

Kimberly in rehearsal
Kimberly Senior, with Assistant Director Kristen Osborn talking to the cast and crew of Sex With Strangers during the first read-thru. Photo: Karen Gutierrez

Ever feel pulled to TV or film?Definitely, but not in a hired gun capacity. I’d love to be a part of a story expanding over time. There is an intimacy with the tempo of the lens.

Got a second favorite job to directing? Being a mom. In the theatre you’re always striving to be present. As a parent, there is no other way to be. Perspective makes everything tough, but being with them is the most important thing to me. I make my work for them. I love listening to them play piano or just talking to my daughter. it’s exciting to watch them become their own people.

What’s next? Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar will be at the Mark Taper Forum in June 2016. This will be it’s seventh production. I’m excited to dive back in.

This May, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord will open at Northlight Theatre in Illinois (our readers may remember Discord here at the Geffen Playhouse from the 14/15 season) with a new cast.

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, directed by Kimberly Senior (New York Production Jan 2015) Photo: Sara Krulwich/NY Times

Any playwright or project you’d like to direct in the future? Someday I’d love to work with playwright Thomas Bradshaw. And as for productions, I’d love to do a production of Carousel or La Ronde.

For more information about Kimberly Senior’s work, visit her website: http://www.kimberlysenior.net/

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