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6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From backstage movers to onstage shakers, from Hawaii to Philly, another half dozen folks to have on your radar.

CHERYL FLAHARTY

Cheryl Flaharty.
Cheryl Flaharty.

Profession: Artistic director, IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre
Hometown: Honolulu
Current city: Kailua, Hawaii
Known for: In addition to evening-length works, IONA has offered interactive pieces. In The Living Tarot, first performed in 2007, audiences walked from room to room in a century-old house on Oahu’s Pali Highway to experience performances based on tarot cards they were dealt when they entered. Attendees created their own order, so the dancers performed their 5-minute pieces 10 times each evening.
What’s next: Remounting and touring Dominion (2015), IONA’s first new evening-length piece in six years.
What makes her special: Flaharty “is a person for whom the word ‘visionary’ was created,” says Bucks County Playhouse director of education Hester Kamin. She first encountered Flaharty’s work in 2006, when she was director of education at the Hawaii Theatre, where IONA’s Electric Blue was playing. Kamin raves that Flaharty’s “art direction is stupendous, her illusions are breathtaking, and her ability to address identity, spirituality, and love through image and movement is transcendent…To see an IONA show is to believe that a curtain has been lifted and we have been allowed a glimpse into a parallel world, at once more beautiful and more heart-wrenching than our own.”
On merging dance and theatre: She started incorporating text into her evening-length work with 1997’s Hawaiian Myths & Legends, collaborating with playwright Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl; they’ve since created six evening-length works together. “I work with the dancers through improvisation to bring the words to life in their bodies,” Flaharty explains, “and the pieces become a marriage of the two—dance and voice.”


JIEHAE PARK

Jiehae Park.
Jiehae Park.

Profession: Playwright/actor
Hometown: Born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in Stony Brook, N.Y., and various Maryland suburbs
Current city: Sunnyside, Queens
Known for: Performed in Ghost Stories at NYC’s Tiny Little Band; playwright of peerless at Yale Repertory Theatre; performed in Naomi Iizuka’s* Sleep, based on the short story by Haruki Murakami, from Ripe Time and the Play Company in NYC.
What’s next: She’s one of the writers of Wondrous Strange at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louis­ville in Kentucky (March 2–April 10); commissions from Playwrights Horizons, McCarter Theatre Center, and Williamstown Theatre Festival; readings of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo at Ashland New Play Festival Women’s Invitational and Williamstown.
What makes her special: “When I read peerless for the first time, the play leapt off the page—it’s so funny, intelligent, and daring,” recalls Jennifer Kiger, Yale Rep’s associate artistic director and director of new play programs. Kiger adds that because Park has a background as an actor, “She has an excellent ear for dialogue, and she knows how to mine style and character development simultaneously. Actors love digging into a play with Jiehae.”
How she became a multitasker: “I was an actor in undergrad, but did a playwriting thesis,” she notes. Her artistic ethos is to “make as much cool shit with interesting people as possible before I die.” She explains further: “Both ‘cool shit’ and ‘interesting people’ to me include faces and stories that are a huge part of America’s culture but are far too often excluded from America’s stages.” Another thematic preoccupation, she says, is “the spiritual cost of ‘success.’ And I’m drawn to stories of immigrants—and I think we are all immigrants, in one way or another.”


JON WOJCIECHOWSKI

Jon Wojciechowski.
Jon Wojciechowski.

Profession: Arts administrator
Hometown: New York City
Current home: Ellenville, N.Y.
Known for: He worked as managing director at Portland Stage Company in Maine, then as executive mana­ging director at Cape May Stage in New Jersey and Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts.
What’s next: He recently started as executive managing director at Shadowlands Theatre in Ellenville, a village two hours from New York City, which operates out of a restored art deco movie theatre seating around 180 but plans a new 99-seat black box to showcase new work.
What makes him special: Gloucester Stage technical advisor Curt Siebert calls Wojciechowski “a master of theatre turnaround” whose “business acumen is nothing short of amazing.” And Jim Moffatt, a trustee at Cape May Stage, says Wojciechow­ski’s “magical touch” led to the theatre’s highest­-revenue season ever, thanks to “Jon’s creativity in marketing, brand development, and fundraising.”
Why theatre: About five years ago, Wojciechowski left a cushy two-decade career as a healthcare administrator in marketing and development to pursue his true love, theatre. (“I always joke that in both fields, I work with a lot of sick people—the difference is how sick they are.”) It was a remarka­bly smooth transition, he says, since much of the healthcare work he did was to “take over smaller, struggling hospitals and put in business practices they were missing.” At the theatres he’s helped stabilize, his work has emphasized promoting relevance and encouraging the next generation of audiences and practitioners. “I don’t think we give younger people as many opportunities as we should. Finding and encouraging young talent is as important as finding new plays.”


LINDSAY SMILING

Lindsay Smiling.
Lindsay Smiling.

Profession: Actor
Hometown: Bloomingdale, Ill., a Chicago suburb
Current home: Philadelphia
Known for: A HotHouse company member at the Wilma Theater and adjunct acting professor at Temple University, Smiling recently appeared in Metamorphoses at Arden Theatre Company, Hamlet at the Wilma, Othello at Milwaukee Rep, and most recently Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem.
What’s next: Peter and the Starcatcher at Walnut Street Thea­tre March 15–May 1.
What makes him special: “The first time I saw Lindsay onstage, I froze,” says Jacqueline Goldfinger, playwright and founder of the Foundry in Philadelphia, with whom Smiling is developing a new play called Fresh. “His performances are arresting; they cling to you and refuse to let go until you deal with his characters and their struggles. However, his performances also weave themselves beautifully into the texture of the piece. They stand out, not because he is doing something outside of the charac­ter, but because he so lives the depth and complexity of the ch­arac­ter that each note of his performance falls with resonance and exactitude.” Blanka Zizka, who has directed Smiling is numerous Wilma productions, says “he is a wonderful and wise actor and person; he is always present, and ready to work, experiment, dig deeper, dare to fail or gain, and start again.”
Why theatre: Smiling says he didn’t start acting until he took a class at the College of DuPage, a community college outside of Chicago, and it wasn’t until he was wrapping up his B.A. at Illinois State University that he took it seriously as a profession. “As I was entering college, I thought my career would revolve around math or science, which were my best subjects and usually came quite easy to me,” Smiling recalls. But he found performing irresistible: “There is something intangible and unsolvable about acting that keeps challenging my sensibilities.”


MIWA MATREYEK

Miwa Matreyek.
Miwa Matreyek.

Profession: Animator, performer, director
Hometown: Redwood City, Calif.
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: In addition to work created by her multimedia company Cloud Eye Control, Matreyek’s solo projects include Infinitely Yours, This World Made Itself, and Myth and Infrastructure. Her show Meta.Morph recently appeared at the New Strands Festival of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She is the 2016 Sherwood Award recipient.
What’s Next: A new media arts festival in Trondheim, Norway; Climakaze in Miami, a festival and artist retreat focused on climate change. She is also part of a new piece commissioned by A.C.T. in collaboration with Byron Au Young and Christopher Chen.
What makes her special: Center Theatre Group associate artistic director Diane Rodriguez, who worked with Matreyek on Rude Mechs’s I’ve Never Been So Happy, called her “a one-of-a-kind artist who brings her own personal world into view through her animation,” which is “deep and filled with movement and color.” Says Beatrice Basso, director of new work at A.C.T., “When I think of Miwa’s world I see butterflies becoming cups of coffee becoming a forest. There is a flow between the minuscule and the infinite that is very playful and deeply moving.”
What animation, video, and projection design can do: “What I am interested in is transformation,” says Matreyek, “in the space between cinematic and theatrical, illusion and construction, fantastical and physical, suspension of disbelief and belief. In my own work, I am looking for ways to viscerally and emotionally bring the audience along on the journey through the vessel of my shadow silhouette through dreamscapes and nightmarish moments.”


WILL DAVIS

Will Davis.
Will Davis.

Profession: Director
Hometown: Santa Cruz, Calif.
Current home: Ridgewood, Queens
Known for: Recently named artistic director of Chicago’s American Theater Company, Davis earlier received a Helen Hayes Award for directing Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal at Olney Theatre Center in 2014 (the same production played at Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis); directed Jaclyn Backhaus’s Men on Boats at Clubbed Thumb in NYC in 2015, with a cast of “women and folks otherwise defined.”
What’s next: Evita at Olney (June 23–July 24), which he says will be his “first foray into the musical theatre canon”; a return engagement of Men on Boats at Playwrights Horizons July 19–Aug. 14.
What makes him special: Jennifer Eve Thorn, associate artistic director of the Moxie Theatre in San Diego, Calif., says that Davis’s “gift for storytelling and working with actors is rare and precious,” citing his direction of Orange Julius at Moxie. Wendy C. Goldberg, artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., attributes an essay by Davis about the lack of professional development for directors as her inspiration to create the National Directors Fellowship. Says Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Actor’s Express in Atlanta, “I love the way he thinks about theatre and how elegantly he crystalizes big, expansive ideas.”
The steps he took: Davis studied ballet in college until he was “cut from my program for apparently not being very good.” But movement still informs his work. “Putting the body in dialogue with the spoken word is how I think about my work as a director,” he says. “I am interested in projects that are physically adventurous, and feel like they are just outside the realm of what is possible onstage. When I get stuck in rehearsal, I ask myself, ‘What would Pina Bausch do?’”

*A previous version of this article erroneously credited the adapter for Sleep at Ripe Time. It’s Naomi Iizuka, not Jiehae Park.
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