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6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From a Taekwondo artist turned production manager to a costume and scenic designer inspired by figurative painting, here are some theatre folks to have on your radar.

Courtney Little

Courtney Little.
Courtney Little.

Profession: Producer
Hometown: Pasadena, Calif.
Current home: Roselle Park, N.J.
Known for: She’s the producing associate at Union, N.J.’s Premiere Stages, and she previously worked on the Broadway productions of Fiddler on the Roof, China Doll, and Dames at Sea. She also worked with Olympus Theatricals on the Broadway staging of Love Letters and served as associate producer for Together We are Making a Poem in Honor of Life by Dean Poyner at P.S. 142 in New York City.
Current and upcoming projects: Little just wrapped up Deborah Brevoort’s My Lord, What a Night at Premiere Stages, presented in the historic 1882 Carriage House on the grounds of the Liberty Hall Museum in Union, N.J. Now she’s gearing up for Premiere Stages’s Annual Play Festival in March 2017.
What makes her special: “Courtney impressed me from the moment I met her,” says Adam Immerwahr, Little’s supervisor during her internship at Princeton, N.J.’s McCarter. “She was brilliant during her year at McCarter Theatre Center as a producing and casting intern, and I don’t know how we could have possibly made it through the season without her cleverness, her energy, or her boundless enthusiasm.”
Her path to producing: “I fell in love with theatre after I won tickets to Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre” in Los Angeles, Little recalls. “I don’t remember much of the actual production, except the chandelier, of course. I remember being so excited by the ritual of going to the theatre: dressing up, getting there early, being handed my own playbill, sitting in excited anticipation before the show, not knowing what would happen onstage in just a few minutes.” After working onstage and backstage in school productions, she found her niche: “I’ve always loved getting to be involved in both the big picture and finer details of putting on a show, and producing is a natural fit.”

David Stewart

David Stewart.
David Stewart.

Profession: Production manager
Hometown: Denver
Current home: Minneapolis
Known for: He’s the Guthrie Theater’s director of production; he co-created the Gateway program to help diversify membership of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, for which he serves on the board of directors; earlier this year he was the stage manager for the Dalai Lama’s visit to Madison, Wisc.
What’s next: At the Guthrie, The Parchman Hour is currently running (Oct. 1-Nov. 6), followed by A Christmas Carol (Nov. 16-Dec. 30) and The Lion in Winter (Nov. 19-Dec. 31).
What makes him special: Says Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj, “There are great managers. A very few of them are also great leaders. David is one of them.” Haj says that “only a part of the job is a supervisory one—the greater part is leader­ship, helping align the core values of the organization with all of the many functions of the areas that he oversees. It is a job that requires multiple intelligences. David has them all.”
From martial arts to marshaling diversity: Stewart took a stagecraft class in high school after too much Taekwondo “did a number on my knees.” Looking for no more than an easy A, Stewart found a mentor in John Van Epps, who took a “ragtag bunch of students from all walks of life and turned us into a production machine.” Following a BFA in stage management and stints at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin, social justice and the Guthrie entered his life. “If we are to survive as an industry, we must take up the mantle of diversification and inclusion,” he says. “It is time we take our heads out of the colorblind sand and become color-bold.”

Dipika Guha

Dipika Guha.
Dipika Guha.

Profession: Playwright
Hometown: Born in Calcutta, India, raised in India, Russia, and the U.K.
Current home: Berkeley, Calif.
Known for: Mechanics of Love at San Francisco’s Crowded Fire Theater, The Rules at San Francisco Playhouse, and Blown Youth at Wallflower Theatrical in the U.K. Her play The Art of Gaman was the most-recommended work on the 2016 Kilroys List, and her I Enter the Valley made the 2014 Kilroys List.
What’s next: She currently has a number of commissions, including Yoga Play, “a comedy about yoga, capitalism, and the business of peace,” for California’s South Coast Rep. And she’s finishing her entry for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play on! Shakespeare translation project, The Merry Wives of Windsor.
What makes her special: Crowded Fire artistic director Mina Morita quoted playwright Paula Vogel, who described Guha as “smart, political, theatrical, and deeply, fiercely emotional.” Morita agrees, saying, “Her writing defies Western and often linear processing, and the trappings of our psychological theatre. It lifts into a pure theatricality when placed in the mouths and bodies of actors, and demands collaborators who are willing to think differently about acting approach and world-building.”
Her inspiration: Guha didn’t start writing until she joined the Young Writers Program at the Royal Court Theatre in London. “There I fell in love with stage directions,” she recalls. “The origins of my plays are often there: in the texture and atmosphere of the world of the play, before the people arrive.” She’s fascinated by “language forged in yearning, particularly the yearning of marginalized women who are articulating their place in a world that does not have one for them,” and by patterns of migration that are “changing the contours of the world and what the language for these shifting paradigms will be for the human beings inhabiting this moment.”

Drew Foster

Drew Foster.
Drew Foster.

Profession: Scenic/costume designer
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: Foster’s background as a dancer, fine artist, and stage actor informs his work in theatre and as art director for Thinkwell Group, which creates large-scale events and immersive designs. A recipient of the 2012 Beutner Family Award at CalArts, he worked as the in-field art director for the Warner Bros. Fun Zone at Studio City in Macau, China, and provided art direction for theatre spectacles and parades at EonTime World in Harbin, China.
What’s next: This fall Foster will work on the CalArts Center for New Performance staging of Fantômas: Revenge of the Image at China’s Wuzhen Theatre Festival. He will run point for the art direction of two major attractions at a theme park in the United Arab Emirates, and he will do art direction for an indoor snow park in the Middle East and a movie property theme park in Asia.
What makes him special: “He designs with bodies and motion in mind,” says director Marina McClure, who worked with Foster on CalArts’s 2012 Purgatory in Ingolstadt. “His renderings and models are beautiful—not only are they incredibly effective at communicating the power of the space and the potential for staging, but they are pieces of art in their own right.”
Figurative painting as theatrical inspiration: “The body moving through space and time forms the basis of my work in all disciplines,” says Foster. “I’m fascinated with these fragile vessels we inhabit and the structures we build around them, from architectural forms to the sociocultural functions of our garments. In figurative painting, the body is deeply considered, rendered with utmost care and scrutiny. I attempt to render that same care for the body in space with any project, be it for a tiny 30-seat house or a major world-class theme park attraction.”

Heather Litteer

Heather Litteer.
Heather Litteer.

Profession: Actor/playwright
Hometown: Snellville, Ga.
Current home: New York City
Known for: Litteer appeared regularly in the guise of Jessica Rabbit at the 1990s-era New York nightclub Jackie 60 (and was an active presence in its successor, Jackie ­Factory). She’s also toured internationally as a member of the multimedia performance collective Big Art Group. Most recently she was a ­LaMaMa resident artist, where she had a TCG Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship to develop her autobiographical one-woman show ­Lemonade. She describes the piece as “like a poem,” only with designers “stolen from the Wooster Group.”
What’s next: She hopes to take Lemonade to next year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and also mentions “a project that will open in Europe about the women of Fassbinder,” which is “in the baby stages—it has a way to go.”
What makes her special: LaMaMa’s artistic director, Mia Yoo, enthuses about Litteer’s “unique aura, talent, and charisma,” adding that she and her staff “can’t wait to see Heather continue to explode the rules onstage.” The auteur  Basil Twist hailed her “brilliant mix of sexy worldliness and innocence.”
Dressing the part: “I love the rehearsal process,” Litteer says. “I love learning and researching, and I love to tell stories to inspire people, to give people hope and get them through a problem. You can never stop learning in theatre.” Lest that sound too lofty, she confesses a more elemental attraction to the stage: “I like to be in front of people—jazz hands!” Though she’s spent no small part of her career wearing very little onstage, that’s simply another guise, she explains: “I’m always dressing up; I’m a character person. I’m a different character every time I walk out the door.”

Nataki Garrett

Nataki Garrett.
Nataki Garrett.

Profession: Director
Hometown: Born in Washington, D.C., raised in Oakland, Calif.
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: Directing Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in D.C. and Katori Hall’s Pussy Valley at Minneapolis’s Mixed Blood Theatre. She’s the associate artistic director of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP), a company member at Woolly, and co-artistic director of L.A./New York City’s Blank the Dog Productions.
What’s next: She’ll direct Nambi E. Kelley’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son at Glendale, Calif.’s Antaeus Theatre Company in April 2017. CalArts’s CNP will produce her Carolyn Bryant Project, cowritten with Andrea LaBlanc, an exami­nation of the Emmett Till tragedy.
What makes her special: CNP artistic director Travis Preston calls Garrett a “singular director. She hungers for the truth beneath the apparent and embraces human complexity and wonder in everything she does.”
What’s the big idea: Garrett says she’s attracted to “plays that seem impossible to stage, and to those which impact us in tremendous ways, chasing us out of our comfort zones.” She continues: “My mandate in the theatre is to give voice to the voiceless, and I am inspired by stories that expose the dark and discarded in the corners of our existence.” Though still young, Garrett has been in the theatre long enough to see it go through distinct periods. She began, she says, “in the age of multiculturalism. I entered grad school when benefiting from affirmative action became something to be ashamed of. I graduated from grad school into the age of diversity, and now we are in the age of inclusion and pari­ty. My hope is for true equality for the next generation of ­storytellers, theatre artists, and makers.”

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