Guillermo Cienfuegos is a bit of an anomaly. His acting name (and given name) is Alex Fernandez, but in the director’s seat he is Guillermo. The American Conservatory Theater grad first acquired the pseudonym when he was both acting in and directing a 2002 production of Pains of Youth, and decided to split his credits, taking inspiration from the play’s author, Ferdinand Bruckner, the nom de plume of critic Theodor Tagger. The name Cienfuegos is a nod to the Miami native’s Cuban heritage.
“Guillermo got much better reviews than I ever got, so when it came time to direct other things, I kept the name. It seemed a shame to end his promising career,” he says with a laugh. “There’s a distinction there that somehow works for me. Guillermo is smarter than me, he’s more courageous, and he takes more chances.”
Cienfuegos has since directed more than 30 plays in Los Angeles. The transition to directing, he reasons, was “something I should’ve been doing all along.” And while he had no formal directing training, he looked to some of the directors he most enjoyed working with as an actor for guidance: Jack Fletcher at A.C.T. and acting teacher Paul Richards.
For Cienfuegos, the work starts around the table. “I feel like it’s important to dissect particular beats in scenes before we act them,” he says. This process is what led to his vision for an acclaimed staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V at Pacific Resident Theater in 2014. At the first rehearsal he scrapped his initial plans and decided to stage the play as a group of actors putting on a performance of Henry V, starting with the table read. “It struck me that this is one of the most beautiful things that we come across in the theatre—this moment when we all come together, sit at a table, and read a great play.”
Props were culled from found objects in the room, and actors’ costumes were the outfits they wore to that first rehearsal. The production garnered Cienfuegos the LA Drama Critics Circle Award (LADCC) for Best Director and an Ovation Award. “That put me on the map,” he says.
Indeed, Cienfuegos has directed seven world premieres at PRT and regularly works with Rogue Machine, where he serves as producing director. Rogue Machine artistic director John Flynn says he found Cienfuegos’s Henry V “astonishing, the best-directed Henry V I have ever seen—truly insightful, clever, and inventive, but always in service to the play.”
Cienfuegos is also an adjunct lecturer at USC School of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, where he teaches a Theatre Practicum course and directs student productions. “My mantra is that I want us to make a mess—let’s not be too perfect,” he says of working with students. “There is nothing about the human condition that is perfect, so let’s make this messy.” The latest mess made: William Inge’s Bus Stop in October with the BFA acting students.
What’s next? He’ll direct David Jacobi’s Ready Steady Yeti Go at Rogue Machine next spring, and hopes to one day tackle a Chekhov play or a musical. L.A.’s 200-plus theatres keep him inspired and excited for the work ahead.
“I am an enthusiastic and unapologetic evangelist for theatre in Los Angeles,” he confesses. “I think the theatre in L.A. has gotten a really bad rap for many years.” He understands why, of course; he’s made his living mostly on television, on such shows as “American Crime Story” and “Jane the Virgin.” But like many he’s just doing it to “subsidize all of this foolishness, because I love this theatre community.”
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!