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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Women Leading the Way

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PaulaSuozzi, who has been breaking rules since she was in college, continues to think outside the box as artistic director of Milwaukee Shakespeare. This season’s new innovations include Director’s Brunches and Milwaukee Shakespeare Coffeehouse Chats at the Third Ward Starbucks to allow audiences to further appreciate performances. In fall 2007 she returned to her roots by directing Skylight’s The Midnight Angel.

What is it like to be artistic director for Milwaukee Shakespeare while concurrently directing for The Skylight?
Hard—very hard. After being associate artistic director for the Skylight Opera for several years, I was ready for a break. Just doing Milwaukee Shakespeare gave me that opportunity. But I’m glad to be back directing. I wouldn’t want to give one or the other up. Last fall, it was very difficult to do both Angel and 2 Henry IV, but at least the shows were in the same building!

What’s the difference between being artistic director and director?
An artistic director is like a producer. You see how a show fits into a whole season. You’re really the outside eye, serving the director, giving them suggestions. And you’re the consultant for all the decisions. But as director you’re specifically involved with every rehearsal, every decision, set design, costumes. The process takes a long time, sometimes over a year in planning.

And once a production begins, do the roles change?
As a director, once the show is opened, after the first weekend I’m done. If I have any notes from opening weekend, I give them to the stage manager, who I trust. The performers own the show after opening—you have to trust them so they can be comfortable with their own work. But as artistic director, I see the show once or twice a week over the entire run.

Are woman directors common in opera or in theater?
Certainly it’s changed over the last 15 years. In 1987, when I was working in the opera world, there were very few woman directors. I worked with two women in six years. In the theater world, there are more women than in opera, and directing large-scale opera is still a man’s domain. And we’ve never had a woman win an Oscar for Best Director.

So when did you start breaking the rules?
Back in college I always broke the rules. I went to Catholic University in D.C. and had a very good adviser. There was a black-box theater and I took out all the black panels, just leaving the two-by-fours. There was an eruption from the school. “You can’t do that,” they said, and I said, “I just did.” The adviser told me to keep going—so I started breaking the rules then and just kept going.

So even with your family, you’re breaking the rules?
Well, Jonathan [local actor and Suozzi’s husband, Jonathan West] does take care of the girls, but we switch off several mornings so we can both work out. It’s a challenge, but living and working in Bay View allows us to walk to offices, get home for lunch. We make it work—and our older daughter just loves being in the theater. We all love being in the theater.

Milwaukee Shakespeare’s next production, Cymbeline, opens March 22 at the Broadway Theatre Center.