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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Joseph Hanreddy Moves to UW-Milwaukee

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After years of serving as artistic director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Joseph Hanreddy finds himself with an interesting new role in the Milwaukee theater scene. The man who helped make the Rep the city’s most prestigious theater company will soon be working for UW-Milwaukee. He will be helping UWM’s Peck School of the Arts develop a fellowship program in directing and design that will start in fall 2011.

How did the new position with UWM come about? Who approached whom?

They approached me. [Peck School of the Arts Dean] Wade Hobgood and I had gotten together socially. Just a couple of days before I met him, I decided I was going to leave the Rep. I made an announcement and he asked what I was going to do. I’d been teaching at Northwestern [University in Evanston, Ill.] and enjoyed it a lot. What I was thinking about doing, I couldn’t name a position for. I just knew I wanted to change things up a little bit. We chatted for a while and he gave me a call a couple of weeks later. He’d talked it over with some of the faculty, and the chair of the department at the time said, “If we could make something work, would you be interested?”

Theater directing and design students don’t always communicate very well right after graduating from BFA programs. How does that fit into the program you’re developing for UWM?

That’s a generalization. I thought Northwestern was an exception. I really enjoyed the program there. One of the core classes was a collaboration class I was teaching with Ana Kuzmanic. We did a Shakespeare collaboration class. We worked on a production of The Tempest and divided into three director/design teams. Each team would take it from the inception all the way to the first rehearsal.

You have a design track and a direction track, and when people actually start working on a production, designers are used to designing sort of in a vacuum. They read the play [and decide what they’re going to do] and then the director comes in and decides, “This is the floor plan I like, these are pictures of what I want it to be. This is what I want for the set. These are what I want for the costumes.” It doesn’t really work that way at all.

Every team, just like every rock ’n’ roll band, is going to be different. The dry ones—the ones that just aren’t going anywhere—are where you have five people firing off ideas. Or the director just having a group of people that they’re dictating a bunch of ideas to. There’s never any kind of synergistic energy.

With people who are your peers who you’ve been working with for decades, you can work out what you think thematically is at the heart of the play—what’s going to connect with people. It’s a very give-and-take kind of thing. It’s lots of meetings, hundreds of e-mails. I like mentoring that process—exploring what that energy is. There’s no right way to do it. It’s unique with each group.