California-based director Meredith McDonough returns to the Actors Theatre of Louisville artistic staff this fall, where she began her career as a directing intern 14 years ago.
The new Actors Theatre of Louisville associate artistic director went on to serve two seasons as associate director of the apprentince/intern company before leaving in 2001 for the west coast. Since then, she’s worked all over the country, most recently as a director and developer of new plays at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
McDonough says she’s thrilled to come back to Louisville.
“I’ve always, always, always thought of it as home,” says McDonough.
Her appointment is also a reunion of sorts for McDonough and the theater’s new artistic director Les Waters. Waters first met McDonough at Actors Theatre 12 years ago when he directed Charles Mee’s “Big Love” in the Humana Festival. She went on to study with Waters at the University of California-San Diego, and the two remained close colleagues in the San Francisco Bay Area theater community, where Waters worked as associate artistic director at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before moving to Louisville.
“We tried to meet up once a week to talk about work and plays and what we were interested in, and life and art and the whole damn thing,” says Waters.
As associate artistic director, McDonough will help develop new work for the Humana Festival and direct plays during the season. Her first directing assignment is Matthew Lopez’s Civil War-era drama “The Whipping Man,” which opens in January.
“As an artist, I think she’s brave, which, you know, all of us in the arts should try to be,” says Waters. “I think she’s got a wonderful visual sense and a scrupulous attention to text.”
Praising her TheatreWorks production of Laura Schellhardt’s “Auctioning the Ainsleys,” a family drama with risky elements of magical realism, Waters says don’t call McDonough’s style whimsical – it has more spine than that.
“I think that’s a very hard path to walk,” says Waters. “Managing to give the thing a realistic basis and then let it fly off into poetry and metaphor can easily go wrong. You can go too strong in either direction and it kills it off. I think it displayed real courage and real sensitivity toward the material.”
Waters also says McDonough’s experience with musical theater development will be a welcome addition to the artistic staff, as the theater may explore the idea of staging more new musical works. This season, Waters will direct “Girlfriend,” a new musical inspired by and featuring the music of Nineties pop icon Matthew Sweet. He directed the original production at Berkeley Repertory in 2010.
“It’s a particularly vibrant field at the moment,” says Waters.
McDonough, a former program director for the National Alliance of Musical Theatre, brings a great deal of passion for the musical, which she calls the most inherently American art form.
“Plays with music, and the way that we’re using music in the theater, whether we call it a musical or how we categorize it, is something I’ve been working on a lot in the past six years,” says McDonough. “I’m excited about bringing it there, and being able to bring composers there who are itching to work with playwrights.”
“I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say now I think we’re going to be a huge house for new musical development. I think it wants to be one of the many things we can keep looking at,” she added.