Meg OConnor

B.A., Wesleyan University

M.A., Chicago College of Performing Arts

MY START IN THEATRE 

Theatre caught me really early, so my future was sealed in 2nd grade when I was taken to an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was the year I finally understood that magic wasn't real (which was a big blow),  but I discovered there was a theatre beyond elementary class plays. Theatre was where incredible beauty lived comfortably alongside slapstick comedy, scary violence, fantastic costumes, and big words--it was everything I was drawn to all in one place. The next year I wrote a play with enough roles (24) for everyone in my class and convinced our teacher that we had to perform it. By high school, I was performing in a Shakespeare Festival and Musicals, working as an assistant stage manager for a small professional company, and volunteering as an usher at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Any dreams my parents may have had that I would grow up to be an accountant were dashed.

MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES?

Hands down, performing at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh Scotland. In August, the entire city center explodes with performances of every imaginable stripe. I have seen some of the most exciting, inspiring, moving, funniest, most baffling work I've ever seen at the Fringe. Both times I've taken student groups to perform, we took shows that were a bit experimental in nature. The experience of trying to sell our show to an international audience, and have a sold-out crowd of strangers really respond positively to our work has taught me a lot about theatrical communication and inspires me to keep taking risks and do work that is exciting and honest.

FAVORITE PRODUCTIONS?

Since I've directed over 100 plays and musicals and don't really think in terms like "favorites," this is too hard to answer. There are exciting things that happen in almost every show. But I think that groups who really trust each other and don't have a lot of ego involved are the ones that create the best experiences for themselves and for our audiences. When everyone is gaining new skills, supportive of and excited by their peers' work, willing to be vulnerable and risk failing, that's when we make our bravest, most engaging work. And that investment of self translates into performances that move audiences. Almost every show I've featured on my "productions" pages was that kind of show. Beyond that...I'm never going to have a good answer because the production I'm currently working is the one that is most fully occupying my brain and my heart.

WHY SO MUCH SHAKESPEARE?

I love it! Obviously, having had yearly Shakespeare residencies when I was an elementary and high school student with a leading professional theatre company helped: the plays are exciting, funny, sexy, physical, scary, and really smart about human nature. I've seen some truly bad high school Shakespeare where everyone was standing around miserably mumbling "fancy words," so I understand why people are skeptical. But these plays offer plenty of good speaking roles, have room for music, dance, fight, and magic, and can be cut to tailor scripts for any group. Most importantly, there's the language. It's a much younger English than we speak today, so there's some learning curve to wielding it, but it's not insurmountable. AT SETC the kids  in the audience behind me told their director after our show "If we could do Shakespeare like THAT, we would never complain about it." Their director answered "well, that wasn't Shakespeare. They obviously modernized it to make it easy to understand." I cut the script, but did not modernize it at all. But that's why I love it; when done well, it feels immediate, personal and powerful.

WHAT ABOUT MUSICAL THEATRE?

I love the challenge, I love the scale...I just wish I had a decent singing voice. (I can read and follow music, and have no problem staying on pitch or holding harmonies, but I don't have much of an instrument.)  So while I haven't performed in musicals past being the lead in my very small public high school shows, I've directed one or two musicals every year for at least fifteen years.

There's a company near my hometown where they do professional workshops of shows before they hit Broadway, and I love watching shows in that nascent stage where they are learning what works with an audience. I like  shows that play with the traditional style like Lucky Stiff, Bare, The Robber Bridegroom, Burnt Part Boys, Spring Awakening, Once on this Island, and Sunday in the Park with George, but also love older classics like Guys and Dolls and the music of Anything Goes. The only works I have avoided  directing are the Disney adaptations (even though I like the songs) because there's a weird pressure to recreate the cartoon or the Broadway production down to the designs, and that's not interesting to me as an artist. Replicating someone else's work may be meant as homage, but too often it becomes intellectual theft. I want every company I'm working with to find our own path toward telling the story. I once saw a "Beauty and the Beast" that didn't put Belle in a yellow dress and people  in the audience near me were so irritated that they couldn't stop griping, even though the costumes worked just fine!  That aside, musicals are so intensely collaborative with so many moving parts that your just have to dive in and put everything toward telling a clear engaging story amidst all kinds of spectacle!