PAINS OF YOUTH – Director Roger Benington, Design Rodney Cuellar
“… he’s a major theatrical talent … I think Mr. Benington really was the Director of the Year…his direction always manages to be bold, yet lyrical and graceful; it has a great muscular vibrancy to it, but he isn’t afraid to embrace nuance and subtlety when required.” Michael Strangeways, Seattle Gay News
ROGER BENIGTON = DIRECTOR + DESIGNER + PLAYWRIGHT
I think of myself as a conceptual artist working in the medium of theatrical storytelling. S p a c e. Move——ment. Story TELLING. My father was an architect and my mother a South African professional ballroom-dance champion, so it’s in my nature to approach each play I direct by thinking about the space in which the events will take place and about how my actors will exist in and move through that space. Visualizing and defining the scenic environment is for me the act of investigating what lies at the heart of each play. I had the great privilege of taking design classes at NYU with designer Paul Steinberg, and I owe a great deal to my ex-partner Rodney Cuellar who had a very keen eye for design. Both inspired me to think differently about what belongs on a stage. One of three directors who personally influenced the way I work is Barney Simon, founder of The Market Theatre in Johannesburg. (Sadly, he died in 1995.) Barney told me two things about theatre: that directing was simply and always only storytelling and that it would never make me rich (He was right!). As best as I can remember he used the phrase “being contagious to infection” to inspire me to lay myself open to the world and the artists around me. As did Barney, I love to create work through intense interaction and improvisation with actors. My play The Mormon Bird Play was written with six actors over a seven month period. Many of the plays I’ve written for children, including Timocina & the Crocodiles, were also written collaboratively with young actors. Two other directors who have impacted my work include my mentors at The Juilliard School, the great American directors JoAnne Akalaitis and the late Garland Wright. JoAnne and Garland inspired me to delve deeply into the text and then approach my storytelling from the most unique and personal place possible. Of late I’ve begun to think more expansively about the way I define the work I do in theatre. Previously the term “theatre director” seemed like a good label for what I did, but in truth this feels too limiting and certainly does not reflect my interests in writing and design. So now I call myself a theatre artist. And I’m happy to be one.