Can you accidentally make history? In the case of director Leigh Silverman—the first to assemble an all-female design team on Broadway—it’s a case of accidentally, on purpose, for The Lifespan of a Fact, currently running at Studio 54 with an official opening scheduled for October 18.
“I had no idea that it had never happened before,” says the Tony-nominated director of her latest project, the world premiere of Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell’s play. Inspired by real events, the play sees an author (Bobby Cannavale), his editor (Cherry Jones), and a fact checker (Daniel Radcliffe) locked in a debate about the nature of truth in literary nonfiction.
“I didn’t intend to be the first, but I think it’s very important to think very consciously about the people that you invite into the room,” says Silverman of her history-making design team which includes scenic design by Tony winner Mimi Lien (The Great Comet), costume design by Tony winner Linda Cho (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), lighting design by Jen Schriever, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, and projection design by Lucy Mackinnon. (It’s also worth noting that each of their associates are women or non-binary professionals.) “I feel it’s our responsibility as theatremakers to make theatre the most inclusive place that it can be—it hasn’t historically been that way and I want to do everything I can to dismantle that.”
The design team for The Lifespan of a Fact includes designers of different ages and at different stages of their careers—Tony winners working alongside artists making their Broadway debuts. “I used to be the young, new designer in Leigh’s room,” says Schriever, now a long-time collaborator of Silverman. “She hires the right person for the job based on their artistry and I think she fights for who she believes is right. She’s a risk-taker.”
“As a projection designer, I’m not always included in conversations [with other designers] from the beginning,” says Mackinnon, who is working with Silverman for the first time. “My voice and my work has been a part of the process from the beginning, which is a pretty unique experience.”
Silverman, who is also an activist, is drawn to theatre that not only speaks to the human experience, but to work that can “feel like an act of resistance to our current political climate.” And The Lifespan of a Fact, in its interrogation of “questionable truths,” is right up her alley.
“In the world that we live in today, it feels particularly essential for us to be both entertained by people who are engaged in that argument, and also, lifted out of ourselves to think about those questions in a bigger way,” says Silverman. “For me, being engaged with a world that’s bigger than just the theatre community, makes the work of the theatre community stronger.”
Flip through the gallery of these milestone-marking creatives below: