If you’ve seen an Off-Broadway show in the last 20 years, chances are you’ve seen Jo Bonney's work. In addition to directing all around the country, the Obie winner has helmed shows at a number of Off-Broadway institutions, including: The Public Theater, Signature, Second Stage, Playwrights Horizons, MCC, Manhattan Theatre Club, The New Group, PS 122, and New York Theatre Workshop, where her production of Hammaad Chaudry’s An Ordinary Muslim currently continues its extended run.
As any director learns to do, Bonney has mastered the art of juggling: different projects, a large number of working relationships, and various schedules. In between rehearsals for the world premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale, Bonney took a break to chat scheduling, networking, and what it takes to forge your own career as a director in the theatre.
Take a look at what a mock “preview week” schedule looks like for Bonney below, as well as five insights from our conversation:
Time management is key
Doing back-to-back shows requires a director to be highly organized. Bonney was in performances for Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A when she was having production meetings and working on casting for An Ordinary Muslim. She would use her Mondays, when the theatre was dark, to hold auditions for her next show, and take advantage of her free weekday mornings to schedule production meetings with her designers, the theatre, and other collaborators. “The minute you open your eyes, you’re working…time management is so huge. Everyone always talks about the creative aspects, but half the time is a time and motion study,” says Bonney. “You can’t be indulgent with time. You have to know where the priorities are and you actually become a little ruthless.”
Rely on your SM, ASMs, and ADs
While being your own stage manager in between shows or while doing two productions is a “learned skill,” says Bonney, having a good stage manager and assistant director on a show are “invaluable.” Every director needs them.
Relationships are everything
Relationships generate work. “It’s a snowball effect,” says Bonney. “Your network is not to be underestimated.” It also makes the work more enjoyable. “Coming back to a playwright who you’ve worked with before is like coming back to a friend—you have a shared language,” says Bonney. “The same is true of designers. I have a team of go-to designers, each that are suited to different kinds of storytelling, that I reach out to.”
Sometimes, the relationships come to you
When NYTW began working with Chaudry on An Ordinary Muslim, they asked the playwright if there were any directors he had in mind for his professional debut. He’d never met Bonney, but he was interested in working with her based on her body of work, so NYTW set the two up on a blind date. The script was still in development when they first met, but the connection was there. It was another two years before they began rehearsals on the production.
Just do the work!
Bonney says the focus for emerging directors should be on remaining pro-active and creating work for yourself. “The only tangible thing that you can actually do is make the work,” she says. “Everything else is out of your control.”
“I don’t think the eye should always be on the prize of getting into the big institutions…A lot of exciting work comes out of smaller companies and [sometimes] the bigger theatres do take notice.”