If you look at Broadway history, there is a large precedent for dancers transitioning to careers as choreographers—such as Christopher Gattelli and Spencer Liff—actors transitioning to careers as directors—such as Jerry Zaks—even the transition to director-choreographers with the likes of Andy Blankenbuehler, Susan Stroman, Jerry Mitchell, Casey Nicholaw, and Rob Marshall. But some artists feel no need to choose; instead, they are a rare breed that straddle the worlds of performing, writing, and directing. We take a look at ten theatre artists who continue to jockey between the worlds of acting and directing or writing.
With a 2018 Tony Award for helming The Band’s Visit on his resumé, most people think of David Cromer as a director, but he kept up his performance career as well. Cromer starred as the Stage Manager in a 2008 Off-Broadway revival of Our Town that he also directed—in fact, winning an Obie Award for his direction. He performed on Broadway in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun and this season’s The Waverly Gallery.
After making his Broadway debut playing Tom Sawyer in Deaf West’s 2003 Broadway revival of Big River, Michael Arden continued his performance career at major regional theatres and on London’s West End, and on screen as a series regular in Anger Management. In 2008, he was the assistant director to Warren Carlyle’s production of A Tale of Two Cities on Broadway before founding his own theatre company in Los Angeles. Notably, he returned to the stage in 2014 playing Quasimodo in the stage adaptation of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which began at La Jolla Playhouse before moving to the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2015. During that time, he returned to his Deaf West roots to develop a production of Spring Awakening—which began work in a church basement before a run at the Wallis. In the fall of 2015, the production that transferred to Broadway and earned Arden his first Tony nomination and and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Director. His most recent Broadway directing credit is the 2017 revival of Once On This Island, which won Best Revival of a Musical at the 2018 Tony Awards. This past summer he directed Annie at the Hollywood Bowl and recently directed Jefferson Mays in A Christmas Carol at the Geffen Playhouse.
This performer’s long Broadway acting career includes performances in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Titanic, Cinderella, and a Tony-winning turn as Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza. In addition to being a well-regarded voice teacher, Clark is a director. She helmed a Pace University production of The Light in the Piazza, Jeff Blumenkrantz’s Scaffolding, and a reading of the rarely seen Kurt Weill-Alan Jay Lerner musical Love Life. She appeared in the 2017 City Center production of Assassins and is slated for their MasterVoices concert revival of Lady in the Dark later this year. It was recently announced that Clark will direct Strindberg’s The Dance of Death at Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company, which begins January 15.
This comedic performer is best known as Niles Crane from the long running sitcom Frasier, but David Hyde Pierce got his start working in theatre. He made his Broadway debut in Beyond Therapy also appearing in the original production of The Heidi Chronicles before beginning his television career. Pierce returned to Broadway in 2005’s Spamalot and won a Tony Award in 2007 for his performance in Curtains. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in 2014. Pierce moved into directing with It Shoulda Been You, an original musical that Pierce helped develop from its 2011 premiere at George Street Playhouse in New Jersey through its Broadway premiere in 2015. He returned to Off-Broadway in 2016 in A Life, for which he earned a Drama Desk nomination, and to Broadway as a performer in 2017, playing Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly! opposite Bette Midler in the title role.
Best known as Miranda from TV’s Sex and the City, Cynthia Nixon’s long stage career includes Tony-winning performances in Rabbit Hole and The Little Foxes. Nixon moved into directing for the stage in 2015, helming Rasheeda Speaking and Steve at The New Group. The same year, she directed Staceyann Chin’s solo show MotherStruck!. Nixon’s ability to move back and forth between acting and directing may be indicative of her career moves in general; she also mounted a major campaign to be the governor of New York in 2018—though she was defeated by the Democratic incumbent in the primary.
This two-time Tony winner has spent the bulk of his career as one of Broadway’s most prolific directors. He won Tony Awards for Take Me Out in 2003 and Assassins in 2004, while also helming such productions as Love! Valour! Compassion!, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Humans, Three Tall Women—all of which earned him additional Tony nominations. He also directed Wicked, Casa Valentina, and 2018’s The Boys in the Band. However, Mantello got his start creating the role of Louis Ironson in the original 1993 Broadway production of Angels in America, even receiving a 1993 Tony Award nomination for his performance. In the last decade, Mantello has begun returning to acting here and there, playing Ned Weeks in the 2011 Broadway revival of The Normal Heart and Tom Wingfield in the 2017 revival of The Glass Menagerie.
After earning degrees in theatre and playwriting, Bioh performed in Off-Broadway and regional productions of An Octoroon, Bootycandy, and For Colored Girls, making her Broadway debut in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As a playwright, Bioh’s Nollywood Dreams was included on the 2015 Kilroys’ List, an annual collection of recommended contemporary plays written by female and trans writers. Bioh received her first Off-Broadway production with School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play at MCC Theater in 2017. That work won her a 2018 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play and was brought back for an encore production at MCC in 2018 and was filmed for broadcast on PBS stations. She performed onstage as recently as January 2017 in Everybody, which earned her a Lucille Lortel nomination, and then the fall of 2017 in The Red Letter Plays: In the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks at Off-Broadway’s Signature Center.
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This theatre artist may be best known to the rest of the world as Michonne from TV’s The Walking Dead or Okoye in Black Panther, but Danai Gurira’s stage career has seen as a performer and writer. She made her Broadway debut playing Martha Pentecost in the 2009 revival of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. As a playwright, Gurira co-wrote and co-starred (both with Nikkole Salter) in 2005’s In the Continuum, which played Off-Broadway after premiering at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Woolly Mammoth also premiered Gurira’s 2009 play Eclipsed. Gurira made her New York solo playwriting debut when Eclipsed played Off-Broadway’s Public Theater in 2015, transferring to Broadway and garnering a Best Play Tony nomination in 2016. While continuing to act on screen, Gurira premiered a new play Familiar in 2016 at Playwrights Horizons; the play is receiving a production at California’s Old Globe January 26–March 3, 2019.
After working for more than a decade at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Tracy Letts made his Broadway debut in 2007 as the playwright of August: Osage County, which won both Best Play at the Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008. Letts’ Superior Donuts gave the playwright his second Broadway credit in 2009, but in 2012 he came to Broadway as a performer. Playing George in a revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (a production that began at Steppenwolf), Letts won his second Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. His subsequent Broadway credits have all been as a performer in2014’s The Realistic Joneses and the upcoming 2019 spring production of All My Sons, but Letts has continued to write as well. Second Stage Theatre mounted an Off-Broadway production of his Mary Page Marlowe in 2018, and a Broadway production of his political comedy The Minutes was announced for 2018 but postponed.
Austin Pendleton is a different kind of triple threat. He made his Broadway debut creating the role of Motel the tailor in the original production of Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, following that performance with appearances in 1966’s Hail Scrawdyke! and a 1967 revival of The Little Foxes as young Leo Hubbard. He made his Broadway directorial debut in 1973, helming Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s short-lived musical Shelter. Then he returned to performing for An Amerian Millionaire and Goodtime Charly, before back-to-back-to-back directorial turns with The Runner Stumbles in 1976, John Gabriel Borkman in 1980, and a 1981 revival of The Little Foxes starring Elizabeth Taylor, which earned him a Tony nomination. Then he alternated between acting in Doubles (1985), directed Spoils of War (1988), played Otto Kringelein in Grand Hotel (1989) and Mr. Dussel to Natalie Portman’s title role performance in the 1997 revival of The Diary of Anne Frank. And that’s just Broadway. He has worked Off-Broadway and around the country in both disciplines, and wrote the Off-Broadway plays Uncle Bob, Booth, and Orson’s Shadow. Pendleton currently appears on Broadway as the aptly named Mr. Pendleton in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, which opened January 8.