Making It Happen: Four Questions with Georgie Director Eric Schaeffer
February 9th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Eric Schaeffer (co-founder and artistic director of Arlingtons Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre) is back in New York serving as director and scenic designer of Georgie: My Adventures With George Rose, Ed Dixon's one-man-show about his twenty-year friendship with Tony-winning actor George Rose.
Schaeffer directed the Broadway productions of Follies, The Visit, Gigi, Scandalous, Million Dollar Quartet, Glory Days, and Putting It Together. On London's West End, he directed Million Dollar Quartet and The Witches of Eastwick. During his tenure, Signature Theatre won 97 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in the Washington, DC region‘s professional and was honored with the 2009 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater in America. In 2017, Signature earned additional 25 Helen Hayes nominations.
BroadwayBox spoke with Schaeffer to launch a new interview feature with creators and designers. Read on as he discusses how he chooses projects, career advice for an aspiring director, and the responsibilities of being an artistic director.
1. What’s the most rewarding and the most challenging part of being an artistic director?
I think the most rewarding aspect of the job is that you get to work with a lot of amazingly talented people to learn and grow from. Having all the creative forces in your theater is exciting. The hardest part of the job is balancing all the many facets of the position. Artistic Directors are much more tied into the business aspect of running a theatre than ever before, so it’s a balancing act with fundraising, directing shows and supporting artists while they are working for you. I think it’s really important to make sure artists have a safe environment without the outside pressures so they can do the best work possible and enjoy themselves.
2. How is directing for New York different than regional productions or London? How does the process change?
It really isn’t different except for some particular union rules that are different. I find that generally it’s really all the same. Sometimes you have a larger support system which is helpful on bigger productions. As the director, you lead the room with your style and process of working. You really get to set the tone and make the rules of how the rehearsal room runs. What I love about theatre is how collaborative it is as an art form on all levels. There is nothing more invigorating.
3. If someone wrote to you who dreams of directing professionally, what are three things you would tell them to do?
First, I would tell them to see as much theatre as possible on all levels from Broadway to regional to community theater. You can learn so much by how a story is being told and what makes a production special. Secondly, try and observe directors work in a rehearsal room. Everyone director does their job differently and you will see styles and ideas that you can draw from. Thirdly, I would just encourage young directors to get as much experience as they can in all aspects of theatre. The more you know about the technical side, acting, music—it will all help you in your preparation. It also gives you a stronger understanding of all the roles and how to communicate with them.
4. What’s your criteria for choosing a project? What do you look for?
I always look for stories that I want to tell, characters that I find interesting and in a musical—music that moves me. I have to be emotionally connected to the characters and the story and most importantly know why I want to tell it. You have to invest a lot of time in a new show and you have to love it—if you don't, it will show on stage.
Check out Eric Schaeffer's 'Georgie: My Adventures With George Rose' at off-Broadway's Davenport Theatre through April 15.