NEA Arts Magazine

Exploring Ideas of Theater

The NEA/TCG Career Development Program

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A scene from Vineyard Theater's The Piano Teacher

A scene from Vineyard Theater's The Piano Teacher, the highly lauded play directed by Kate Whoriskey, an alumni of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

While studying drama in college, aspiring director Kate Whoriskey became fascinated with experimental theater. In graduate school, she was enthralled with the classics. AWer earning her master's degree from Harvard, she wasn't ready to look for work as a professional director just yet. She needed time to synthesize. The NEA/TCG Career Development Program for directors gave her that extra time, and built up her resume in the process.

"The young directors program was vital to my development as a director," Whoriskey said. "It gave me a chance to just explore my own ideas of theater before heading out in the professional world. That's something that many young directors miss. There is so much emphasis on how to get ahead. But at the age of 21 or 22, you should be trying to figure out what work you like and who you are, not trying to produce and get good reviews."

The NEA/TCG Career Development Program began through a partnership between the NEA and the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national service organization for American theater, in 1987.The program offers support for residencies at theaters by directors and designers.

Nearly a decade after participating in the NEA/TCG Career Development Program, Whoriskey has matured into one of American theater's most visible and versatile young directors. She has worked at major regional theaters across the country and, most recently, earned praise in the New Yorker for directing The Piano Teacher at the Vineyard Theater. Her 2008 commitments include directing a new play by Lynn Nottage at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and the American premiere of Oroonoko at The Duke in New York.

But for all her big city success, Whoriskey hasn't lost sight of the early mentorships that were so pivotal in her career. In 1998, the NEA/TCG program allowed her to complete three mini-residencies. In Berlin, Germany, she studied with contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch. She also spent time closer to home at the Watermill Center, the Long Island multidisciplinary art retreat founded by avant-garde designer Robert Wilson. And she flew north to Juneau, Alaska, where she assisted Peter DuBois with a production at Perseverance Theatre. Whoriskey went on to receive a second career development grant from TCG, this time spending two years at Seattle's Intiman Theatre seated at the right hand of director Bartlett Sher.

Mentorships like these are critical to the future of American theater, explained Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG. "It is crucial for there to be a transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next." Many of the 200 grant recipients have gone on to become resident directors and designers or launched successful freelance careers, such as Eric Rosen (director, 2001– 2003), who was named artistic director of Kansas City Repertory Theatre in December 2007, and Kevin Adams (designer 1992–1993), who won a Tony Award in May for lighting design in Spring Awakening.