Day 23: The life-changing Lab, part one by Alice Bever

by Alice Bever | Aug 13, 2016

Evan Tsitsias knows a thing or two about Directors Labs.

He attended the flagship NYC Lincoln Center Lab in 2009 and 2010, and our own Chicago Lab in 2011. He was so inspired by the experience that he founded Directors Lab North in Canada, and has also been a driving force behind the World Wide Lab.

Since we’re now just one week away from Lab 2016, we thought we’d shift the focus of our Lab countdown just slightly to look at the language of the Lab itself. Today we share the first half of a two-part interview our own Alice Bever recently had with Evan about his experiences with the Labs and how they’ve impacted his career and his life.

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AB: What was the first director’s lab you attended and what was your motivation for applying?

ET: My very first lab was the Lincoln Centre Directors Lab in 2009. It was so long ago I can’t remember the impulse to apply, but what I do remember was that it sounded as thrilling as it did terrifying which compelled me to do it. The prospect of spending 3 weeks in NY with international directors was so daunting but something I knew I had to do if I aspired to become the kind of director I wanted to be.

AB: How did the experience shape your directing style and perspective?

ET: There is not enough space to write the ways in which the Lab impacted my directing, let alone my life! It has drastically altered both my professional and personal landscape and continues to do so. It opened my eyes to so many diverse techniques and inspiration shooting at me from every direction. Methods I’d only ever read about were practiced right in front of me.

It definitely widened my lens and gave me the confidence to practice what I already knew as well as continue to learn my craft. The dialogue and exchange at the labs are unlike anything I’ve experienced. It basically blew my mind.

AB: One of the things that the Lab network shares is its commitment to provide a fully immersive experience to directors at all levels for a week of exchange and exploration in the field. In your opinion, what is the role of these Labs in the world of directing today? More specifically, how have the experiences you’ve had as a participant and as a staff in these Labs assisted in forging your artistic landscape?

ET: One feeds into the other. Every year I make more and more connections from what I hear and share at these Labs that directly influences my own techniques. Sometimes it’s actually difficult to filter through all the amazing methods I’ve witnessed and choose the best exercise in rehearsals.

I can’t even speculate how deeply this experience is embedded in the psyche of the Labbies. You are touched and inspired by each and every other director you encounter. Every conversation and interaction and session influences us subconsciously. I know that this society of Labbies is massive – in the thousands now – with all these Labs that have sprouted out of the Lincoln Lab. There is no doubt that the theatre we now see and create has somehow been touched by these labs.

AB: What brought you to co-found Director’s Lab North six years ago? What did it take to get it started and what are the biggest challenges your team faces in regards to creativity, professional relevancy and with structuring the lab? 

ET: The idea of creating a Canadian Lab was brewing in my head from the very first Lincoln Lab in 2009. When I went back in 2010 I met two Canadian colleagues, Esther Jun and Elif Isikozlu. We were dumbfounded that we needed to go all the way to New York to meet each other instead of our own home city. This sparked the idea again and we knew Canada needed its own Lab to connect our directors.

So we just began. We started small, only three days the first year. We used our own money and resources and a million favours and went to work. I think if we knew the amount of work it was going to be we might have re-examined the prospect of the Lab, but we received so much amazing support immediately we knew we were on to something special.

The Tarragon Theatre also offered us a permanent home in their rehearsal studios which was incredibly generous, so that was a massive relief for us. We are now in our 6th year! This year, once again, Matthew Tiffin has been our Co–Artistic Director.

As far as challenges are concerned, it’s funding! Although we now receive some grants from the Toronto and Ontario Arts Council, it is still a labour of love for us. The majority of the funding goes to paying the guest artists and for admin work. We never know if we will be funded the next year and that weighs on us after every Lab. We’ve poured our time and energy and hearts into this Lab and having to constantly search for funding gets very tiresome very quickly. We are trying to figure out a way to remedy that. Any suggestions are welcome!

We are always in progress as far as how we structure the Lab but I think we’ve created a fantastic hybrid of the Lincoln Lab and the Chicago Lab.  We choose about 25 Labbies to participate to keep it intimate and do our best to diversify our programming. We’ve started doing field trips to Shaw or Stratford Festivals every year and have implemented a Playwrights Project that has been a success.  New challenges emerge every year but we have our template that we work off now which is like a well oiled machine.

Alice Bever is a performer, director, educator and playwright, currently living between Europe and Wyoming. She is developing project1979, a multi-platform storytelling performance about the 30-something generation. The art of performance inspires Alice to investigate, exchange, share stories, amuse and bemuse. Theatre makes her happy, is how she serves the world and how she is about to be the best version of herself. Alice is an honored to collaborate with DirectorsLabChicago. Attending the Lab in 2011 served as a pivotal time in her career and perspective as an artist and for that she is truly grateful.