‘Lulu’ Director Illuminates Students’ Career Paths

Loeb Mainstage directors discuss professional goals after HRDC

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Students rehearse for “Lulu”—directed by Visiting Director Brendan Hughes—which will be the opening production of the Loeb Mainstage this fall.

Backstage at the Loeb, a minor case of mayhem ensues as students rush about in preparation for their highly anticipated season-opening Loeb Mainstage production, the controversial German play, “Lulu.” Opening night is just four days away, but the man in charge doesn’t seem worried.

“It’s traveling the country telling stories—and collecting even more while you tell them,” says Visiting Director Brendan Hughes. “It’s life, concentrated.” A freelance professional director, Hughes has worked this year in cities ranging from Boston to Raleigh to Los Angeles. He involuntarily leans in close, almost bursting with enthusiasm at a job that entails “spending six hours a day having amazing conversations with amazing people.”

Boston is one of his favorite locations for having this amazing time. By no means will “Lulu” be Hughes’s Boston directorial debut. In fact, Hughes first realized his love of directing at Boston Latin high school. Since then, he has studied and educationally immersed himself in theatre at institutions like the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the Yale School of Drama, constantly cultivating his interest in directing.

There was little he could do to stop himself, he says, and advises students with directorial ambitions to keep a stubborn, one-track mind. “There’s just one thing to do: Don’t stop. Just never stop directing.”

But Hughes quickly amends his statement, allowing for one other interest. “All right,” he says, “You should do two things—direct and go to graduate school.”

Many Harvard students have already started on similar paths in the pattern of Hughes’s map, directing full-scale productions with the HRDC. The road to achieving student directorial premieres is a rather well-paved one at Harvard. A would-be student director typically selects a script, finds a staff and producer, and then applies to the HRDC board. Once the application is approved, the director chosen serves as the creative head of the production and is entrusted with almost complete creative license for the work.

With his production of “Rocky Horror” slated to open October 28, current HRDC President John T. Drake ’06 is one of the foremost student directors of the fall. Drake raves about his Harvard student director experience, saying, “Learning the ropes ourselves seems to be great preparation for the outside world.”

Sean R. Fredricks ’07, directing “The Alchemist” this fall with Simon N. Nicholas ’07, also praises the level of control that Harvard directors can wield. “Students directing students can be frustrating at times,” Fredricks says, “but it can also be amazingly rewarding when you can learn lessons in a place where you’re allowed to fail. Harvard is a great place to fall on your face and be as ambitious as possible.”

Both Drake and Fredricks, like many Harvard student directors before them, plan to continue creating theater after graduating.

Whatever their career pursuits, Hughes is certain of the paths they will find when they follow the theater. “There are two ways to spend a life in the theater,” Hughes says. “You can either be in the world in order to participate in theater or be in theater in order to engage in the world. If you choose the second way, you’ll never run out of gas.”