Is there a moment or experience that helped define your career? A person who shaped your artistic process or aesthetic?
The column What I Learned features lessons gained over the course of a career or from a mentor, family member or friend that impacted an SDC Member’s work. What have you learned during rehearsal or a particular project that has informed your craft? SDC Journal would like to know. Submit you story to SDCJournal@SDCweb.org.
FROM THE FALL 2014 ISSUE
What I Learned…
By Kent Thompson
I learned about “theatre” from my father, a renowned preacher who wrote, memorized, and performed his own sermons three to four times a week. I learned about writing, editing, and giving specific, thoughtful, and sometimes hard notes from my mother, a published biographer and my father’s editor. It took me several years—through high school, college, and acting school in London—to realize that my role model was my mother (the writer, the editor, the story-shaper) and not my father (the actor). I had just arrived in England for a three-year course in acting when I was thunderstruck by Clifford Williams’s revival of Wild Oats by John O’Keefe, starring Alan Howard (and also featuring a young Jeremy Irons). It was an astonishing evening of theatre—hilarious, moving, sharply told, brilliantly acted and designed—and dazzlingly directed. I went back several times to figure out how Williams had crafted, put together, conceived, and breathed such life into this 18th-century play, which would become a West End hit for the RSC.
My move from director to artistic director came naturally—my parents had instilled in me a sense of purpose and service. The theatre was more than my artistry; how could I advance it? How could I make the world better? And I had grown weary of freelance directing, traveling, losing relationships, etc. I had good luck (we all need our share in this business), but I also sought out directors that I admired the most and offered to assist. My lifelong passion at the time was Shakespeare and the classics.
Michael Langham taught me most of what I know about Shakespeare—table work, verse as action, character, structure, staging as well as the need for specific “actable” direction. Because his interest in theatre began during his four-and-a-half years as a POW in WWII, Michael was driven, haunted, obsessive, brilliant, compelling, and often ruthless in his notes to actors.
Mark Lamos pushed me to move beyond the traditional storytelling of text, plot, and character that Michael had taught me. He freed my directorial imagination and taught me how to engage the artistry of my collaborators to create a totally new vision of each play. Mark’s advice was cogent, wise, and perceptive about directing and artistic direction. Having had Michael Langham as his own mentor, Mark brought full circle my conceptual work, my practice of directing, and leading a company.
But the people who truly helped me create a life in the regional theatre are the hundreds of playwrights, directors, actors, designers, artisans, trustees, and managers with whom I have had the privilege to work.
KENT THOMPSON is entering his 10th season as Producing Artistic Director of the Theatre Company at the Denver Center Theatre for the Performing Arts. Two of Kent’s signature accomplishments in Denver have been the creation of the Colorado New Play Summit, quickly becoming a premier national festival for new American plays, and the establishment of the Women’s Voices Fund, endowing the commissioning and development of new plays by women at the Denver Center. The Theatre Company has produced 26 world premieres during his tenure. For 16 years, he served as Producing Artistic Director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), where he created the Southern Writers’ Project, a new play-commissioning and development program that presented 16 world premieres in Alabama during his tenure. In addition to an active career as a director, he served for eight years on the Board of Directors for Theatre Communications Group, also serving as its president for three years.