A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon on the 2018–19 Season

By Simon Hodgson

Last month, Pam MacKinnon took the reins as A.C.T.’s artistic director and she has hit the ground running. Before the opening of the 2018–19 season, she gave us an insight into her thinking behind A.C.T.’s upcoming season.
A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon. Illustration by Kimberly Rhee.

What are you looking forward to with the season opener, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Sweat?

Sweat is a theatrical testament to the phrase, “The personal is political.” Set in the once prosperous Reading, Pennsylvania, and based on weeks of interviews by playwright Lynn Nottage, this play is about what happens to friends, family, and co-workers when the unions roll up and the American dream seems at an end. I’m excited for Loretta Greco, a director whose work I have admired for more than 20 years, to bring this future American classic to life at The Geary.

Why are you drawn to Men on Boats?

As soon as I picked up this play, I was pulled into the world created by playwright Jaclyn Backhaus. Men on Boats is based on the 1869 travelogues of John Wesley Powell and his ten-man expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers through the largely uncharted—by white men—Grand Canyon. The characters are 100% cisgender male; the cast will be anything but. And yet it is more true to the events somehow than your usual history textbook or Hollywood western. 

You’re one of American theater’s best known directors of Edward Albee. How has that influenced your selection of Seascape?

Like Carey with Harold Pinter, I get sucked into Edward’s humanity. His plays are harrowing and laugh-out-loud funny. He was a master playwright and a dear friend. I’ve directed a lot of Albee, but never Seascape. It’s a play with two couples: one older and new to retirement, one younger and evolving to a new environment—okay, they’re talking lizards stepping foot on dry land for the first time. It’s a story about taking a great leap with someone you love. 

What elements of Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau resonated with you?

Her plays are made for actors: full of critical moments, active language, and big emotion. Her control of storytelling—the parsing out of information and relationships—is so stimulating and mature. Who speaks and understands what language? How will the sisters relate to each other? When will the mother arrive? What’s in the suitcase? It’s about people in a room and dealing with past transgressions within a family.

New Strands Festival audiences were riveted last year by The Great Leap—can you tell us about this San Francisco story?

The Great Leap is a fantastic play by San Francisco’s own Lauren Yee about a teenager who plays pick-up basketball in Chinatown. In search of his higher purpose and family roots, he cajoles his way onto a college team and into a tournament in Beijing in June 1989, and trips into world history. Lauren’s play feels prescient and important. I first read this play as students marched on Washington, led by the Parkland High School survivors. It’s about the power of teenagers to do the impossible: to break down barriers and demand change, in part because they haven’t yet learned to take no for an answer.

Although Vanity Fair is a classic of English literature, this adaptation is ultra contemporary. What is it about this story that speaks to today’s audience?

The heroine, Becky Sharp, is a young woman who says what she wants, and the world has to adapt to her. She is a “nasty woman” who is resourceful and honest in a world that could learn a thing or two from her. Kate Hamill’s adaptation is true to Becky Sharp and Thackeray’s novel, but it is pure theater that asks an audience to see themselves in the characters. What would you do in this situation? Don’t judge harshly, lest you, one day, may be in the same situation.

Click here to order your subscription for A.C.T.’s 2018–19 season and learn more about these six great plays (plus one more).

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