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Tony Award-Winning Directors Talk Shop

Frank Galati and Anna D. Shapiro discuss life in the theater

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May 3, 2012
Chicago directors

Tony Award-winning directors Frank Galati and Anna D. Shapiro shared the stage with Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director Martha Lavey who moderated a freewheeling conversation about their fascinating lives in the arts.

Galati, a three-time Northwestern alumnus and professor emeritus, and Shapiro, director of the University’s MFA Directing Program, talked about the highs and lows of their careers thus far -- admitting to very few regrets.

Their friendship has complemented the close working relationship they have cultivated during their years directing at the Steppenwolf.

 “When Frank comes to see your work, he’s so appreciative of the gift he’s been given,” Shapiro said. “His artistic appreciation also manifests itself in his honesty.”

“There was a time when he came backstage afterwards and said, ‘Oh, my God! I hated it!’” she recalled. “And I was so excited, because I knew I was about to have a real conversation with someone I respected.”

A key to a successful life in the arts is to not get too hung up on the highs or lows, they said.

“Failure is the mode of living in the arts,” Galati said. “If you don’t feel free enough to fail, how can you succeed?”

Shapiro added, “You can’t let praise or scorn affect how you perceive what you’ve done.”

The event, titled “Chicago Directs,” took place April 23 and was part of an annual discussion series organized by the Sarah Siddons Society. This is the first year the group has invited directors instead of actors, and the ease of their relationship was apparent in their humor.

 “It’s bizarre to be in the same sentence as you,” Shapiro joked to Galati at the beginning of the conversation. “I’m not being falsely humble -- I’m a fantastic director.”

Galati and Shapiro also talked about the role that education has played in shaping their artistic development.

“It’s the greatest gift to exchange,” Shapiro said of her work as a teacher. She admitted that she sometimes worries about her students more than she worries about her shows. “I’ll lie awake at night thinking about my students. I don’t always do that with my shows.”

The directors also discussed what drew them to the theater initially.

“We go to the theater to be jazzed by expressiveness that cannot be achieved in real life,” Galati said. “It is a level of expressiveness we thrill at when we go to the theater.”

The evening closed with a question-and-answer session with the audience. Most questions dealt with the directors’ current and future projects. Shapiro revealed to a surprised audience that she is working on her first musical, a new adaptation of “Like Water for Chocolate.” Galati is currently directing “The March” for Steppenwolf Theatre.