32: Serving Music and Drama through a Collaborative Endeavor with Stephanie Havey

Show Notes:

Whether it’s building a career or establishing successful working relationships, the importance of networking as a music professional cannot be undermined.

In today’s episode, stage director Stephanie Havey provides aspiring music professionals with the knowledge and first-hand experience. She discusses the inner workings of a stage director, her love for the art, the importance of artist collaborations, the shifting world of opera, navigating through collaborations with varying ideas, and her advice to anyone interested in directing.

Winner of the Adelaide Bishop award for artistic quality and winner of the Opera America Director-Designer Showcase, Stephanie Havey has staged productions for Seattle Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Arizona Opera, Opera de Montreal, Atlanta Opera, Opera Omaha, New York City Opera, and Hawai’i Opera Theatre, among others. 

Ms. Havey has created new productions for Boston Lyric Opera, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Opera, the Lyrique-en-mer International Festival de Belle-Ile, The Curtis Institute of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Charlottesville Opera, and Tulsa Opera.  She has also been a member of the staging staff at San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and The Santa Fe Opera. 

Upcoming engagements include debuts with Utah Opera, Dallas Opera, and Madison Opera, as well as returning to Opera de Montreal, Pittsburgh Opera, Atlanta Opera, Arizona Opera, Charlottesville Opera, and Finger Lakes Opera. 

Ms. Havey is a frequent collaborator for the development of new opera, staging new works with Opera Philadelphia for their Double Exposure event, OPERA America’s New Works Forum, and three seasons as the Resident Stage Director for North American New Opera Workshop.

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of The Conductor’s Podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same, @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new side. And I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Stephanie: 0:49
I don’t think the director is there to dictate every moment of every scene and dictate every detail of the visual or of the acting, and other directors might disagree. People have different styles, but how I see my job is really as the facilitator is as the person in the room to ask questions and let the group answer decide on the answer together. I don’t like to go in with all of the questions answered.

Chaowen: 1:17
Hey there welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups and vocalist. I’m also founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you while I interview conductors, musicians and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting student musicians and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 2:05
Hello, hello. Welcome back to another episode of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host Chaowen Ting and I am so thrilled to have you today with me because my guest today is an awesome person. And our topic is a little unque from our usual episodes.

Chaowen: 2:27
My guest today is really special because she is not a conductor for one. She is a musician, but her main job is not directly related as performing as a musician. And this is why her stories and experiences that she is going to share with us is so interesting and unique. My guest today is Stephanie Havey is a stage director working mostly in opera houses. We first met actually when I was looking for a stage director for the NANOWorks opera, which is an opera company owned by my friend Jennifer Jolley, who is a composer and also opera producer. NANOWorks opera is short for North American Chamber Opera. NANOWorks opera is a company specializing in workshopping New Chamber operas written by North American composers.

Chaowen: 3:34
When we were looking for a stage director, we wanted to find a woman to form an all female team between me, Jenn, and the third person. So someone at the opera America Women’s Opera Network, created a database of people in this opera field, who are women, you know, including stage directors, stage crew, tech directors and all that. And I pulled out that database. There were quite a few stage directors listed there. And I’ve vetted them. So I look them up. I check their websites, see what past productions they have done, where they went to school, who they had worked with. And I contact friends who had also worked and those organizations festivals or went to schools with those people to vet them to see what they think about this person. And then I contact them to see if they are interested in joining our team at NANOWorks opera.

Chaowen: 4:40
So here you see your website and your reputation. Your network is important because people are vetting you no matter what. And I was so thrilled that we found Stephanie because she is such an awesome person. She is winner of the Opera America Director Designer showcase. She has staged productions for the Seattle Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Arizona Opera, Atlanta Opera, Opera Omaha, New York City Opera and a lot a lot more, as you can imagine.

Chaowen: 5:15
And in today’s conversation, she is going to talk to me and for us about her experience of her career path, how she started as a singer, and then emerged into the director’s path, her experience working as a young woman in this field, and how she navigates the collaborative nature of this work, working with a lot of other people, you know, from the conductor, to stage crew, to the set, costume designer to create an a budget and all that. We have a lot to cover today. So let’s dive in. Hey, welcome to the show, Stephanie. I’m so happy and so excited to speak with you today on The Conductor’s Podcast.

Stephanie: 6:02
Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Chaowen: 6:04
Before we get started, can you please give everybody a brief intro about your background and how you get to where you are right now?

Stephanie: 6:11
Sure, I began directing actually, as a young student, I was studying voice and dance. And I had sort of a hard time choosing one area to commit to and so a stage director, mentor of mine approached me and said, I think you should consider directing. And I thought, wow, I don’t know how one becomes a director. I don’t know, really what that job entails. But she encouraged me to pursue it and had me co direct with her and kind of learn the ropes. And I just fell in love with it.

Stephanie: 6:48
And so, during college, I was a music major, and I studied voice and religion, but I always found opportunities to direct or assistant direct, and created some opportunities for that. And then I was able to find a master’s program, specifically in opera directing, and start working professionally. And so I’ve done a lot of jobs in production, some in performing a lot of teaching, but I feel that all of those things really support my path as a stage director. And now that’s my primary area. So that’s kind of how I got to where I am now.

Chaowen: 7:27
That’s really exciting. And I love your story, because I hear that coming back again and again, with my guests, like they were found or discovered by a mentor. And I sometimes wonder, without those mentors, we will be losing so many great colleagues. But as I said, like you started as a singer, that’s kind of something easier to imagine for the audience. So for listeners who are less familiar with the opera or theatre side, can you describe what really, stage director does that, as you say, you didn’t really know what that means when you’re young? So what exactly do you do?

Stephanie: 8:03
Yea, I see the stage director as the facilitator of a huge collaboration between performing artists, which is, yes, the singers, but also the conductor, the dancers or actors. They’re involved between designers, production staff, and the administrative staff of a company. So from the outside, you know, we typically see the stage director just telling the singers where to stand. And we wonder if maybe that encompasses everything that they do. But actually, the stage directors job begins months or years before the first rehearsal collaborating with all of those other behind the scenes artists, before they ever start to work with the performing artists.

Chaowen: 8:46
So it looks like they are at least two sides of the job. One is moving the singers on stage, telling them where to go, what to do, what props to hold. On the other side is managing everything behind the same sort of, so can you share with us how you prepare for production? If it’s something totally new? Like, what are the steps that you go through?

Stephanie: 9:12
Yeah, most of the stage director’s job, I would say is done before rehearsals begin. So there are many steps that typically take around a year, I would say most of my contracts are I have at least a year’s time to prepare. And so for me having a musical background, I first get my hands on that score. And then it’s a toss up a little bit whether I start with the music or the text, and I’ll tell you why. Because in opera, we have certainly a repertoire that we tend to repeat and go back to so and a lot of my work has been with that standard repertoire, which I adore. So the process is a little bit different if you’re going to work on a La Boheme or Traviata, or something versus if you’re doing a new piece. And if you’re working with the composer, and librettist and there are two very different processes to prepare those.

Stephanie: 10:08
So, you know, I would say with the traditional repertoire, part of my goal as a stage directors to approach the story in a new way that feels relevant for a modern audience. So I go back to the text, I read through the entire show, just looking at the text and I try to take away any of my preconceived notions about well, this is how Rigoletto goes, this is how Traviata goes. And I tried to say, what’s here in this text that we relate to today. And I tried to focus in on that and create a new production from that perspective.

Stephanie: 10:39
Now, if you’re working with a new piece, and you’re talking with the composer, and librettist and that’s something that you and I have done together a couple of times, I also start with the text. But I think what I’m looking for there is the overarching story. What’s the through line of this piece? Does it feel like there’s a beginning, middle and an end? Is there a story that the audience can follow an emotional arc? And I always start with that, and then go back and talk to the librettist about the text and sort of question, do all of these scenes support that emotional arc? What role are they playing in the structure of the story? So we sort of analyze the text in that way, and try to trim away the fat. And then I usually look at the music. Next, I’ll listen through with all those ideas that we have about the text in mind and see what information is the composer bringing to the story? Are they telling us something about the character to the music that wasn’t already there in the text? Are they enhancing a certain aspect of the text? Are they showing us context of the situation.

Stephanie: 11:45
And that’s one of the things that I love about opera is that the composer can say so much, that isn’t actually being said by the characters, by changing the tone of the scene, they can show the inner turmoil of a character, the emotional life that’s happening that often is unspoken. I mean, that’s what drew me to opera in the first place, is that sort of heightened emotional state of storytelling. Once you analyze the text and the music in that way, I think you’re left with a bunch of questions about who are these characters? What does this story mean to us? How does it fit into the context of life today, and also the time period in which it was written? And so I like to go into rehearsals and the design process with a bunch of questions. And again, that comes back to this idea of collaboration. But I don’t think the director is there to dictate every moment of every scene and dictate every detail of the visual or of the acting, and other directors might disagree. People have different styles. But how I see my job is really as the facilitator is as the person in the room to ask questions and let the group answer decide on the answer together. I don’t like to go in with all of the questions answered.

Chaowen: 13:02
I felt that’s the biggest difference between an opera director and an opera conductor. Because if we go in with questions, the orchestra wants to just eat us, I go, Hey, do you want to crescendo here? Or do you want to slow down?

Stephanie: 13:19
Yeah, yeah, no, you’re right. It is so different in that way. And I think that historically, perhaps, directors had a similar position. situation, you know, that, that singers would ask them, How do you want me to play this scene, and if the director couldn’t say to them, I want you to move exactly this way and play the character exactly this way, then their authority would be questioned, and the singers might lose respect. And you would have a much less focused process, maybe less successful. But I’ve noticed throughout my career, a huge shift in the culture of the rehearsal room. And when I began, absolutely, the director was top dog, and you would just see tempers flaring and rehearsal, you would see people, you know, afraid to question their authority, afraid to disagree, afraid to have their own idea. And we’ve really shifted that culture and rehearsal, which is exciting. And now it feels like we come in and we have a conversation.

Stephanie: 14:22
And I feel like my role is the stage director is to make sure that singers feel heard, they feel seen, they feel valued, and that they have a voice in the process, and also that they feel challenged artistically. So there’s always this balance. Certainly, you have to have structure and direction. It’s not that I come in and say, Well, I don’t know what we’re doing. So you tell me because that wouldn’t work either. So it’s really this like, fine balance this dance where you try to bring all of the voices in the room out and bring them together, but you also have to maintain a clear focus and you do have to have in your mind a picture of what you want it to look like. But I think to get a better product, you have to be flexible on that and able to work with the artists that are in the room. Because, you know, the stage director rarely has anything to do with casting. So you have to work with the artists that have been brought on to the project. And that means that you have to be flexible, you have to let the artists move in the way that feels natural to them, or they’re not going to be able to play the character authentically, if you’re constantly on them saying don’t stand like that don’t walk like that, don’t make that face, then they feel trapped and paranoid. And so you have to make them feel comfortable. You want to see them on stage, because at the end of the day, that’s the most interesting thing is to see authentic artists on stage.

Chaowen: 15:49
I sort of felt the same. I remember when I was at school, the singers or the cast will be coached to sing exactly how the conductor wanted it. Like where to take a breath, where to slow down how much slowing down and all that until now we are seeing more collaboration and discussion than the process. But I wanted to ask a question that you lightly mentioned that you start with texts, in your preparation for extended, repertory, where does this music coming into the text? Because we know a lot of times in the more traditional repertoire, they somehow stopped the plot in a sense, or they, the dramatic.

Stephanie: 16:34
Right, and we have a lot of repeats of the text.

Chaowen: 16:37
Yes. How do you deal with that, especially in the more traditional repertory one, so many versions have been done? And while you try to find the new way to produce it.

Stephanie: 16:49
Right, right. Certainly, that’s a challenge, because you’re looking at this text, and you’re looking at it from a contemporary mindset, right? I mean, we have no other way, but to read it as ourselves within the context that we live. So I try to always keep that in mind, there are two different approaches. One approach might be to say, Well, this was written 100 years ago. And an audience seeing this would have had a different sensibility and a different understanding. So we’re going to play it that way. And we’re going to present a museum piece. And audiences today can just adjust their thinking and their mindset and realize that they’re seeing something 100 years old, and appreciate it for what it is, you know, maybe there’s a time and a place for that type of presentation, I always challenged myself to look at the text and say there’s a phrase that’s repeated for five minutes, that’s really challenging, because we want to see the interactions on stage happen in real time. And we don’t want to be frozen in time for five minutes and meditate on this phrase, I love you, or I hate you, usually one of those.

Stephanie: 18:00
But the thing is, the music can really unlock the answer for you. Because the music usually reveals added layers and development. And so even if a phrase is repeated, there might be ornamentation, there might be a change of the melody, there might be a change of orchestration, that gives us some clue as to the emotional life that the composer was trying to create in this moment. And so if I hear like a new instrument comes in, or the phrasing changes on a repeated text, then I try to imagine the circumstance that might inspire that to happen. And if I can, I try to make something happen for the characters in their interaction that would inspire that change. So it’s not just that the one character is saying, I love you, I love you, and they are happy about that, then they’re sad about that, then they’re confused about that. They might experience all of those emotions, but I challenged myself to create some physical circumstances that would make them happy, sad, and then confused.

Stephanie: 19:05
You know, maybe they discover something on stage, maybe another character walks in another character makes an action on stage that would lead them to feel confused, or sad, or whatever. And that’s something that I get a lot of feedback about. And my work in particular is that I stage a lot of this traditional repertoire, and I’ll set it in the traditional setting, the traditional time period, all of that, that, for me, it’s not important to change the setting in order to make the story modern. To me, what we have to change is how the characters think and act and respond. Because I think what we want to see now are three dimensional characters who are intelligent, and who are taking actions in their daily life in real time. Whereas like I mentioned, I think in history, maybe there wasn’t quite that expectation and opera people were there to sort of hear pretty singing and a concert, and they weren’t really Looking for auctions to happen in real time?

Chaowen: 20:02
Certainly I think you’re absolutely right about people’s expectations were totally different back 100 or 200 years. And we have to remember that there was probably their only entertainment back then they were not competing with less likes or right. I feel like oh, everything with the effects and pretty things and all that. So I had another question, and this is for me? And so for some of the listeners who might not know this already, sometimes I see the advertisement or the announcement of a certain opera production. That’s they are from the productions, say, from the LA Opera or from the San Francisco Opera, does that mean that this production is repeated? Or how does that mean that when you’re having a production being toured or transferred to different theaters, but maybe with a different theatrical setting, physically a different house, different cast? How does that work?

Stephanie: 21:05
Right, well, there’s a variety of ways in which that can work. While say at the base level, it usually means that the set has been rented from the other company. That’s the commonality. And that happens quite a bit. Almost every single opera company, rents sets and productions from other opera companies, I mean, the Metropolitan Opera rent sets from other companies. So that’s extremely common. Now, when they’re renting a set, sometimes the stage director comes with the set, sometimes that’s part of the contract that if you want to rent that set, then the company is obligated to hire the same stage director who created the production, that director comes and they’re going to recreate their staging, it’ll be the exact same staging that happened to the previous company. Sometimes they’ll hire the same singers, most times, they don’t, most opera companies like to create their own casting, and they’ll hire all new singers. So you’ll see a new cast, doing the same staging on the same set.

Stephanie: 22:03
But it is also very common that a company rents the set, and they do not hire the same director, they hire a new director who does new staging, and they might rent the costumes that were originally with the set, or they might rent completely different set of costumes, which could even change the time period, depending on the costumes. So then the staging could really be quite different. So, you know, as a stage director, we do all of the above. And that’s kind of what makes each project interesting and unique for us, because we come in and say, okay, am I creating a new set and new production for you, or any of those pieces already in place, and then you just work with a combination of what you’ve been given.

Chaowen: 22:47
So that’s come back to the thing that you mentioned. So when you say that, companies rent out the set, but the set is created by the set designer, and I know went that there are more phases, you know, lighting, design, and custom design and all that. What is the stage directors role, play and all that coordinating with those, all those designers?

Stephanie: 23:13
Yes, well, like I said, most of the stage directors job happens before rehearsal begins. And a lot of that has to do with collaborating with the designers. So when you’re creating a new production, you have a scenic designer, lighting, costumes, sometimes, more commonly, now a projection designer, and we’re gonna make up designer, and those are kind of your lead designers, there may be others as well added to the team. And oftentimes, an opera company will ask the director to bring along their own design team. In that case, I will identify various designers I’ve worked with before that I think would be good for this project. And I think they would work well together. And then the company engages all of those people. And we start to have design meetings. And for my first design meeting, I want to come in having already analyzed the text and the music, and considered how I want to tell the story, usually, I’ve already thought about the setting that I would like to create meaning the time period, the location if you’re going to change it from the original, and also the style of the visual design, whether you want to do something abstracted or stylized or something extremely realistic, where you know, we’re trying to put like a town on stage. And we need like 100 townspeople and they all have various props in their shops and you know, La Boheme Act 2, like, sometimes you try to create a realistic scene. Other times you’re doing something with projections, and it’s all sort of symbolic and more esoteric.

Stephanie: 24:48
So when you first meet with your design team, the director will usually present an idea like I’d like to set it in this style in this way. And here’s some research about the store worry about that style. Usually you bring in a bunch of images, and maybe some articles that are talking about the main themes of the piece that you’d like to bring out. And you sort of offer that to the design team. And then they chew on that for a while. And they’ll come back with visuals of their own maybe articles as well. And you kind of like, you just work together until you start to create some visuals that you all agree on and support. And once you’ve created a visual, like usually storyboard, you make up a storyboard of the whole opera. And then you go back to the company, and you pitch that you say, this is how we’d like to tell this story. And this is about how much money we think it would cost. And then you start negotiations with the company, on you know what they can afford. And then you have to shop that out to a bunch of different scenic shops who might build it, and they bid on the pricing of the bill. And there’s further negotiation, and you end up cutting a bunch of ideas.

Stephanie: 26:02
But you know, that process is really fantastic, because it causes you to challenge every idea you had and say, Well, what’s really essential to this art? Do we need that costume? Do we need this scene? How could we represent a house without building like four walls and furniture and everything? Could we pare that down to something really simple, that would register with our audience. And then also, you have the element of the administration of the opera company. And hopefully, they communicate to you early on what they feel would appeal to their audience and to their company, what their company would like to present. Maybe you already know that if you know the reputation of the company, but there’s also a stage where after you present your idea with the design team, they might come back and say like, oh, well, our audience would really be shocked by this idea. So we should discuss that and consider it, you know, is this gonna work in our town in our community.

Stephanie: 27:02
And again, different stage directors approach that in different ways. Some directors are here to make art and one style with their voice. And they’re very unique, and they’re known for that. And they’re not going to compromise for any community or company or whatever. And other directors might like to work with the company in the community and say, you know, what would be effective here? And what would audiences really what would appeal to them, and also expand their minds. I mean, I think as artists, it’s our job to sort of be that social conscience and speak to current events, and what’s happening in the world and respond to that, that certainly needs to be a part of it. But for me, it’s really important to connect to audiences, I don’t want to alienate them by creating something that they can’t understand. I think that my job is to make sure the audience can understand what we’re communicating. So for me, that’s really key.

Chaowen: 27:56
That was really interesting. I didn’t know a lot of the opera companies do not have their same shop or set designer, I had thought they always just have.

Stephanie: 28:09
Yeah, it’s very few opera companies have a scene shop. And in the past few years, some of the big scene shops in the country have closed down. So we’re really down to just a handful. And you’d be amazed at how many opera companies all over the country are having their sets built in Kansas City, because it’s like one of very few opera scene shops left. So they’re over there just like pumping out the sets for all these operators, and you would never know, they’re like a regional company, and that they do their own projects and things there. But if you start to research, if you go to any regional house and you research like where did all of these sets come from, you’re gonna see Kansas City, Kansas. There are others there are others. But that’s just just an example.

Chaowen: 28:59
That’s really amazing. I just remember when I went to CCM, we have a scene shop on campus. And we have, I’m not sure if they majored in design or something. But I know we have students, undergrad students working in the same shop all the time, and we have the costume design. So I always thought that’s the norm that you have everything in house. But that’s really amazing. But as you said, that the audience reception is an important part and also that ties to the company’s reputation and a sense or their artistic vision, you have to find a balance kind of in between your vision and theirs. What happens if you have to work in a foreign country? Then you have a different mentality of your audience and maybe their sort of language or cultural barrier when you are discussing with your cast or the admin and your staff? Do you have those experiences that you can share?

Stephanie: 29:55
Yes, that is huge for stage directors especially. Of course, I mean, if the culture is different than the context is different for the entire story. So it plays a huge role. If you’re someone with a different culture, I do think that you, you have different cultures existing within the US as well. So you can experience this going from one side of the country to the other. But yes, certainly, when I’ve worked in other countries, you see a different response, especially if you get the opportunity to present the same production and you’re remounting it in different countries. That is so fascinating for me, to see how different audiences respond to the same work. And the same in staging. I noticed, in my experience, I did a production of Tosca in France. And at least from the reviews, they really pinpointed certain costume design elements that were very subtle. And I feel like a lot of the audience’s that I create shows for in the US maybe would not not have even noticed the detail. But that was something that they really zeroed in on. And they liked that. But that just was interesting that that made the review was a costume detail. And you also notice a big difference culturally in different countries around how people feel about sexual themes on stage. Yeah, I mean, you know, maybe maybe that’s not a big surprise. But I work mostly in the US. And I grew up in the South and I have worked in the south quite a bit. And so I suppose, used to a much more conservative audience that really enjoys grand opera enjoys comedy, is not always very adventurous in terms of topics that they might feel are taboo or not meant for classical music.

Chaowen: 31:55
Yeah, I can certainly see that. And I know specifically for opera, still, they are still a lot of very conservative audience members. And also, I think part of the reason is still, especially in the United States, opera is still a very expensive art form to attend, even to access to, and it’s still hard to break that barrier. I don’t know, I sometimes feel it’s harder than say symphonic orchestral music, because of that elite status. But on the other side, there is a story to enjoy. It’s really fun to watch when it’s done well. So it’s my view, a little less barrier for certain people, because they have something to latch on to, as opposed to a very abstract Brahms symphony. You’re sitting there for 14 minutes without anything to watch other than a conductor.

Stephanie: 32:56
Yeah, that’s right. And historically, Opera has always had social commentary, as an aspect of where the stories come from, and how they’re told. I mean, whether it’s a comedy or a drama, there is often social commentary in the story. And so that’s something that I think a lot of stage directors are always wanting to remind their audiences of, because at times, an audience can say, well, we’re at the opera, we didn’t come here to question our values, or the direction in which society is headed or whatever. But I think if you look at opera in history, throughout history, you will see that it has often played that role. It has often been challenging how we think and how we act and challenging us to do better. And so I mean, that’s also something that drew me to the art form that I find really compelling about it, you know, is, I think it has an aspirational quality to it. So that’s something that I really believe in and try to bring to the work that I do.

Chaowen: 34:01
Yes, certainly. And I always want to remind people about the, in particular the state the background of figure out how it was written. And Mozart’s really took his term and criticizing some of the things that he did not like, but the bureaucracy and all the practices back then, while people tend to forget about those things nowadays. Then talking about the social events and the calls for diversity.

Chaowen: 34:29
How do you feel the opera industry is changing? Not just about the subject matter of the of course, I know a lot of companies are including more common or like contemporary operas, are adding them to their standard repertoire. And then also they’re more young men and women directors, given the responsibility. It’s huge to direct a message. So how do you feel about all the things?

Stephanie: 34:58
Well, we certainly are seeing change happening in our industry, we certainly are seeing new leaders and with new leadership comes changes all the way throughout the industry. So, well, you mentioned that a lot of opera companies are looking at the repertoire that they’re performing. And they’re saying, well, maybe we can’t make the needed change happen if we continue to do the same repertoire in the same way. So first of all, we can try to do it in a different way. But second of all, we need new repertoire. So that’s so huge to making our art form more relevant and more inclusive, as we have to tell new stories that can’t always be just like Western European stories about white men dominating, you know, we have to have new stories. So that’s really exciting and important. And there’s a lot of new work being made. And in almost can’t happen fast enough, because that’s really what we need to see happen. But we also are seeing changes in leadership, we’re seeing a lot more women and people of color, moving into like the top level leadership positions. And that’s fantastic. It’s very encouraging to see. And for me, as a state director, when I started out, I didn’t think too much about being a woman in my field, because I had a female mentor, who was the one that encouraged me to pursue directing. So I hadn’t thought too much about gender until I got a little bit further in my career. And I would say that the first time it really, really like, slapped me in the face was I was remounting a production at a large regional opera company. And I had some members of the chorus and members of the production crew, come forward and tell me you’re the first female stage director we’ve ever had at this company.

Stephanie: 36:57
And this company is 50 years old, and they do five, six operas a year. So just think about the numbers there. And to realize that I’m the first female stage director they’ve had, and it was, you know, I don’t know, 2017 2018, something like that. And that really was a shock to me. And these women that came forward and spoke to me, they had tears in their eyes, when they said, You’re the first female stage director. So I realize what it meant to them. And especially the women on the crew, you know, they said, we’ve worked here, this one woman said, I’ve been here 20 something years, and my mother worked here before that to my family has been part of this company, since it opened. And we’ve worked with mostly male colleagues and all male bosses and leadership. And they really felt like a minority in that situation. And I think they also felt that they had been part of a culture where they were not comfortable, they were not supported, they did not feel heard or seen. And I kind of came in naively thinking, Well, I’m just here to do my job. And I just do a good job. And it doesn’t matter if I’m a woman. And I’ve heard other female colleagues say that.

Stephanie: 38:08
But the truth of the matter is, it does matter that you’re a woman in a leadership position. And you do carry a certain responsibility with you in that role, to recognize the people that came before you and the women who had to be in those roles in a situation that maybe was much less comfortable. Now have I do I feel like I have been treated differently at times? Because I’m a woman? Yes, of course, of course. But for me, really, what’s more profound is realizing the honor that it is to be in my role, regardless of gender or anything like that. But to be in a leadership role, it’s a responsibility, you have a responsibility to all of the people who are working with you, and who you are leading through a process. And I’ve seen as a responsibility to take care of them, and make sure that they’re able to do their best work, and they feel supported and valued. And it might not be fair to say that women have those priorities more than men have those priorities. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. But I do think that a modern stage director today is hopefully much more concerned with supporting people and creating a good environment than directors of the past. And I do think that, you know, whether it’s because I’m a female or not, that’s something that I bring to the table, and that I try to promote, is a positive work environment, and really caring for people.

Stephanie: 39:31
And I do think that one of my main qualities is being empathetic. So I’m very sensitive to everyone in the room. And if someone feels discouraged or confused or frustrated, my attention goes right to that. And then I try to solve those problems and sort of become a mediator and negotiator. And so again, you could say that those are female qualities. I don’t think they are exclusively, but I do think that at any Right, that’s sort of the new era of leadership. And I’m happy if I can be a part of it and move us in that direction.

Chaowen: 40:07
Totally, I think it’s really important that women aren’t saying, and a lot of times, I felt, Oh, I’m just here to do my job well, but it does make a difference when they’re seeing a woman leading anything, either this stage direction or the leading the ensemble. I remember a mentor told me that in her early days as an opera conductor, short walking the house with a score and her hand, and people assumed that she was the state’s director. Oh, you’re the new states director. Because like, they thought, if a woman comes in, she can’t be the conductor, she must be the stages director. There was something but back then I didn’t think oh, there will be more okay with a director being a woman? Or maybe there was a cultural difference? Do you have any thing that you want to share that how you have navigated any difficult situations,

Stephanie: 41:05
That is interesting to hear the that they thought they were the stage director. But I, it also makes sense, because I would say, when I was starting out, there were some female stage directors, and I got to assist some of them, which was fantastic. And it also, you know, I had their example to look up to, it made me believe that women could be successful stage directors and have a full time career doing that. But there were several times where I walked into the theater, and they thought I was the stage manager, which is a field that now is, I’m gonna say, predominantly female. And so I just think that that change is just very slow going. But we saw stage management become a lot more women in stage management. And then over the next 10 to 20 years, we saw a lot more women as stage directors. And I really think that it’s just in the past couple of years that the world is talking about female conductors and needing to promote that and support that, you know, we have the conducting Institute, and all these different programs, you know, that are just getting started and saying, you know, let’s identify some talent in the conducting world. So I’m not terribly surprised to hear that people would make that assumption. mitigating that?

Stephanie: 42:20
Well, I think for me, when I was starting out when I was in college, directing my first projects, I had a mentor, who was a man. And I had been in rehearsals for a few weeks on a couple of projects. And he was my mentor was watching. And he talked to me privately. And he said, You know, I think you might be more successful, if you could use your feminine wiles to win over your cast. And oh, that just burned me up. It’d be so upset. And obviously, I mean, I’m still remembering it 20 years later, bringing it up. So it obviously upset me. But you know, it’s interesting, because also with 20 years to reflect on that, how I interpret that advice now, is that I think when I was starting out, I felt like it was difficult for me to take charge of the room, and for people to like, listen and respect my leadership and that sort of thing. So perhaps I presented like a really strong, serious front very authoritative.

Stephanie: 43:25
And I was, and this is also something that happens with young directors just starting out, you do tend to demand everything looks this way. And it goes this way. And everyone has to follow your because you’re trying to find your voice. And you’re trying to find how to do this artform. And so a lot of people I think, start out like that. And then as you mature and grow as a director, you learn to trust your colleagues, and you learn to let people fly and to let the performers bring their talents and their ideas to the table and you get a much better product. But when you’re starting out, you can be a little like, authoritative and then closed. And I think that what I’ve had to find over the years is a nice balance between showing strong clear leadership, but also letting some of my personality shine through. And being a human, you know, interacting with my colleagues as a human being able to have a sense of humor, being able to show empathy and emotion, because we are creating art, you know, we’re not just doing a business deal, or something. So, I think, if I were to look back on that advice, now, I took it as some kind of like, misogynistic, condescending comment. But I think if I were to put that aside, I would say that the advice was to bring yourself to the table. And that means something different for everyone. But I think it’s important to feel like you can bring yourself and women of the past probably didn’t feel like they could bring themselves to the table. And that’s the difference. That’s where I do feel like it’s an honor to be able to walk into rehearsal and Now and present the way that I do and show who I am. Because people haven’t always been able to do that. Been safe to do that.

Chaowen: 45:08
Totally agree. And coming back a little bit to the side about opera directing? How do you work with the conductor, if you have different ideas, or different directions where this align, I have to say, for honesty, I always thought this is a little odd for me as a conductor. Typically, we have a week of musical rehearsals, and then the stages director comes in, they can have very different ideas and requires different timing for things. And a lot of times, I felt that I was doing nothing where like my time was a little bit wasted. Or I could have done better if I could incorporate the musical stage with a staging thing better than I could have done my job better. But how do you feel about like your collaboration and directions with working with a conductor in general?

Stephanie: 46:01
Well, every collaboration is different. I’ve had all sorts of different experiences collaborating with conductors. The best scenarios, in my mind are when you’re able to talk with the conductor before rehearsals begin and discuss a little bit about how the production is going to flow. Like for example, if I’m hoping that a scenic change can happen during a certain section of music, like maybe there’s a overture interlude or something, and I’m thinking, Oh, this scene change kind of is going to happen here. That kind of thing. Most conductors aren’t too interested in that they’re not really worried about the scenery, or whatever. But if you can just mention that idea to the conductor early on, then they might realize, Oh, we’re probably going to need more time here. And I might have to stretch this musically. And you can have a conversation about is the conductor comfortable with that? Is that something that they’re interested or willing to do or not, you have to discuss with the conductor early on the cuts, musical cuts, and where an intermission will happen if there’s more than one or all of that sort of thing. S

Stephanie: 47:14
o it’s sort of like the structure of how we’re going to present the piece, then some conductors are more interested in these conversations than others, to be honest, but I think it’s great if you can really have a conversation about the musical cuts, how the storytelling will take shape musically. And then also, some conductors love to discuss the characterization, especially if it’s an opera in a time period where improvisation where ornamentation is possible or expected, then I think it’s really important to talk about the characterization of how you’re going to play this person, because what ornamentation would be best suited to the character. And some conductors want to decide that completely on their own someone to talk with the singer decided together. In my mind, the best situation is when all three of you are collaborating together. And that way, you’re all trying to tell the same story. Because sometimes you will attend an opera and you will feel like one of the singers is not in the same production as everyone else. And I think that that is sometimes an acting choice. And sometimes it’s a musical choice. And it really takes you out of the story as an audience member. So ideally, everyone is communicating and collaborating from day one. And it really it starts with the conductor and the director. So that hopefully avoids that feeling of getting into staging rehearsals and feeling like any time was wasted, preparing something musically, that now feels, you know what a dissonance with the staging.

Stephanie: 48:47
You know, sometimes you have a cast that can change how they’re singing their Aria, like on the spot, you can be in rehearsals and say, Oh, this moment really seems so impassioned. Let’s do this ornamentation. And the singer can just say, Oh, what if I do this, they sing it, everyone goes, That’s great. Yeah. And we move on, and we change it. And you know, that’s exciting. And that’s really fun. But that’s not always possible. Sometimes, a person has spent months rehearsing in a certain way. And that’s going to be the best way for them to do it. And so my personal view as a stage director, is I like to react to the music, because I think that an opera music is top dog. So I create the staging that supports what’s happening musically. So if that means that the conductor comes in and says I’ve prepared this, and these are the cuts, and this is the phrasing that I will be doing, then I can create staging that goes with the music phrased in just that way. And I have no problem doing that. I love doing that.

Stephanie: 49:52
The only time where it really becomes a negotiation is in comedy, because comedic timing is so difficult and you cannot predict how the music is going to have to go until you are in the room and the singer is onstage and they are doing the comedic bit. And you find out the timing that they need. And then you need an audience to laugh and find out how does that timing work. And so you know, working in comedy, especially like record shows, numbers opera, all that Rossini Mozart, you have to be flexible and able to change the timing. Probably in the moment in rehearse, I mean, in performance.

Chaowen: 50:31
I was laughing when you say there is almost always one singer, that different production. I think if there were only one, I can still enjoy this show. But sometimes they don’t like a few. That’s no good. I remember seeing one of those shows. But as you say, because you’re very often given all the cast. as just a like, a lot of times you go into rehearsal, and then you find out what there’s what the same centers are capable of doing, or changing and adapting. And it’s always the most fun process.

Stephanie: 51:13
Yea, I mean, that’s rehearsals, my favorite part of my job, I love to be in rehearsal, and you kind of don’t know what’s going to happen.

Chaowen: 51:24
That’s the fun part.

Stephanie: 51:26
Yeah, you have all of these interesting artists coming together with different ideas. And I feel that the job of the director, but also the conductor is to kind of like take in all that information, and come up with a way to like, incorporate all the best parts.

Chaowen: 51:44
That’s lovely. So it sounds like you have to be so ahead in preparing everything. Because as you say, you have to talk to the conductors and talk to the design, people submit budgets and everything needs to happen before everyone start working on the show. So how do you manage your time working on different productions? Several years ahead of time, hopefully.

Stephanie: 52:08
Yeah, it is a challenge to work on multiple productions at the same time. And you really just have to budget your time. Sometimes, as a stage director, I’ll have a month off, well, quote unquote, enough people will say like, what is your next show? And I’ll say, well, rehearsals for my next show begin in one month, and they’re like, oh, wow, you have a month off. And it’s like, okay, it’s not exactly vacation. Because most of our job happens at home or wherever you work. So you really have to budget your time. So I have a home office, and I still use, like old school calendars, handwritten calendar, I mean, I have everything on line as well. But for me, I’m a visual person, I think that’s part of why I became a director. So I like to have visual calendars and to do lists in my workspace. And so I kind of keep tabs on the progress of each show. And for example, right now, I’m really in the thick of preparing five different productions now. And there are more that are coming down the line. But you have to say like, what’s humanly possible for me to sort of keep in my head at the same time.

Stephanie: 53:27
And so I’m constantly reassessing my priorities, what projects are coming up, what deadlines are coming up, and you have to set deadlines for yourself, because oftentimes, the opera company just says, like, well, this will be the first day of rehearsals, sometimes they’ll say your Scenic Design is due by this date, or the rehearsal schedules do by this day. The props list is Do you know, musical cuts? Or do you might be given a few deadlines, but it’s different at every company and for every show. And so you basically have to create your own system. And once I am contracted for a show, I basically immediately set up a calendar and a timeline for myself, and say, I need to speak with these collaborators, we need to have a draft of this done. And then you want to start sending information to the company as soon as possible to get that feedback, because you’re always gonna have to make changes. And it’s much better to know about that sooner. So that’s it and I, for me, I have to have deadlines. I’m a person that sort of functions based off deadline. So I think part of it is just getting to know yourself, and what’s going to keep you on task and focus and just keeping tabs on all those different facets of the production.

Chaowen: 54:42
It sounds like a lot of things, especially with live productions. I can only imagine us having piles of scores as you go through but you have more joints to move. So for people looking into perhaps choosing opera directing as a professional career path, what would you say to them? Or where can they find out more or be more resourceful?

Stephanie: 55:09
Well, it really depends on where you are on your path. If you’re a student who’s interested in directing, that’s a great time to consider it and research. I started as a student, just asking my professors and teachers for some directing opportunities, and they were eager to offer opportunities or create opportunities, whether that was you know, in initial days, I would assist my teachers and professors on things they were directing, I would be an assistant director. And then once I learned a few technical skills and production skills, then I got into stage management. And I do think that stage management can be a fantastic avenue for someone to learn about what a director really does. I mean, stage management is a career unto itself. And many people go to school for degrees in stage management, and it’s really challenging. But there are opportunities for like stage management, internships, and being a production assistant in that kind of a thing where you’re not, the safety of everyone on stage and like, their lives are not in your hands. But you’re there at all the meetings, and you’re learning the background information.

Stephanie: 56:25
And for me, I stage managed for a few years. I started in grad school. And then that’s what I did my first few years out of grad school, one of the things I did, and they helped me to learn about all of the technical work that happens backstage, I think it’s really important for a stage director to to understand that to have a basic understanding of what everyone on the crew does, how long it takes, how the set is built, how the lights are focused, how the sound is run, I think it’s only fair that if you are setting up a schedule, and managing the time of all of these people that you have, at least a basic understanding of what it is that they to how difficult it is, how long it takes, how much it costs, the company, those types of things. So getting a job and in production in early days is a great way to start.

Stephanie: 57:13
A lot of singers have an interest in becoming a director. And I think that’s fabulous. There’s a lot of successful directors who were singers at one point. But again, I think the information that the singers don’t have is that production information. And the singers only see the director in rehearsal. So they only know that side of it. And like I said, the majority of the director’s job is outside of rehearsal as before rehearsal. So I think asking a director, if you can shadow them, you might not be ready to be an assistant director, if you haven’t worked professionally for a while. But most directors are happy to have someone, an intern or a shadow, and to walk someone through the steps and to teach them about the preparation. So I would say the best thing to do is just ask, ask for opportunities and share with people your vision of what you want to do talk about what you want to do. And you never know what opportunities might come up, I had so many professors take me with them on their professional jobs. And whether I was paid or not, I think a lot of times I wasn’t paid or, you know, I got a little grant or something to cover my expenses. But being in the room and being around rehearsal is a good learning experience.

Chaowen: 58:27
Totally, I don’t think anyone would mind having an extra pair of hands or people helping. But I just want to say whenever you are reaching out to people, make sure that you do your homework, you really know who you’re approaching what they do, and be really responsible because there’s nothing worse than hiring someone and you have to cover their hazards, like creating, like creating more problems for yourself than that let’s that’s worse than not having those opportunities. For sure.

Stephanie: 58:59
Yeah, and you know, I’ve had young artists approached me say that they’re interested in being a stage director. And could I hire them as an assistant, and sometimes their resume, they’re not really, I don’t feel that they’re ready to be an assistant director at a professional company, they don’t have the work experience for that level of a job. So I’ll get that email. And I’ll say, I’m not sure how to help this person right now. And it doesn’t go any further than that. So to your point about really knowing who you’re reaching out to, you need to make sure you understand what you’re asking them for. And I think what’s much more approachable and possible is if that person says, can I talk with you about the business? Could I get some advice? Well, yeah, absolutely. You know, that’s much easier to say yes to and then let that conversation, possibly turn into a job recommendation.

Stephanie: 59:54
You know, if I can speak with a young artist, that I might have some ideas about programs they can apply to and that sort of thing, but to cold call someone and say, Can I work for you? That doesn’t work. And I didn’t know that early in my career, I ran out of grad school I cold cold call, you know, 100 opera companies. And by that I mean I emailed them with my resume and a cover letter and said, Oh, I have this experience and look at my, my huge resume and all the school shows I’ve done. And please hire me and I got practically zero response. And it’s so discouraging. You feel like, well, how will I ever find work? And where? Where will I start, but I think you need to start with your professors. And then you need to be willing to take other jobs that support that job that you want to have one day, that’s kind of how I got started was, I was a scheduling manager, I was a stage manager, I was a assistant professor, I taught voice, I taught opera workshop, I had a church gig, I did all of these, like supporting type, well, in my mind, supporting type jobs. That would help me learn different aspects. And then eventually, one day I could move into directing.

Chaowen: 1:01:07
That’s really wonderful. And to wrap up our conversation, can you tell my listeners where they can find to your website, or anything that they can reach out to if they want.

Stephanie: 1:01:18
My website is stephaniehavey.com. And you can also find me on Instagram, and Facebook. And all my upcoming productions are featured on my website.

Chaowen: 1:01:29
Great, thank you so much for coming.

Stephanie: 1:01:33
Thank you. So it’s lots of fun.

Chaowen: 1:01:35
Here you have, it’s my friends. And I hope that you love this conversation as much as I do. I’m starting to really love recording for this podcast. Because, as I say to Stephanie, I got to learn a lot of things about my friend, as a person through their journeys that they shared with me. And also, I got to know a lot more about their jobs. And it’s such an important thing to have an understanding of how other people work, when they are working with you when you’re collaborating with them. And to understand how you can be helpful how you can be an asset to their jobs when you place yourself at that position, well, you are coming in to contribute to make everything better. For the common goal of creating a great production, you’re putting yourself in a much better position in the team. And that’s how I believe a collaborative way of being successful as your job.

Chaowen: 1:02:40
Thank you so much for tuning in today. And, as always, please share with a friend. If you’re liking this show, just share it with anyone who you think might benefit from listening to the episodes. And I will see you next week at the same time, same place. Bye for now. If you haven’t already, I would really encourage you to check out the website of Girls Who Conduct and a lot of great organizations working towards more diversity, inclusion and equity in the field, including the one that Julia is involved with the Women Band Directors International. Again, I’ll put everything in the show notes and you can find things at chaowenting.com/32 and I will see you next week at the same time, same place. If you’re loving this show, please don’t forget to subscribe and or leave a review on Apple podcast and that will be the best encouragement for me. Thank you and bye for now.