By D. A. Blackburn
Stage directing is a field that is notoriously hard to break into – especially for young artists. What’s more, it’s a field that has, historically, been dominated by men. BoxFest Detroit, which takes the stage at Detroit’s Furniture Factory Aug. 14-17, seeks to change all that.
“The motivation was really that I am a director myself, and it’s so hard to get opportunities directing,” said Shannon Ferrante, artistic director of the Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck. “There’s not a lot of training for directors, especially in Michigan. I don’t know that any school actually offers a B.F.A. or an M.F.A. in directing, so it’s kind of an undiscovered thing in Michigan, education wise. And there’s not really a chance for you to go and audition to be a director, so you just have to find a place to be able to direct and show people what you can do. So I thought that this was a great, great way for women to do that.”
The festival began some seven years ago, as Pandora’s BoxFest. In the years since, the annual event has evolved considerably, shifting from a charity benefit to a competitive outlet for aspiring female thespians.
Winners, determined by audience vote, are given either the opportunity to produce their own production, or a financial scholarship to further their education. Perhaps more valuable is the opportunity that BoxFest affords young female artists.
“It’s a really good opportunity for trial by fire,” said Alison Christy, a 2007 winner. “A lot of us haven’t had a lot of formal directing training. So it’s just a really good way to try your hand at it and learn by doing it.”
Christy’s latest directorial effort, “The Cannibals,” was produced by The Abreact as a direct result of her BoxFest success. She also credits BoxFest connections for dramaturgy work last fall, and she returns this season with a production titled “Cupid,” which she hopes will lead to additional directorial work.
Likewise, Lauren Bickers found success after winning a late night slot at the Planet Ant Theatre. Bickers expanded her 10-minute 2007 BoxFest entry, “Timeless: The Danceical,” into a 45-minute work, taking credit as writer, director and choreographer. The work brought Bickers accolades and the opportunity to produce it at Donny’s Skybox in Chicago. She plans a return engagement in the Windy City again this fall.
“It (BoxFest) was my first opportunity to direct, so I really enjoyed that. I’d been an actor and a writer since I started performing. Directing was something I had really been looking towards doing,” Bickers said.
Ferrante, who also serves as artistic director of the festival, has seen her own career growth as a result of her three-year stint producing BoxFest. “I think it’s gotten my name out in the community more, and I think people look at me more as a director.”
BoxFest Detroit 2008, hosted by Breathe Art Theatre Project and sponsored by Honest John’s Bar and No Grill, will feature 15 local directors, as well as works by a number of notable local playwrights. If previous years are any indication, the festival will likely prove a springboard for some of the Detroit area’s most talented up-and-coming directors.
‘2008 BoxFest Detroit’
At the Furniture Factory, 4126 Third St., Detroit. 7-11 p.m. Thu., Aug. 14 & Fri., Aug. 15; noon to midnight Sat., Aug. 16; and 2-8 p.m. Sun., Aug. 17. $10 at the door; $30 weekend pass. For information: 313-977-0146 or http://www.boxfestdetroit.com.