Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Jo Bonney about her work on 72 Miles to Go...

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Which teachers and artists have had a profound influence on you as a director? Jo Bonney: I was born in Australia and educated at Sydney University and Sydney College of the Arts. After graduating, I traveled for several years, and probably the most profound influence on my later directing career was this early exposure to the wonderfully diverse storytelling traditions in the many countries I spent time in. Later, I was intrigued and excited by the work I encountered in the downtown New York scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s directed by artists such as JoAnne Akalaitis (working with Mabou Mines), Richard Foreman and Ping Chong. I loved the way Bill T Jones and Arnie Zane were fusing dance and verbal storytelling. A lot of the work I was attracted to was happening at The Public Theater under its founder, Joe Papp, where his commitment to new plays by diverse writers was not necessarily the norm in theatre at that time. His support was hugely important—he literally encouraged me to define myself as a director and to use my background coming out of art school to start finding my own vision as a director.

TS: Why did you choose to direct Hilary Bettis’s 72 Miles to Go…? How are you collaborating with Ms. Bettis on this new play? What questions did you ask her about her play? Are you involved with the rewriting/development process? JB: My career as a director has been committed to new play development and production, so I've read hundreds of new plays in all stages of development. It's always exciting to read a new script that tackles a contemporary subject in a way that feels fresh and adds insight so I really responded to Hilary's writing voice. It's deceptively simple and never panders to sentimentality. So much of the humor and emotional weight of the story felt authentic and arising from a place of personal family experience. I believe we're all hyper-aware of the volatile subject of immigration in this country, but we lose sight of the individuals in the midst of the politics surrounding the subject. Perhaps because I'm an immigrant also, I've always been curious as to what it means to be an American and how attitudes towards previous waves of immigrants have morphed over time.

I've been involved with many plays starting with just a few scenes or the first act but Hilary's script was already in a very realized form when I first read it. A workshop in October was extremely productive because, until a play goes through its first full production, the rewriting/ development process is always ongoing. We gained some insight into how people received the story and where we could clarify moments. Both of us are super wary of unnecessary exposition but found that there were moments when an added reference to a date or event in the intervening months was asked for in keeping the audience in the loop. My relationship with playwrights is always one of putting myself in the audience seat, of simply asking questions—the most basic "Why," "How," "What if."

TS: Can you give us some insight into your process as a director? How did you prepare to direct this play? Did you have to do a lot of research

Jo Bonney

in order to enter the world of the play? What is the atmosphere in your rehearsal room like? JB: My first step is to simply read the script over and over again, becoming familiar with each character and their journey and the sound of their voices. Over multiple talks with my playwright, I delve deeper, I want to understand what their initial impulse was in writing this particular story? Is there personal history here? Where are they in the process and what do they hope to achieve sharing the story with others? I start seeing possibilities in my mind's eye, how it might live onstage. I'm aware that despite my daily attention to the news and my endless perusing of articles and books that I essentially have a “CliffsNotes” knowledge of history and contemporary politics, enough to feel comfortable in any discussion, but not actually enough to own any real depth of understanding of the nuances of issues. Going into 72 Miles, I felt a deep obligation to educate myself on the different policies under various U.S. Governments. I also, serendipitously, was set to travel in Mexico for a month in the fall, and it gave me an amazing opportunity to talk with dozens of people and gain more personal insights. One of my biggest takeaways was a greater understanding of the history of the America-Mexico relationship and the obvious (to me now) fact that so many Mexican families have roots in the land, now part of America, that predates the first colonies.

My primary focus in the entire process, in the rehearsal room, in tech, and in the theatre is to facilitate an open, collaborative atmosphere.


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