Ten Minutes With Mandy Greenfield
WTF’s new artistic director
photo by Jane Feldman
Mandy Greenfield is the seventh artistic director in Williamstown Theatre Festival’s storied 61-year history. With over a decade of experience developing new work at the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club, she is eager to start her first season here. In 1996, after graduating from Yale, Greenfield was working at New York Stage and Film on the campus of Vassar when she visited Williamstown for the first time. Now, nearly 20 years later, she’s coming back again, only this time to stay a little longer.
What did you think of Williamstown when you first saw it?
That it was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. As a kid, I spent summers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and so it felt sort of familiar to me because I think there’s something topographically very similar about the two places. So I found it instantly glorious.
There’s been a lot of turnover at WTF as far as the artistic director goes. How important is continuity at that position?
Gosh, I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question. But I hope that the work that we make as artistic directors, the work that we choose and the artists that we bring together and the kind of ethos, I guess, that we bring to making the work is what must endure. I think that WTF, even in the context of what you’ve just said, has succeeded and survived brilliantly, right? The sort of core values of the place and the quality of the work and the continuity of making great work in those theaters has endured even in the context of change. That’s a real testament to the institution itself. I’ll work my hardest as long as they’ll have me to add to that incredible legacy.
Is job one getting more people in the seats, or is something else a priority right out of the gate?
For me as the artistic director, the priority is great art. Making world-class, excellent theater that connects with an audience and engages them in a way that is both entertaining and exhilarating but also relevant and of the highest quality. That’s the priority. Because I believe if all those things happen, the people will come.
How do you go about choosing plays for a season?
I hold every play that I encounter to my internal rubric for excellence. And I engage with other artists often in that exploration, and somehow, mysteriously and magically, a season comes about. And the ultimate imprimatur on those choices is the audience’s response. Writers and directors very much want their work to matter, to count, and to mean something. And that only really happens once the people are in the seats. And that’s why we’re doing it.
With having two stages to work with, the more intimate Nikos and the larger Main Stage, how do you decide which show fits which venue?
Part of what I’m meant to do as artistic director is serving the needs of a play. What does this play need? What does this play want? The way that the artists are coming together around it—the actors, the writer, the director, the design needs. A play kind of whispers its needs, and my job is to hear that whisper as loudly and clearly as I can and then make a set of decisions for the project that will hopefully best support it. Venue is obviously one of those decisions.
When you go out for a night of theater, what are you looking for?
Increasingly it’s an experience that can happen in the theater and only in the theater. Something that is so alive and so urgent in its interests to help me understand something about the moment that we’re living in. Entertain me. Challenge me. Scare me. Move me. A boldly theatrical night, whatever that means, right? If it is scary or brilliantly funny or challenging or intellectually engaging or devastating and sad, whatever it is, as long as it is that, unapologetically and theatrically that, then I feel very happy to have been there.
Having done theater in Manhattan versus doing it up here, does WTF have something to offer that NYC doesn’t?
What we can do at WTF is say to artists: come to this beautiful, safe environment and don’t have to run to auditions, don’t have to make voiceovers, don’t shoot a commercial on your day off. Come here, and do this play only. You’re going to come here and do this one thing in this beautiful, absolutely supportive, and safe space. I think that sort of singularity of focus that being up in the Berkshires in Williamstown affords artists is so freeing and relieving. The kind of artistic boldness and risk taking that can happen there is so singular and so exhilarating for artists.
How do you gauge a success?
If I’m standing at the back of the house and we’re [writer, director, designers] watching something that we can be proud of as we watch an audience receive it on the terms in which we intended for it to be made, and we can hold hands and look at it and say yes, and that we’d like to do it again together—that’s a success.
Have you had any productions go horribly wrong?
Everyone has nightmare stories. Nobody tells them. You save them for the biography.