Women in Spotlight: Kel Haney
When it comes to creative roles in various industries, it's important to be deliberate. Kel Haney has honed in the skill of being a director in the world and community of theater. Being deliberate with ones craft tends to run parallel with the ambition of ones own quest for character; once you discover your purpose of self you have to give it everything you have to be good at it. Making theater has been Kel's self-proclaimed purpose, and like any artist, you have to do it often and you have to do the thing other people won't always do: You have to demonstrate the purpose of your art.
The role of director for Kel has been a labor of not only being a leader in a space not always carved out for women, but also an endeavor to tell deeply moving stories that she has created. When it comes to discussing socially uncomfortable topics such as Tourettes, something that is artfully deconstructed in her current play 'The Elephant In Every Room I Enter,' The show is currently at Next Door NYTW, with tickets still available until November 25th. The education of two bachelors degrees in Theater and English from Penn State University informed Kel on a foundational level of what it would mean to pursue directing, including her participation in Penn State's Schreyer Honors Program, which involved creating her own curriculum and spending her senior year taking graduate-level directing curriculum. With the most recent project of 'The Elephant In Every Room I Enter,' Kel has navigated the landscape of what exists beyond the realm of "normal" and "not", waving the bright ribbon of cultural conversation to grab our attention.
What inspired you to gravitate to the career you've created for yourself?
I truly believe my main purpose in this life is to make theatre. The impulse has always been my driving force: as a kid, I would corral my brother, my cousins, the neighborhood kids, anyone who would listen to me, into 'doing' a play. My favorite toys were the finger puppets knit by my grandmother, the little fold-up wooden theatre made by my grandfather, and my Fisher Price tape recorder. I spent the final weeks of high school interning at People's Light in Malvern, PA--that's where I realized that there are people who actually make careers out of making theatre and where I learned exactly what the director's role is in that process.
What is your process while directing?
My process always starts with becoming as familiar with the script as I can--I walk into the first day of rehearsal knowing the text as intimately as possible. My pre-production process, which includes collaborating with the playwright (if it's a new play, which is the case with most of the shows I direct), designers, casting director, and producers, is integral to my directing process. The better prepared I am, the more I can push all of my preparation aside and be present with the actors in rehearsal. For the actual hours of the day when I'm in rehearsal, I'm currently working to 'treat' myself to putting aside thoughts of all other projects on which I'm working (which, for me, means putting my cellphone on 'airplane mode').
What part of your education or experience informs your process as a director?
Everything I do, in every aspect of my life and in every moment of the day, informs my process. I actively try to be as open to, and curious about, the world as I can be. It's always surprising to me how the experiences I've had, news I've read, stories I've heard, images I've seen, and questions I'm asking make their way into my work.
You spent this past summer collaborating with Chris Cragin Day on her plays A WOMAN (Summer Shorts at 59E59) and FOSTER MOM (playing thru 9/24 at Premiere Stages). How did these experience affect your directing style for these particular shows?
Collaborating with Chris on two of her plays this past summer was a true gift. Chris writes plays where the rhythm of the dialogue is critical to the storytelling & the actors' processes. Directing Chris's work is a constant reminder that the answers to practically any question that arises in rehearsal exists within the text itself. Because we were collaborating with six different actors on two different plays, it was a wonderful challenge to figure out how each of those actors inherently interacts with the script and how to best empower each actor to most fully flesh out Chris's text. Because Chris & I are such natural collaborators with one another, working with her also reminded me how seamless and graceful the director/playwright collaboration can be, when you're working with the right people.
What, most recently, is a project you are most proud of and why?
While I love every project I direct, the project I'm most proud of is THE ELEPHANT IN EVERY ROOM I ENTER, featuring Gardiner Comfort, directed by me, and created by both of us. Gardiner is a phenomenal actor, writer, teacher, speaker, and advocate who also has Tourette's Syndrome. ELEPHANT follows the week Gardiner spent at the National Tourette Association of America's National Conference in April 2014. That week, surrounded by others (mostly children) who also have Tourette's, Gardiner felt 'normal,' for the first time in his life. I'm probably most closely connected to this piece because Gardiner & I made it together. It's the only time I've been behind the laptop--Gardiner & I created the piece during our artistic residency at Mabou Mines & did two workshop runs at La MaMa. The piece blends devised text, movement, and stunning video design by Caite Hevner & Lianne Arnold. This November, we're partnering with New York Theatre Workshop to bring ELEPHANT to Next Door at NYTW.
How has New York City fueled your passion/career in your job?
Living in New York City is very challenging and very stimulating. What fuels me in NYC is the people--I encounter the most tenacious, courageous, fascinating humans, whether it's on the subway or in the rehearsal room. Everyone is working exceptionally hard and I find the hustle to be exhilarating. And I love fine art--there's obviously plenty of that here, too.
Who has been a positive female influence in your life that contributes to your own personal and professional evolution?
My mom, Lisa Necowitz, is the most loving and generous person I know--her love has allowed me to follow my instincts & pursue this career. My high school English teacher, Diane Masar, encouraged me to direct my first play (Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, where I changed the details to reflect my hometown of West Chester, PA, in the 1950s) and showed me the connection between making theatre & text analysis. I learned a great deal about directing and artistic leadership during my first two professional experience after college, working under Lynne Meadow at Manhattan Theatre Club and Joanne Woodward & Annie Keefe at Westport Country Playhouse. Nowadays, I'm most strongly influenced by my friends and colleagues who are making theatre: Chicago-based director, Jess McLeod; actors Tracee Chimo & Ariel Woodiwiss; producers Clare Drobot, Nicki Hunter, Courtney Little, Martha Frances Williams, a long list of female designers, including Lianne Arnold, Emily Auciello, Caite Hevner, Elisheba Ittoop, Sydney Maresca, Dante Olivia Smith, Daisy Long, Summer Lee Jack..., and a super-long list of female playwrights, including Deborah Brevoort, Laura Maria Censabella, Kate Cortesi, Chris Cragin-Day, Kim Davies, Jessica Dickey, Julia Doolittle, Krista Knight, Martyna Majok, Sharyn Rothstein, Eljon Wardally, Lauren Yee...
What is a creative ritual that you feel like you need to do in order to stay motivated?
I'm in the midst of a very fruitful and very busy few months; what keeps me creatively motivated is my morning ritual: 10-15 minutes of meditation (I'm currently using an App called Calm), then preparing a healthy breakfast (oatmeal & turkey sausage). I treasure time my yoga practice at The Giving Tree in Astoria, my holistic health/nutrition regime with Dr. Alicia Armistead at Healing Arts, and my weekly visits to the various Greenmarket Farmers Markets around NYC.