2012 Arts Hub Australia Profile

Chuck Hudson: Director

By artsHub| Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Based in New York City, Chuck Hudson has directed opera productions at major international companies including Cape Town Opera (South Africa), Florida Grand, Minnesota Opera, Sacramento, Opera Cleveland, Seattle, San Francisco Opera Center, and Wolf Trap Opera among others. He has directed award-winning theatre productions in New York and regionally in the USA, Europe and Japan.

In addition to directing professional artists, Chuck continues to focus on his work with artists in training directing productions and instructing specialised classes on Acting and Movement for performers at Conservatories and Professional Young Artist Programs in the USA, Europe, Africa and Australia. He is also in great demand as a private audition coach for both opera and musical theatre performers.

Chuck’s return to Australia, to direct Taming of the Shrew from 13 October to 20 October 2012, is thanks to WAAPA and a Dame Joan Sutherland Grant from the American-Australian Association. Love and rampant sexual politics take centre stage in this comical and sometimes controversial romantic comedy, loosely based on the play by William Shakespeare, which is brought to life by Goetz in his charming 1874 operatic version.

He spoke to us about his career so far and what we can expect from Taming of the Shrew:

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a performer – an actor in particular.

When did you know you would work in the arts?
My first performances were at home as a very young child, and then in public at about 8 or 10 years old. I began my formal studies this early as well.

How would you describe your work to a complete stranger?
Like the director of a film, a director of opera and theatre is the person ‘behind the scenes’ who envisions, coordinates and creates the entire production.

I collaborate with other artists, like designers and technicians and performers, whose job it is to fulfill my artistic vision of the show. I also help the performers develop a sense of independence from my constant direction as they run the show- they will be performing it over and over again after I have moved on to my next production, and I must help them generate the life of their characters so that they can do this consistently time and time again while maintaining the integrity of my direction.

How hard is it to be authentic in the arts nowadays?
I often say ‘you have to have a life in order to present one on stage.’ Authenticity comes from Character. Character comes from Integrity. Integrity begins with a sense of self, and Self Knowledge is an ongoing adventure. The inscription on the Temple to Apollo said ‘Man Know Thyself’, and Aristotle tells us that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’

Is there a mission to your work?
I believe that theatre and opera are dynamic art forms that can be enjoyed by everyone. My goal is to create outstanding, innovative productions, respective of the present economic environment. I also recognise the need for constant artistic renewal in order to remain relevant. To that end I strive to produce a full range repertory strongly rooted in the classics as well as contemporary works.

What’s your background – are there studies that prepare you for this?
I was a competitive gymnast and fencer, and I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre focusing on Acting.

My Masters Studies came from the Marcel Marceau International School of Mimedrama in Paris, being one of only three Americans to receive a diploma and the only one selected to teach at the school. I was also personally mentored by Marceau over a six year period while I performed in his company.

As I mentioned in my last answer, constant artistic renewal is something I value highly, and so I am continually studying and learning.

What’s the first thing career related you usually do each day?
Success in the arts is often the result of organisation and time management as much as it is on one’s talent.

I turn on the computer and look over my day, and then address emails. I live on the road more than at home, and email is now the standard communication tool I have for management, music staff, designers, performers, and even my personal life. Once a week I look over the week to come, and then over the next quarter as well.

Can you describe an “average” working day for you?
At home in New York, I am generally in pre-production for a show. I begin the day checking email and voice-mail for any important discussions with designers or artistic direction. For the rest of the morning I focus on preparing the show- listening to the music, outlining the initial blocking, developing the vision for the design of the costumes, props, set, sound, lighting, etc. I am often self-marketing then, and I also have to update my databases and ‘tedious’ work like that. Then I head downtown to the gym to workout.

I go into the studio in the afternoons to work with singers or rehearse. My evenings are spent either in rehearsals, going to the theatre to see other work, out with friends, or at home with my partner.

In production, it is a different day! I go to the gym in the mornings, then work on preparing that day’s particular rehearsal. I spend the rest of the day rehearsing the show or in production and design meetings. I am often preparing the next productions I am directing, as I am now, and so I must also allow time for those productions in my day even though I am concretely working on this production.

What else do you do to pay the bills?
I work exclusively in the theatre: when I am between directing gigs, I am either instructing master classes for singers and actors at Conservatories, Universities and Professional Young Artist Programs, or coaching professional performers one-on-one in my studio.

I am also working on a series of text books on the techniques I instruct and utilise in rehearsal.

What’s the one thing – piece of equipment, toy, security blanket– you can’t work without?
My laptop! It is everything for me on the road: calendar and database, research tool and storage, communication and entertainment…I am using it right now to answer these questions! It crashed on me right in the beginning of a rehearsal process a few years ago and I now have 3 redundant back-ups for it!

What gets you fired up?
I draw energy from actors and singers and dancers; my enthusiasm comes from working directly with them. Having been a performer myself, more often than not I ‘get’ them.

Who in the industry most inspires you?
I must say I am very inspired by Australian actor Cate Blanchett. The dimensional work she does as a performer in both film and theatre is impressive, always truthful and daring, and the international success she has garnered with her Sydney-based Theatre Company displays her leadership skills in the Business of making successful Theatre.

What in the industry do you despair about?
I am so tired of hearing about the budget cuts and governmental slashing of funding for the Arts because ‘the Arts are not essential’. I believe that the Arts, and specifically Theatre, are indispensable for the enrichment of life. From the idea that because they are less ‘quantifiable’ than maths and science they are less ‘valuable’, to the idea we hear often, ‘why pay artists well- they love what they do and would do it for free’, a career in the Arts is still not really recognised as a viable life choice.

This is not a belief that is automatically done away within the Industry itself. Everywhere we see productions cut and fees for artists lowered while marketing and development staff are being hired and paid well in order to “generate more life” for arts institutions. If there is no Artistic Vision, then there is no creativity needed to develop an audience, and if there is no quality Artistic Product (production comes from that word!), then there is nothing to Market.

What is the best thing about your job?
I love my job and I love making a living in the creative arts. A psychologist writing on Creative Personalities wrote that Creative Individuals seek to find purpose and enjoyment in the chaos of existence.

I love the creative process and the collaborative nature of the creative process. I get to travel to wonderful international locations and work with different artists almost every 6 weeks. I meet wonderful and exciting people who are often very different from me, from cultures that are often very different from my own, and I grow as a person and as a professional because of this.

What’s the worst?
Leaving home… not being on the road, I actually love that. It is the actual leaving home that is so challenging. Teachers never seem to discuss this aspect of our work with young artists: creating a relationship while travelling this much is challenging enough- maintaining a relationship is even more of a challenge, as is starting a family. You have to be comfortable spending a lot of time alone and you must develop strong communication skills in your relationships.

What are the top three skills you need in this industry?
Talent, Technique, and Organisational Skills.

In my classes, I call this the balance of Dionysus and Apollo: someone with a lot of talent but no technique will not be successful; someone with a lot of technique and no talent will not be successful. Once that balance is set up comes the organisation.

What advice would you give anyone looking to break into the field?
Are you settling for mediocrity when you could be striving for excellence? Figure out what it takes to be excellent in your field…not good, not satisfactory, but excellent! Then, pursue that. If you do not do everything in your power to pursue excellence, then you must answer another question: What is stopping you? You will find the answer to that question by looking into a mirror.

When do you know you’ve made it?
Well…given the above, you are constantly in the process of making it! Besides, there is always another level to strive for or we stagnate. Once we believe we have ‘made it, we risk becoming complacent, and Complacency is the Death of Art. Again, artists at every stage of ‘making it’ must recognise the need for constant artistic renewal in order to remain relevant. How will you recharge your batteries?

Why should people come along to The Taming of the Shrew?
If you’re new to Opera or to Shakespeare, I can’t think of a better introduction than this production. It is a win-win for lovers of Theatre and Opera. If you are a fan of either or both, then you are in for a real treat! We are re-envisioning the original work by dove-tailing Goetz’ music with Shakespeare’s spoken text. The story is entertaining and provocative, the music is tuneful and rich, the text is written by the greatest English playwright, and is as approachable and understandable as your favourite TV show. I am having a wonderful time directing the show, and I am looking forward to giving it to the Perth audiences in October.

Dates: Saturday 13 October 2012 – Saturday 20 October (excluding Sunday 14 and Thursday 18)
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: The Geoff Gibbs Theatre
Mount Lawley Campus, 2 Bradford Street, Mount Lawley WA 6050
Tickets: Full – $40, Concession/Friends – $35
Bookings: Box Office (08) 9370 6636 or online at www.waapa.ecu.edu.au
Performed by: WAAPA Classical Vocal and Instrumental Students