October 16, 2021

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The Drama League invests millions in the Overhaul Directors program

3 min read

In an effort to better support creatives at all stages of their careers, the Drama League is investing enough resources to rebuild its Marquee program, the Directors Project.

Led by artistic director Gabriel Stallion-Shanks and executive director Bevin Ross, the league is investing millions over the next decade through new and expanded programs. The Reconstruction Initiative is the result of a company-wide assessment during an epidemic, at a time when many who work in the arts lose their jobs.

The Extensive Directors project will provide fellowships for early-stage directors, mid-career theater directors with programs to convert them into film and television, and support for established BIPOC directors with young Bipop creatives. The length of different programs varies and lasts up to two years.

Through conversations with more than 100 artists, artistic leaders, producers and community members, the newly designed program has been restructured to provide financial stability, welfare and guaranteed employment opportunities. This initiative will try to eliminate systematic inequality and pay inequality in management.

Significantly, beneficiaries of fellowships, accommodation, and assistant scholarships will receive scholarship awards – up to $ 50,000 per year – and while in the health insurance reimbursement program. Organizers say the idea is not only to provide mentorship and direction to emerging directors and experienced creatives, but also to provide the financial resources needed to sustain their business careers.

“We want to give artists a living wage,” Stallion-Shanks said. “They don’t have to take a second or third or fourth job for two years. They can only concentrate on their careers.

This is why the league has deliberately decided to support a number of artists on a larger scale instead of paying a small amount to more and more recipients.

“We really want to take care of the development of these artists,” Ross says. “It means fewer artists are being served, but we hope that in the next decade we will be able to scale these projects in a meaningful way.”

One highlight is the Directory Assistance, where the league will partner with an established BIPOC stage director to provide assistant management opportunities on set. Recipients will be paid the salary of an assistant director and will be reimbursed for accommodation, travel and healthcare expenses.

Nicole A. Watson (“School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play”), a director who will serve as a mentor this season, hopes the program will show the younger generation that a career in art is a viable option.

“Financial support is really important,” he says. “When you’re freelancing full time, you can do six shows a year and you still don’t make enough money or have health insurance. These are the barriers that prevent people from pursuing a career in fine arts. I went without health insurance for a really long time.

When he was coming into the industry, Watson said there were times when he only got a metrocard or small stipend for his work. “It is inappropriate for people to continue to suffer for their industry, especially when we live in a society that can overcome that suffering,” he said. “We can’t say we want the industry for everyone and make no way for inclusion.”

Another key initiative is the Film and Television Management Fellowship, with approximately 16 weeks of production experience spanning two years. It is designed for stage directors who are established in theater and want to expand their work to include film or television directing. They will be supported up to 10,000 10,000 in scholarship rewards and up to 10,000 in Heath Care Insurance rewards. The program includes on-set shady experiences, introductions to consultants and industry professionals, as well as the opportunity to direct a short film that will premiere as part of the league’s directorfest.

Tony Flynn, an Emmy-nominated show-runner in “Gray’s Anatomy,” will be a mentor to the two selected applicants. In the case of aspiring candidates, Philan says he is “trying to understand how collaborative they are and if they have a vision for what they want to tell the story. You want candidates to be busy and inquisitive and think they are part of the process.”

At the end of the Fellowship in Film and Television Management, the grantees will have the confidence and skills that an episode of live television requires.

“We can give them the equipment so that when they get the shot, they’re ready to take it,” Philan says.

(Pictured above: Steven Canals (“Pose”) talks about managing colleague Kemar Jewel)

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