Local Revolutionary Diane Paulus Strives For Out-Of-The-Box Theater

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Diane Paulus, the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, is beloved by her fans but looked upon somewhat dubiously by some theater purists for the same reason. Here's a woman who looks anywhere and everywhere outside of traditional theater for inspiration.

It's no surprise that the Tony-award winning Paulus would want take on a musical based on a film, based on a book, based on a writer. Blowing open the doors of traditional theater is her professional life's mission.


Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. She tweets @DianePaulus.


On nontraditional theater:
Diane Paulus: "I'm... looking for ways in which artists that are not in the theater can be brought into the theater. Like with 'Finding Neverland,' the composers — Eliot Kennedy and Gary Barlow — [are] British pop musicians who've never done a musical in their life. How can their sound and sensibility take a musical in a direction that, maybe, we've never heard before?"

On her inspiration for "Finding Neverland":
DP: "I have two beautiful young girls who are 7 and 10... I watched the movie with both of my daughters when I was thinking about taking on the show and I turned to them, like, 'What do you think, guys?' I really asked them, like, what do you think about this movie, this story, what about Peter Pan? I saw their eyes light up. It's such a sensitive story about childhood and about growing up and about the role of the imagination in your life. I think it's giving me a special impulse in the rehearsal room and in the creative process to be thinking about them so specifically when I make the show, even though there're four boys. They're like, 'When are you going to do a show with little girls, Mom?'"

On the mission of good theater:
DP: "I have always dreamed of a theater that satisfies heart, mind, body, soul — all of those. That's great theater. This idea that you are coming together as a group, as an audience, and some kind of transformation happens. And I believe that transformation is most powerful when it's not just intellectual, when it hits your heartbeat and it makes your pulse race and you feel alive. And I just think, in this day and age, we're at a time more than ever, now, where I feel so lucky to be in the theater. I'm not moaning that theater's dead, I'm saying, 'No! We need the theater because we need people to feel present and alive in the moment.' And that's what I think theater can do as a medium. I love that you leave the theater with questions, that you might have a visceral, physical, emotional experience, like you have with music and rhythm that just enters your body and you can't understand it, but it affects you whether you're laughing or crying or feeling something. And then, to me, the theater experience continues after the event where you process it, where you want to talk about it, where you want to think about it. To me, that's what I hope I can create as an artist in the theater."

On the criticism that the A.R.T. has become a factory for Broadway productions:
DP: "I think you could look at our track record and say, 'Wow, we've become a factory.' But it's not our intention. I think it's a remarkable track record and I always tell my board, 'It's not always like this! It's not that every show goes to Broadway, trust me! It is very hard to do good work.' What is great about having been given this opportunity to transfer shows is the awareness of the theater is on a whole other level, now. There're artists all over the country and the world who want to come to Boston to be part of the theater here. I mean, let's take Bryan Cranston. He was at the top of his game, right? The final season of Breaking Bad. He was on 60 Minutes, the cover of GQ — you name it, he was there. What did he want to do? Roll up his sleeves, come and live here in Cambridge and do "All The Way." Zach Quinto has loved Tennessee Williams. Yes, he's Spock. But he loves Tennessee Williams and it was his dream to work on a Tennessee Williams play in an environment like what we have here at A.R.T. So, I just think we have a profile now where we can do work with really incredible artists and foster this community with our audience here in Boston and Cambridge. This audience here helps us hear the plays, helps us develop the work. It's that partnership that I think is so exciting and fulfilling right now."

On the five-year A.R.T. contract signed earlier this year:
DP: "I have had such an incredible experience over the last five years here that it was no question in my mind to sign on and do another five here. I mean, to have the theater [with] it's current... place of vibrations, and the building, and to just take that, now, into future planning was like an opportunity that, in the early years, I didn't have... It was like, 'What's next month? What's six months away?' We're now in a position at the theater where we are really are planning two to three to four years in advance which translates into really exciting development. And even more work, by the way. It's not like you get the work done. No, actually, you're taking on more in the present moment. But for me, I think I strive to live in the present as a theater artist. So I'm very much in the present at this moment, which for me is feeling extremely grateful to have this home here in Boston at the A.R.T."


Time Magazine: Diane Paulus

  • "When you talk to Diane Paulus, her bright, sparkly blue eyes always look like she has just discovered something, whether you’re talking about No. 2 pencils or the cosmos."

Boston Magazine: Diane Paulus: Drama Queen

  • "Diane Paulus has saved the American Repertory Theater, for now. But in the process, has she unintentionally corrupted the soul of experimental theater?"

This article was originally published on July 07, 2014.

This segment aired on July 7, 2014.


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