Five Questions for John Collins

john_collinsName: John Collins
Title/Occupation: Artistic Director
Organization/Company: Elevator Repair Service

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Vidalia, Georgia. I now work full time for ERS as Artistic Director and live on The Lower East Side. How I ended up here:

– At age 8, seeing my sister in a ballet recital, being overcome with admiration and jealousy and deciding on the spot to start taking ballet lessons.
– Acting in lots of plays as a kid, including in high school and community theater.
– As a teenager, taking a vocational career placement test with my cousin Patrick and getting some hilarious results, which included “Elevator Repair”.
– At 15, going off to a big high school summer program (The Georgia Governor’s Honors Program, where I did theater) and getting my first taste of life beyond my small town.
– Realizing as a freshman at Duke that I didn’t want to go to law school after all.
– At age 18, seeing the The Wooster Group’s “Frank Dell’s Temptation of St. Antony” while attending “Duke in New York” and having my whole way of looking at theater change.
– Transfering to Yale, doing more acting and majoring in theater studies and english.
– Seeing Marcus Stern’s graduate thesis project at Yale, “Hamletmachine.”
– As a Yale senior, not getting cast in my friend Carson Kreitzer’s production of “Marie and Bruce” and consoling myself by directing my first show.
– Taking a seminar with David Herskovits (of Target Margin) and doing a sound-heavy final project for the class.
– Just after graduation, coming to New York to do sound design for David and the first Target Margin show, “Titus Andronicus.”
– Getting hired by Richard Foreman to run sound “The Mind King.” (David H. was Richard’s stage manager at the time.)
– Asking Aaron Beall for a midnight slot at Nada (the now defunct theater on Ludlow St.) to direct “Mr. Antipyrine, Fire Extinguisher” by Tristan Tzara.
– Getting hired by The Wooster Group on short notice to run sound for Fish Story and Emperor Jones, when my predecessor there suddenly walked off the job.
– Allowing James Hannaham to talk to me into naming our new theater company after that funny test result from childhood.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

The Wooster Group’s “Frank Dell’s Temptation of Saint Anthony.” It was what made me realize that theater could do more than communicate a narrative, that it could be a sensory experience as well. Before that show, I had a fairly narrow view of what theater could possibly be. Upon seeing it the second time (the first time left me feeling completely stumped) I realized that theater was its own medium with its own rules and could be made more like the way visual art is made, or music.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I wish I were really good at playing a musical instrument. I play piano ok, guitar ok, and cello barely. wish I were really good at one or the other or both. I really admire musicians and since I spend all my time directing performers, being a good musicians would give me a performance outlet.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

I receive a full-time salary as ERS Artistic Director. On a typical day I come to our office and work on budgets, fundraising and planning, have meetings, do interviews and conduct research. In the late afternoon and evening I’m in rehearsal about 1/3 or half the year. Anywhere from one month to three months a year I’m on tour with the company. Then there’s about 20% of the time when I am only working in the office and not rehearsing, watching an ERS performance or touring.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

Not really. I’ve always managed to find time for both, even when they’re not the same thing. These days work is art and art is work. Early on, I scheduled all our rehearsals in the evenings and on weekends so that I (and others) could work a day job. When my day job was with the Wooster Group, I sometimes had to choose making art with them over making it with ERS but those compromises were mercifully infrequent.

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