About Gina Kaufmann
My Mission, My Passion
It matters that we are working in a live, ephemeral form. In this form, there is a kinetic relationship between performers and audience and that relationship is unique to each production. It matters that we are all in the room together.
For each production, I start by assuming nothing, asking questions, listening to collaborators (including the playwright, dead or alive, whose work is in my hand) and allowing myself to be drawn to a character or a relationship that sparks me with an eagerness to delve further. With Marta the Divine, it was Marta herself, the trickster in a world of rigid hierarchies. With Donny Johns it didn’t start with Donny (Don Juan), but with the three women -- Isabel, Ann and Teresa -- who are drawn into Donny’s privileged machinations.
From this fascination, I work towards greater and greater specificity. I love specificity. What is this world where this story can unfold? I am fascinated by complicated systems and, together with my collaborators, I love to figure out the unique rules of each production world.
Always I want truthful listening – listening that is palpable to all in the room, along with truthful discoveries and truthful wants. I’m less committed to operating within a specific style than uncovering the style that best reflects this specific world — a world with its own kind of heightened language and bold design and performance choices that heightened language often leads us to.
I love large, LARGE choices that only become more truthful as their size increases.
Member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC)
Chair of the Department of Theater at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Co-director of the MFA Directing Program at UMass Amherst
Recipient of The Outstanding Teaching Award for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, 2013
What I’m Working on Right Now
This past year, Harley Erdman and I collaborated on a Spanish play by Luis Velez de Guevara, from 1614, whose central character, Gila, defies gender norms. The Spanish title is La serrana de la vera, but we called it Wild Thing. Harley translated and I directed. We brought the UMass production to the Siglo de Oro Festival at El Chamizal in April of 2019.
In addition, for the past three years, Harley and I have teamed up with composer Aaron Jones to write an indie-rock musical based on the Don Juan story titled Donny Johns – set on a contemporary college campus and focused on the stories of the women. We’ve had two workshop productions and completed a professional recording of the music this past summer -- and the revisions continue.
For the past few years I have been training in the Michael Chekhov Technique with MICHA (The Michael Chekhov Association). This physical and focused approach to performance has influenced both my teaching and my directing.
My Life in the Theater
I grew up in the center of Iowa, in the center of this country. Music was the glue that held my family together -- leading the singing at church every Sunday, Christmas caroling every year, and daily harmonizing around the guitar or piano. So, after a year as an exchange student at a music school in
Stockholm, Sweden, I began as a music major at The University of Iowa. But when I switched to theater I began to thrive in a new way. Music was still a strong part of how I experienced performance, but so much else was included as well.
In 1989, I graduated with a BA in Theatre and, in 1990, founded The Unusual Cabaret in Bar Harbor, Maine, where we produced new musical work and innovative adaptations of classics for five years. (It was a place where I could adapt John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera for a three-woman cast and have a full house of tourists enjoy it six nights a week.) My other new play development work includes three years as a guest director with Paula Vogel and the New Play Festival at Brown University, directing a production of Vogel's own play, Hot 'N' Throbbing at Wellfleet Harbor Actors' Theatre, several projects with playwright Madeleine Olnek (How to Write While You Sleep at Brown University/Trinity Rep in Providence, Help! Police! At SoHo Rep in New York and Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto) and a season as the director of the Frost Festival at Dartmouth College. Most recently, I have worked with playwrights on staged readings as part of the Studio Festival of Plays at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts and collaborated on several new adaptations of Spanish Golden Age plays with translator Harley Erdman.
In 1999, I earned an MFA in Directing from The University of Texas at Austin. In 2003, I participated in the month-long acting intensive at Shakespeare & Company, which was a turning point for me as an artist. Compelled by the search for vocal and physical truthfulness in tandem with tools that brought language alive in rich and specific ways, I then continued to foster my connection with artists at Shakespeare & Company. After working as a teacher for three consecutive intensives, I worked as the Assistant Director to Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer on All’s Well That Ends Well in 2008. The following summer, I assisted the new Artistic Director, Tony Simotes, on Othello and in 2010 and 2011 I was the Associate Artistic Director for the Studio Festival of Plays. In 2012, Tony asked me to direct Tartuffe in their season, which I adapted and, with my collaborators (including playwright Constance Congdon), turned it into a 1960s-style musical.
In addition to my recent work at Shakespeare & Company, I’ve worked as a director and acting coach in numerous regional venues, including The Williamstown Theatre Festival (where I was a Boris Segal Directing Fellow), Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (A Comedy of Errors) and Sacramento Theatre Company (Tartuffe and Private Lives). In New York, I directed for SoHo Rep, HOME for Contemporary Theatre and Art, Wings Theatre, and Dixon Place. Here in the Pioneer Valley, I have directed for The Majestic Theatre in Springfield (The Odd Couple and The Last Five Years) and New Century Theatre (Luna Gale and Yankee Tavern).
In grad school I began my love affair with teaching. After two years at The University of Louisville and four years on the faculty of Sacramento State University, I now live in Amherst, Massachusetts, with my husband, Miguel, our twelve-year-old son, Niko, and our ten-year-old daughter, Haley. I teach in the performance area of the theater department at UMass, Amherst, where I’m also Chair of the department and Co-Director of the MFA Directing program.
Listen to an interview about director/playwright collaboration (when Gina was a guest artist at the Hollins University Playwrights Lab).