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American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) 2010/2011 Season

Scene from Death and the Powers at A.R.T.

BOSTON – Flying high from a fabulously successful initial season at the helm of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), Artistic Director Diane Paulus now faces the challenge of keeping the engine of momentum charging.

A renegade idealist celebrating the robust energy of the 1960s, Paulus is a confident risk taker and a rebel against the tyranny of traditional theater. She strives to produce theater outside the parameters of expectation, exploring alternative spaces and redefining the relationship between the audience and the actor.

Her directorial mantra is “Involve the audience.” She does this by opening the tent of participation to those who may have been reluctant to buy a ticket at the box office and making what transpires on stage relevant to her local audience.Illustrative of that paradigm is last season’s “Johnny Baseball” — a Red Sox saga exploring the issue of race inside the Olde Towne Team, tapping into the nerve center of the Boston psyche.

While the Boston area did its best to survive an uncomfortably hot early August, Paulus was toiling away at interminable technical rehearsals for her robot opera “Death and the Powers,” which has been produced in conjunction with the M.I.T. Media Lab. It premieres in the Principality of Monaco in September and will return to Boston to close out A.R.T.’s 2010/2011 season in mid-March.

Paulus describes her role as the “orchestrator of her colleagues and theater community in a quest to make the impossible possible.” That outlook was inspired during her time in Cambridge where she, as a Harvard University undergrad, witnessed the magic of the early years of Robert Brustein’s American Repertory Theater invention. Brustein redefined what regional theater was capable of accomplishing; his theatrical experiments left an unforgettable mark on Paulus.

After graduation, Paulus headed to New York to pursue an acting career. Those acting ambitions were abandoned in disgust when, at the suggestion of her agent, she curled her hair and labeled her resume photo with nothing but a phone number. Her subsequent decision to burn those resume pictures was the transformative stroke that sent — some might say launched — Paulus into the fracas of producing and directing.

Her early dramatic forays included corralling her out-of-work acting buddies into a production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in a Manhattan community garden. He production inspired a local chamber of commerce to invite her on a sojourn to the farms of Wisconsin to discuss how to transform a Wisconsin cheese factory into a bricks and mortar theater. For five summers, with the help of performers from New York City, her Blue Circle Theatre flowered along with the vegetables.

Paulus returned to the Big Apple to earn an MFA in directing from Columbia University. Her numerous New York accomplishments include the long-running cabaret adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” called “The Donkey Show” which was staged in a series of New York nightclubs. She brought the production with her to A.R.T., where its highly successful weekend “disco parties” show no sign of losing their footing as they near their first anniversary.

Through it all, Paulus continues to see herself simply as a doer, a leader capable of getting things done. That continues with A.R.T.’s 2010/2011 season opener of “Cabaret,” the Kander and Ebb musical that is sure to take gender bending to a state of contortion thanks in no small part to its casting of Amanda Palmer as its mistress of ceremonies.

A.R.T.’s fall season continues with “Alice vs. Wonderland,” a phantasmagoria-based update of Lewis Carroll’s beloved masterpiece which promises to keep the tea piping hot, and “The Blue Flower,” an enticing blend of country-western music and Weimar cabaret set over the backdrop of early 20th century Paris and the battlefields of World War I.

By GREG MORELL – September 8, 2010