Director Pam MacKinnon scales the Broadway heights
MacKinnon, 44, who directed the world premiere of “Clybourne Park” at the intimate off-Broadway company Playwrights Horizon and then modified it for a thrust stage at the 750-seat Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, almost never got her chance to bring it to Broadway. After Scott Rudin backed out of producing the work, the play’s future was in limbo until Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, stepped in.
“It was scary. We’d come very, very far and then there was a three-day period or so where it looked like it wasn’t going to continue and through no fault of the project itself,” says MacKinnon.
Shamos, a Drama Desk Award-winner making his fourth trip to Broadway, credits MacKinnon’s patience for keeping everyone happy and productive. “She’s curious and fiercely intelligent but I also think she’s patient. It’s a great combination because she doesn’t jump on things even though she probably has a very good answer. It makes her genuinely collaborative.”
MacKinnon was born in Chicago and lived in Toronto until she was 10 before moving with her family to suburban Buffalo, N.Y. She recalls taking trips into Manhattan to watch Broadway shows and recalls once as a 9-year-old seeing “The Wiz” with her dad and Elizabeth Swados’ “Runaways.”
She acted a bit in high school but majored in economics and political science at the University of Toronto and then went on to enroll in a political science Ph.D. program at the University California at San Diego.
“I realized at age 23, `I’m not interested enough in this,’” she recalls. So she dropped out, making her parents nervous. “In my dad’s image, I was going to wind up at Port Authority with suitcases.”
Instead, she worked with Des McAnuff at the La Jolla Playhouse and Anne Bogart in San Diego, put on “The Who’s Tommy” in Berlin and found herself at 27 in New York, where she has remained. Each night after the show she hops on her bike and peddles more than 50 blocks north to her apartment.
MacKinnon has also worked closely with Edward Albee ever since she directed a regional premiere of his “The Play About the Baby” in 2001 in Philadelphia. She’s directed world premieres of “At Home at the Zoo” and “Occupant” as well as “A Delicate Balance” for Arena Stage. In the fall, she’ll helm a Broadway revival of Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“He can be very intimidating and I still sometimes get a little knocked back on my heels with `oh, Edward’s here,’” she says. “Clearly he feels very comfortable with me. He keeps on welcoming me to do his work. It’s pretty awesome.”
As a freelance director, MacKinnon is constantly stacking up work, hopping from rehearsal hall to rehearsal hall, but her rising popularity means she’s starting to turn down more work than she accepts. One day she says she may settle down and run a theater, but so far she’s thriving on the promiscuous life of a director-for-hire.
“It’s incredibly exciting and a little exhausting,” she says. “You say yes to the exciting projects when they come your way because you may be yesterday’s news in three years.”
Between now and the Albee play, she’ll be working on a new play by Sarah Treem and conducting a few readings. She has a workshop at the Soho Rep and will be directing some Horton Foote short plays later this summer at Primary Stages.
Right now, she plans on sitting through another performance of “Clybourne Park,” taking notes on her yellow legal pad. Nearby will be her friend, the playwright Norris. Nearby, but not too close _ they never sit together.
“That would be too tension-making,” she says with a laugh. “Like, `What are you writing? How dare you!’”