We are delighted that Sheila Siragusa, a prolific director, actor, composer, and teacher of theatre from the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts, is joining us to direct our 2016 Fresh Takes reading of Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck. Sheila holds her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she is currently a lecturer in theater, and lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts. A founding member of The August Company, Sheila has recently directed productions for the Chester Theatre Company, the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, UMass Amherst, Mt. Holyoke College, the Northampton Academy of Music Theatre, and New Century Theatre.
WAM Theatre: What appealed to you about working with WAM Theatre and being part of our Fresh Takes Play Reading Series?
Sheila Siragusa: I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to participate in any work that WAM is creating. I’m so drawn to Kristen van Ginhoven’s spirit of agency in the world. She is truly a “change agent” in the sense that she somehow lifts the veil of complacency and fear that can keep us from understanding our power as artists. The material she chooses is risky and surprising and frequently generates real curiosity and excitement for me as a director, simply because I can’t imagine what they’ll do with a piece! I think it’s such a temptation for Artistic Directors to get skittish about what an audience will want to see. It takes real courage to work on the edge. Kristen’s the real McCoy.
WAM: What appealed to you about Grand Concourse?
Sheila: Grand Concourse is such a powerful play. These rich characters pull us in, and as we become attached to them, playwright Heidi Schreck upends our expectations and leaves us desperately trying to find our footing.
WAM: We have a special mission to tell the stories of women and girls. What women’s rights issues are important to you right now, and how do those interests affect your work?
Sheila: Heidi Schreck really takes apart our assumptions about goodness in her play and shines a light into the places where caring becomes deeply challenging and complex. How do we care in a way that is self-renewing? This is certainly an apropos conversation for a WAM Theatre audience. The very mission of WAM Theatre itself is attempting to answer this need. WAM is turning care into action to benefit women and girls, as it nourishes artists of all kinds in the making of idea-changing theatre. This is an effort we should all support.
WAM: What do you hope people will take away from the play?
Sheila: It’s important timing that this reading will take place just a week after Pope Francis has made Mother Theresa of Calcutta a saint in the Catholic Church. There’s been great controversy about the various details of her story, including Mother Theresa herself expressing doubts about her faith and even feeling abandoned by God. Yet, we see images of thousands upon thousands coming to honor her as the epitome of caring; the epitome of Christian social action.
WAM: What is your next adventure?
Sheila: My next project is directing a play called Sweet Sweet Spirit by Carol Carpenter at the Academy of Music in Northampton. As so often happens in my work, Sweet Sweet Spirit shares motifs with Grand Concourse, treating issues of caring, privilege and forgiveness. Directing is often this great linear process for me in which I glean greater depth of understanding about a particular area in one piece and then get to tap those depths to inform these pieces with the growth of my newfound understanding. It’s like doing a study as a painter. I’m grateful for it because it’s not a given in theatre work. It’s a wonderful synchronicity.