Bellevue born and Issaquah raised Theatre Director Brandon Ivie has been on a career ascent practically since he got out of High School and College. He formed a successful Seattle theatre company, Contemporary Classics, which staged well-received renditions of newer musicals (such as Zanna, Don’t! and A New Brain) as well as a twice-yearly concert series New Voices in which mostly younger Seattle artists sing the music of rising New York songwriters. He served for 4 years as casting director at the 5th Avenue Theatre where he has also directed a beautiful version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and the wildly controversial Jasper in Deadland.
With prospects in NYC beckoning, Brandon made a second home there, as Dramaturg on the Broadway versions of Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can and then Assistant Directing the Broadway Productions of A Christmas Story and First Date. He and the cast of Justin Huertas’ smash-hit Lizard Boy are heading into rehearsals for a reprise run of that show at San Diego’s Diversionary Theater September 29-October 30.
I just caught up with Brandon after he was named the Village Theatre’s new Associate Artistic Director as well as Creative Lead of the Village Originals New Musicals program. He promises to bring some new ideas into their successful artistic mix.
You’re a kind of Seattle theatre success story. How did this come about?
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m very passionate and driven and I’d say that had the biggest impact on my success thus far. I’m never content with what I’ve got so I’m always working to find the next best thing. I think that’s why I’m so attracted to new work–I’m always on the hunt.
Who’s been your biggest mentor?
I’ve had a lot of great mentors but the one I’ve had the longest that has had the biggest impact would be Brian Yorkey. He taught me how to read a script, I’ve assistant directed for many of his shows, he gave me my first two Broadway jobs, and he’s been so generous to me. It’s really appropriate that I’m taking over his spot here at Village because it’s him and this program that got me excited about new musicals and really taught me the foundations of what I know about developing them.
Your New Voices concerts grew to twice-annual sellout events. How did these come about, and will you be doing more?
It honestly came out of needing something to do. This goes back to my need to find the next thing. I had aged out of Village’s KIDSTAGE summer program that I had done for four years and needed something to keep me out of trouble. I decided to get all my talented college friends together and do a little concert. I was excited about more contemporary work so it skewed on the newer side and that was what the audience and I connected with most so when we got together six months later to do it again we focused more on that, then it turned into me reaching out to writers to find new songs and it just snowballed from there. It was the favorite thing I got to do all year because I was immersed in the world of new musicals and new writers. A lot of the connections I have now are with writers that I discovered through New Voices. We’ll definitely be doing more. They’ve been more difficult to do with the bi-coastal thing and the Festival of New Musicals at Village this year sort of took up all the bandwidth I could have for a summer edition, but we’re gearing up for a winter edition so stay tuned.
What would you say is the biggest difference between working theatre in Seattle and on Broadway?
The vibe in Seattle is very different. It’s more relaxed and less intense which can be both good and bad, just like the intensity of New York can be good and bad. I’m a west coaster so I’m more at home with the laid back vibe but sometimes I need that shot of adrenaline you get from the energy of New York.
What lead to your appointment to Village Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director position?
I think it was a combination of having a history with the theatre and right time right place. I’ve actually never directed on the mainstage (until this year) so all of my work at Village has been through Village Originals. I’ve been doing readings in most festivals for the last six or seven years, I keep Steve Tomkins (VT Artistic Director) and Robb Hunt (Executive Producer) up to date on what I’m doing in NYC and what I see other people doing there, and they know my interest in new, contemporary work that I’ve been doing in Seattle. When the time came to expand the VO programming I think it all just clicked.
Did you have a great deal of involvement in the most recent festival?
I did. I had actually been brought on as festival producer before my deal as Associate Artistic Director had been finalized so I curated the festival along with help from the artistic staff.
What form of new musicals appeals to you most? Is it a strong story or great score that really ropes you in?
Form is a part of what I like in new work but it isn’t necessarily the first or only thing I look for. I care the most about a good story being told in an interesting, unique, and sophisticated way. Of course a good score is necessary for a musical, but in my opinion a show can’t survive on a good score alone. I’m definitely fascinated by new ways to tell those stories but that applies to form, style, storytelling devices, that idea can manifest itself in many different ways.
A number of veteran actors have stated they won’t likely be in the Village Originals shows or Festivals now, since you seem drawn to youth skewing material.
That’s presumptuous and wrong. I’m sure they’re responding to New Voices and my personal work which is a very specific and separate thing from Village Theatre. The idea that they are not involved in new ways of telling stories is a little short-sighted on their part and I would encourage them not to write me off. As someone whose favorite shows include Follies, La Cage Aux Folles, and Gypsy, I don’t think I’ve got an age bias. It takes all kinds.
You are launching a touted Beta program for next stage development of new shows. What criteria decide further development is required?
There are a lot of things but the main part is finding shows that have received all the help they can get from readings and need to be seen on their feet with staging before they are ready for a fully produced world premiere. The qualities in the shows themselves are still the same – quality of story, sophistication of telling that story, etc – but it’s the point in the show’s development that is a bigger factor that determines this step.
The 2016-17 Village Theatre Main-Stage season is launching with you directing Pump Boys and Dinettes. What was the appeal to you of doing this show?
Steve Tomkins literally said, “What you did with Lizard Boy we want you to do with Pump Boys” and I said “I can do that!”
I’m excited about creating an experience where the music is at the center and the idea of a band leading that theatrical experience is exciting to me. Pump Boys was actually rather out-of-the box when it premiered on Broadway. Revues weren’t new, but putting a band onstage and making them the show was pretty new. I think there’s a hokeyness that has somehow pervaded the zeitgeist of the show and we’re excited about finding ways to recreate the electricity and originality that the original production had when it premiered. Plus the music is just fantastic.
As successful as you’ve been, it seems impossible to believe a bi-coastal director would have time for a special someone? Is there one?
Anyone in this business, especially when straddling both coasts, has to find a way to stay content in all facets of their lives. I’m very happy to say I’m very happy with both my personal and professional lives.
What would be your big next step if your career dreams come true?
I need just a moment to revel in where my career has taken me at this very moment. I’m sure in a few months I’ll start dreaming again, but right now this is pretty heavenly.
Visit villagetheatre.org for all facts on the upcoming Pump Boys and Dinettes as well as Village Originals’ Beta Season and more.