Day 30: The Language of the Lab

by | Aug 20, 2016

We made it! Today is the final day of our Lab countdown, and Lab 2016 officially starts tomorrow morning!

Over the past 30 days we’ve picked up several new followers as we’ve shared these daily Lab countdown posts, so as we transition into our week of exploration we thought it would be a great opportunity to step back and ask: exactly what is DirectorsLabChicago?

Before we get into history or founders or any of that, I think the most important way to answer this question is with our mission statement:

DirectorsLabChicago offers environments in which emerging and established stage directors from Chicago and around the world are able to consider, challenge, and engage in both the traditional and contemporary aspects of their craft while creating opportunities for educating the public in the art of stage direction.

Everything we do, from our annual Lab to this blog, from our Director/Dramatists Exchanges to our newly expanded programming, exists for the purpose of achieving that mission. We are an artist service organization, specifically serving the directing community.

The Lab is our primary offering, of course, and was how we first started. It is also possibly the most misunderstood aspect of what we do; possibly because the phrase “director’s lab” is also used to describe a structure where directors are provided resources, rehearsal space, networking opportunities, access to mentors and audiences, and more in the pursuit of honing their craft. We’re often asked about our Lab: “What will the directors be workshopping? When is the final performance?”


But DirectorsLabChicago, and the other Labs of the Lab network referred to by Evan Tsitsias and Alice Bever in their conversation last weekend, are not this type of Lab. Because we are an off-shoot of another Lab, perhaps this is now where we should go to our history and founders.

The Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab started in 1995 in New York City. Every summer for over twenty years, the LCT Directors Lab brings together a group of directors from all over the world for a three week intensive of “workshops, readings, rehearsals, investigations, roundtable discussions, and studio productions to provide young directors with an intensive study of their craft while fostering collaborative relationships among a peer community of artists.”


Nathan Allen of The House Theatre leads a workshop with participants of DirectorsLabChicago 2014: Investigating Adaptation and Devised Work.
(photo by staff photographer Anita Evans)

In 2005, Chicago directors Elizabeth Margolius and Karin Shook attended the LCT Lab. Returning to the rich theatre environment of Chicago, they said, “There needs to be something like this here!” And they started it. In the 11 years since, DLC has held annual Labs with themes such as The Power of Myth and RitualLeft Brain|Right BrainInternational Influence, and Re-envisioning the Classics.

Glance back up at our mission statement again. Now, envision an entire week of that mission realized in full technicolor through workshops, interactive activities, presentations, panel discussions, observing rehearsals, and seeing local productions, all revolving around a single theme.

It’s a rare chance for directors to work with each other. Actors work together all the time; but directors rarely get to engage with their fellow directors. This is a primary benefit of the Lab, bringing the lone wolves into a room to learn from each other as well as from the amazing lineup of speakers and presenters who come together each year.

That is DirectorsLabChicago. That is what we’re about to embark upon. Tomorrow morning, twenty directors from Chicago, around the US, and around the world will gather in downtown Chicago with the extremely generous support of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, in partnership with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

We’ll spend a week together investigating our theme of un/spoken: The Language of the Stage. We can’t tell you any details of the itinerary yet – it remains top secret until the morning of the Lab. But if you want to know all about what our directors discover together this week, follow our Facebook and Twitter for updates, photos, and videos throughout the Lab!

Tobi MattinglyTobi Mattingly is a Chicago-based director, actor, music director, and teaching artist. She is the founder of Artistic Conspiracy, an arts organization dedicated to creating and enabling world-changing theatre. Through this organization, she helps professional theatremakers take control of their theatre careers through learning and balancing artistic craft, bodymind practices, and business/marketing management. Tobi is DirectorLabChicago’s Director of Marketing & Communications, and edits and curates the DLC blog.

Photo at left by Austin D. Oie.
Photo at top of page by staff photographer Anita Evans.


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