Launching the ACT/Kenan Directing Fellowship

The following post was written by Kenan Directing Fellow Wiley Basho Gorn.


It’s been about two months and much more has happened than I could ever hope to put into a single blog post. I’m going to start with some collective wisdom from the past six weeks.

The Beginning

The Directing Fellow desk in the 2nd floor Artistic Offices

 To begin: when entering into a new environment so much of the work is about establishing your own space and rhythm, while simultaneously shapeshifting to meet the needs and requirements of the job, and when it comes to the creation of theatre, also identifying one’s role in the rehearsal room. Each time I assist on a production I am given the opportunity to reinvent my way of thinking, assistant directing is a chance to turn the ego upside-down and recommit to serving the story.

Mr Burns – navigating the river of rehearsal

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play just opened, and over the past five weeks of assisting in rehearsals, tech, and previews, I’ve been cultivating an “active meditation practice,” a relaxed awareness of the work. It reminds me a bit of long car rides. I’ve driven across the country three times (two of those by myself) and when you’re in the car for so long, you must be a creature of “the present moment”. Especially when you’re alone. No matter how many thoughts run through your head, the attention must always be on the road. However, you can’t let this relentless focus cause tension in your body. If too much tension seeps in, it will erode the focus and all you’ll be able to think about is how tense you are. Being in rehearsal is certainly not as life-or-death a situation as long distance driving, but requires that same calm attention and total focus on the work at hand. My role in the Mr. Burns rehearsal room varied from day to day. I took notes during run-throughs and scene work, I followed along in the script and score during music rehearsals so we always knew what measure and page we were on, but the most exciting and surprising responsibility I had was that of being the “Rehearsal DJ.” John Langs, the director, likes to use music to enhance and compliment the energy of the room. It’s actually one of the most valuable directing assignments I’ve been given. I needed to read the energy of the room in order to pick the song. Did we want that type of energy to continue, with a complimentary music choice, or did we want to re-direct its flow to something else? When directing a show, the director’s intention in the rehearsal room is magnetic; they set the tone for what the day’s work will be. It may sound trivial but the music adds to this process immensely, keeping the “ball in the air” whenever we’re on a break.

Kenan Directing Fellow Wiley Basho Gorn and in coming Artistic Director John Langs
Kenan Directing Fellow Wiley Basho Gorn and incoming Artistic Director John Langs

Exploring ACT’s Ecosystem

Outside of rehearsal, the work of the theatre clips along at an impressive pace. I’ve been to several Gala events, both at ACT and around town, including the 2015 Gregory Awards which was a wonderful window into the warmth that Seattle’s theatre community exudes. I’ve been a reader for a number of auditions at ACT, which is a great way to connect with local actors, and participated in the in-house reading for the staff of one of the 2016 Mainstage plays. Another fun project I’ve been charged with is creating the “ACT Facewall” which will feature each employee’s photo and official title, in the employee lounge, to give newcomers to the building visual representation of who’s who, and foster a sense of community.

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Kenan Directing Fellow Wiley Basho Gorn and Emily Penick, Artistic Associate and Kenan Fellowship Director

Every Friday the 2nd floor Artistic staff meet for a quick weekly download of what’s been going on in each of the departments. These meetings comprise of John Langs, the incoming Artistic Director; Emily Penick, Associate Artistic and Kenan Fellowship Director; Margaret Layne, our Casting Director; Anita Montgomery, our Literary Manager; and myself, your humble Kenan Directing Fellow. These weekly meetings are usually followed by a Fellowship Check In where myself and my two mentors, Emily Penick and John Langs, talk about the shape my time at ACT is taking and continue to develop this engaging experience as it unfolds.

Thoughts of Home from a young nomad…

To name a place Home is a revealing act, one that I’ve shied away from for the past two years since graduation. I’ve done a lot of traveling around the country. The conservatory education of University of North Carolina School of the Arts was an artistic incubator, one that I loved immensely, but once I was out, I needed space. I wanted to see America and drink in as much of it’s wild grace as I could. I wanted space and time to rediscover my love and need for the creation of theatre. 2014 was the Year of Travel.

Miranda, “The Tempest” Act 5 Scene 1

2015 has been the Year of Sharpening the Tools. I returned to New York City in the early spring to direct my first full Shakespeare production, The Tempest, and then traveled to North Carolina to work with a children’s theatre company I’ve been connected with since sophomore year of college. The fall began with my move to Seattle and orientation into ACT and the larger theatre community. Now in this moment, in between productions, I can take a breath and look down the unknowable road ahead of me, and the detailed path behind. Having been in this new city for two months I am struck by a willingness to stay, to see the seasons change and allow myself to change with them. There is a deep vulnerability in naming a place home. Just as there is when creating a piece of theatre. We give ourselves to these stories, which in turn offer themselves to those who will watch and listen. I set the intention for the coming 2016 to be the Year of the Wise Mind and Open Heart.

Wiley is a recent graduate of the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Kenan Fellowship Program at ACT is made possible by support from the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts as part of the Career Pathways Initiative. For more information about UNCSA and the Kenan Institute, visit


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