By Sarah Mills Bacha, CATCO press representative
Leda Hoffmann moved to Columbus last March from Chicago to become CATCO’s artistic director. Before joining CATCO, she served as the artistic director of Chicago-based Strawdog Theatre Company and was a member of Milwaukee Rep’s artistic staff, working in the education and literary departments and founding the theater’s community engagement department. Also in Milwaukee, as the artistic director of Luminous Theatre, she produced and directed site-specific productions of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play and The Penelopiad. Her work as a director has been seen at theaters nationwide.
In December, Hoffmann made her central Ohio directing debut in CATCO’s production of A Columbus Christmas Carol. Currently, she is overseeing production and directing one of the plays in CATCO’s New Works Festival, running through Feb. 13. She recently took time away from rehearsals to discuss her theater career.
Sarah: How did your interest in theater begin?
Leda: My dad was a Foreign Service officer, so I moved a lot growing up. Theater is where I found community. I’d get to a new school and be a part of the play. I’ve always loved sharing stories and I love the way theater brings people together to do that.
Sarah: Describe your journey into directing versus acting.
Leda: I started as an actor in school and then in college I got really interested in directing. My second year of college, the student-run musical theater company needed a director for Urinetown and I stepped in. I kept directing in college and continued to fall in love with collaborating with people on all sides of the production – designers, actors, stage managers, technicians, etc. After time spent at Hartford Stage and Milwaukee Rep directing and working with incredible directors, I knew this was my calling.
Sarah: What is your favorite directing credit?
Leda: Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play. It is an incredible story of resilience, the necessity of storytelling, and the triumph of love over hate. After two years of looking for the perfect space, an incredible team of people shared this story, staging Act One outside around an actual bonfire and Acts Two and Three inside a warehouse/abandoned car lot.
Sarah: What is your directing process?
Leda: Collaboration is my favorite part of directing. It is important to me to allow artists working on a production to bring themselves to the work. Usually, I start by reading the play over and over and articulating what brings me personally to the story. If there is a playwright involved, I talk to them about what is important to them about their story. Then I get together with designers and talk about what brings them to the story as we start to build the world of the play.
Once we start rehearsals it is up to me to hang on to the heart of the piece – providing space for people to bring themselves to the production and know where they can play and experiment. Someone once told me “the director is the architect of a playground.” I love that idea. It’s not my job to tell actors where to walk or how to say their lines, but it’s my job to make sure that everyone understands the boundaries of the playground and to build slides that lead to swings.
Sarah: Your inaugural season at CATCO has been during a pandemic. How has that affected your work?
Leda: It is certainly harder to get to know a whole lot of people at once. I can’t wait to hang out after a show in the lobby and just chat with people. That being said, in some ways it is nice that so much of what we are doing right now is new. I’m new to the theater and everyone I work with is also new to this kind of work, so we’re figuring it out together. The pandemic is enhancing creativity. It is impossible to do things the way we used to do them.
Sarah: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Leda: I love to get outside and hike or bike. My wife and I have the goal of going to every U.S. National Park. We’ve been to 18 so far!
Sarah: What’s the best thing about the Columbus art scene?
Leda: There is a great spirit of collaboration in Columbus and a willingness to work together, as well as so much enthusiasm for making art in our city!
The New Works Festival continues virtually at CATCO through Feb. 13. For details about the plays and tickets, visit https://www.catco.org/new-works-festival/