Jonathan Pitts-Wiley has been Mixed Magic’s Artistic Director since April 2010. A 2007 graduate of Yale University, Jonathan has been involved with many of the company’s productions as a director, writer and actor. Some of those credits include: The Spirit Warrior’s Dream, Moby-Dick: Then & Now, The Tempest, Art of Attack, King Lear, Fences, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, The House in Providence, The Diner and Mr. Stone and Rose’s Money.In 2010, Jonathan also wrote and directed the critically-acclaimed When Mahalia Sings, a play dealing with the life and times of gospel great Mahalia Jackson. Since 2013, Jonathan has been teaching history as a member of the Upper School Humanities faculty at the Moses Brown School and was named Department Chair in 2016.
Recently, Jonathan sat down to talk a bit about his job at the Theatre…
Q: How did you get involved with the theatre and ultimately become artistic director?
A: (Smiling) Seeing as my parents have been involved in theatre so long, I guess I’ve been involved my whole life. With Mixed Magic in particular, I started doing some script editing work while I was still in college. At school, I caught something of the directing bug and had an opportunity to train at Mixed Magic. The artistic directorship kind of fell into my lap. My father and mother wanted to take the company in a certain direction and had the confidence in me to hand over the reins. I often tell people it’s only nepotism if you blow it.
Q: What attracted you to directing?
A: As far as the attraction of directing, I think I like to put the big picture together. I enjoy being on stage, but I’d rather cultivate performances and help along the storytelling process, keeping people from bumping into the furniture and seeing what comes of it.
Q: What exactly is the role of an artistic director?
A: When I find out I’ll let you know! Having sat down with a few people who’ve done the job before, it’s a little while before you really get the hang of it. What I do know is it’s my responsibility to steer the artistic vision of the company and hopefully build upon it. I build the season, choosing plays I think are a good fit for Mixed Magic and its audience.
Q: What do you enjoy most about theatre?
A: I enjoy the escape and immediacy of it. Boiled down, theatre is playing make-believe for a few hours and hoping the people watching enjoyed themselves at the end. Along the way, you’re sharing space with your audience and feeding off of them while they feed off of you. There are no takes; it’s a right-now medium and that pressure keeps you spry.
Q: Do you have any plans to make your way onstage in the near future?
A: Thankfully, I can use my directing schedule as an excuse for not getting up on stage, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I made my way on stage soon.
Q: What do you think you stand to gain or learn from the time you spend as artistic director?
A: Well, I certainly think it’s an opportunity to leave a creative mark. The “gain” is all the things that come with having done that well. But it’s more than that. This is a company my parents built. I met my wife at the theatre. We bring our daughter to rehearsals at this theatre. I’d be lying if I said the gain wasn’t centered around the feeling you get when you’ve honored not only a craft that you love, but your family as well. As far as learning, outside of sheer management skills, it’s a good look into how business gets done, how theatre is created and all the things that have to happen before actors even get scripts in their hands.
Q: What direction do you hope to take the company in?
A: Under my leadership, I hope to build upon our current mission while returning to an elemental part of theatre: telling stories that people can relate to on some level. In my mind, theatre comes down to the feeling it gives you, the visceral reaction you feel as you escape for a few hours. I can go on and on about what a play makes me think about, but that’s not more important than how it makes me feel.
Q: What do you feel you bring to Mixed Magic?
A: Besides my good looks? I like to think I bring a creativity tempered by the exposure I’ve had to the various parts of theatre growing up. I’m a history guy; it was my favorite subject and school and still one of my great interests. And what’s history besides someone’s version of a story?