Columbus State University Alumni Spotlight - Kimberly Faith Hickman
CSU: What years were studying theatre at CSU and what is your degree in?
Kimberly: The honest answer to this question would be 1998-2004. To quote Proof, I was on the "'Infinite' program". I had to work full time while going to school, so it took longer than 4 years. My degree is a BFA in Theatre Performance and Directing.
CSU: What was your experience like studying theatre at CSU? How did your time here prepare you for a professional career?
Kimberly: Studying theatre at CSU was the best because it gave me a group of people that are still some of my best friends (big shout out to the Distinguished Ladies). We've been there for each other through many things - you name it. Life is short and throws so many punches at you. Having a group of friends like that helps cushion the blows. Professionally speaking, I stole some of my directing shorthand from Susan Reid, who taught acting at that time. She would write G! on our evaluations when she really liked something, and I still write G! in my notes when something great has happened on stage. Senior seminar was also incredibly helpful with regard to becoming prepared for the real world: resumes, cover letters, etc. Kate Musgrove was the instructor and she also introduced us to a variety of essays written by theatre practitioners, and made us write our own personal theatre manifesto. Some of what I wrote then still rings very true to my professional directing aesthetic now.
CSU: When did you become interested in directing? What were your first directing jobs out of school like?
Kimberly: I have always been interested in directing, and started focusing on it somewhere around my sophomore or junior year of college. I took the directing classes CSU offered at the time, which were taught by Dr. Hazel Hall Brennan (the chair of the department at the time). Hazel was really encouraging and believed in my abilities as a director, which was a great confidence boost. During my first directing jobs out of school, I was trying to figure out what kind of director I was. I knew what types of projects I wanted to work on, but I didn't quite know my "style". I figured that out while working as an Assistant Director. I did not go (and still haven't been) to graduate school. Instead, once a year I've assisted the mentors that I consider the best in their field, while also directing on my own. There is nothing like assisting. It helps you quickly figure out the kind of director you want to be and don't want to be.
CSU: You've worked with many varied theatre companies producing different types of theatre. What type of show is your favorite to work on? What are some things you've learned from working in so many different places?
Kimberly: Exposure to artists of diverse backgrounds and style is the best. It helps define who you are. It helped me realize that while I enjoy and appreciate experimental, "downtown theatre" performance art, it is not the kind of material that I direct. There are directors who are really good at that, and I am not one of them. My favorite types of shows to work on are really rooted in the text of a playwright. I love playwrights. Their intentions really drive my sense of story telling.
CSU: Have you faced many challenges working as a director? What are some of your greatest successes?
Kimberly: Yes, I have faced challenges, but I know there are challenges out there that are far worse than what I have experienced, so I feel very lucky. I've experienced a variety of things that I consider to be successes: collaborating with an autistic high school student to showcase his special dance skills, collaborating with an actor to define a particular moment, entire productions that I am proud of, being mentored by exceptional directors / choreographer, working on 2 Broadway shows, working on a play that won a Tony Award.
CSU: How did you become interested in dance? Do you have favorite piece of musical theatre (either that you worked on or were wowed by in the audience)? What about it moved you?
Kimberly: Funny enough, I became interested in dance thanks to Columbus State University, but it was called Columbus College at the time. I grew up in Phenix City, AL and after my parents took me to see a production of Columbus College Dept. of Theatre's production of Annie (costume designed by Steven Graver), I was hooked! My parents enrolled me in dance classes when I was 3 or 4 and I studied for many, many years. I still take classes when I have the time. I have many favorite musicals, and they're all so different. I really love Hair and The Scottsboro Boys (two very different pieces stylistically, but both political and rooted in American history). I also love The Last Five Years and Once. Those scores are amazing and I'm a sucker for tragic love stories. I also really love Rock of Ages. It's just so much fun.
CSU: You've worked on two shows on Broadway. What were those experiences like? How was your work on each show different than the other? What did you take away from your work on them?
Kimberly: Both incredible, both very different. The first was a musical called The Scottsboro Boys, Kander & Ebb's last musical and directed / choreographed by Susan Stroman. Being in a rehearsal room with John Kander was surreal. Very hard to put into words. It gained a lot of press because it is constructed in the style of a minstrel show. The actors even appear in black face at one moment. It also gained press because the cast was 99% African American and the creative team was 99% Caucasian. People thought it was the most brilliant show they'd ever seen, or they hated it. It didn't have a long run, but needless to say it was exciting. For that show my official title was "SDC Foundation Observer". SDC is the director / choreographer union (of which I am a member), and they give grants to emerging artists to be mentored by a Broadway professional. I was lucky enough to get one of those grants and have this opportunity with Stro. My job duties included observing, learning staging and choreography, participating in rehearsals for new cast members and swings, and anything else that was helpful to Susan Stroman and her two regular assistants. The second show was a play calledClybourne Park, written by Bruce Norris and directed by Pam MacKinnon. I had been Pam's Assistant Director at Women's Project two years before and we had a great system.Clybourne Park is a sort of companion piece to A Raisin In The Sun, and is an examination of race and gentrification. It's also hilarious (in a brutal sort of way). I was the Assistant Director, first for its' regional run in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum, and then on Broadway. My job duties included observing, taking notes, attending previews in Pam's absence, working with Pam and stage management in directing cast replacements, etc. It had a nice healthy run, two extensions, and won the Tony Award for Best Play. The biggest things I took away from those experiences were: the huge variety of artistic and business logistics of Broadway (as much as I could soak in), and the kind of director I want to be. Stro and Pam are the types of story tellers that I find to be really inspiring. I will actually be working on my third Broadway show this Spring, as Assistant Director for Lynne Meadow (Producing Artistic Director of Manhattan Theatre Club), who is directing Richard Greenberg's new play, The Assembled Parties. I expect that experience to be as incredible and different as the previous two.
CSU: Do you have a favorite moment or story from your evening at the Tony's?
Kimberly: The moment we won. Words can not describe the excitement in that room, at that moment. Like a live performance, it was a singular event that can never be repeated. I also loved our producer's (Jordan Roth) speech to us in the basement before our first show back after we won.
CSU: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Kimberly: I hope to continue doing what I am doing now in the NY community and regionally, but having transitioned out of assisting and doing only my own work. Maybe working occasionally in TV and film? I'm not opposed to exploring those fields, but theatre is my preference. My primary goal is to continue directing and choreographing projects that I am passionate about with writers that I believe in.
CSU: What advice do you have for current CSU students interested in pursuing a career as a director or choreographer?
1) Don't worry if you are not the star of the theatre department. When you graduate you are a fish that is thrown into a big pond, and if you move to a community like Chicago, Los Angeles or NYC - you are thrown into an ocean. Everyone is starting all over again.
2) Find a network of people that give you support and confidence. If I had listened to the unsupportive people in my life, I wouldn't have had these amazing experiences that I am so thankful for.
3) Be fiscally responsible and live within your financial means.
4) Get involved at the Springer Opera House. Paul and Ron are awesome.
5) Study the artistry and careers of professionals that you admire. If you are lucky, maybe you will get to assist them some day.
6) If you do assist them, don't be above getting their coffee.
7) Be passionate, but don't come off crazy.