To Broadway and back
Award-winning theater director Kimberly Senior ’95 returns to Conn to direct student production
When she was 22, and freshly armed with a theater degree from Connecticut College, Kimberly Senior ’95 packed everything she owned into her car and set out for Chicago.
Determined to become a director, Senior, with the help of her father, had secured an internship through a friend with the famed Steppenwolf Theater Company. Or so she thought. When she showed up, nobody was expecting her, and the theater didn’t even have interns. Undeterred by such inconvenient details, Senior got to work anyway, helping out wherever she could.
Two decades later, Senior’s an award-winning director who has helmed productions on Broadway and around the country. This fall, Senior returned to Conn to direct the Theater Department's production of Charles Mee’s critically acclaimed play, bobrauschenbergamerica, inspired by the late artist Robert Rauschenberg.
“What I love about this piece is that it really embodies the collision of all these different artistries and different mediums that Rauschenberg was known for,” Senior said. “He wasn’t only a painter, he was also a set and costume designer, and worked in dance as well. It’s really fun to work on a play that’s fundamentally about creation.”
Rauschenberg’s association with Conn goes back nearly sixty years. In 1958, during his tenure as Resident Designer for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the company’s performance, Summerspace, for which Rauschenberg did the set design, debuted at the College’s 11th American Dance Festival.
While Mee’s play was more of an homage to Rauschenberg’s work and philosophy than biographical story, Senior says it touched on the artist’s early life and career.
“Rauschenberg was a fascinating person, because he had an unbelievable breadth of curiosity,” Senior said. “He grew up in a poor community in Texas, and the play examines how he became the artist he was, and asks some interesting questions, like, ‘what is art?’ and ‘what is home?’ And each fictional character in the play has been inspired by Rauschenberg in some way.”
In 2011, Senior began to collaborate with playwright Ayad Akhtar on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, which she has directed on Broadway and on stages throughout the U.S.
For Senior, who has spent the last 20 years directing six to nine plays per year, finding the time to work with students can be challenging. But when Theater Department Chair David Jaffe ’77 approached her with this opportunity, she jumped at it.
“David was my professor when I went to Conn, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years, always with the hope we could do something like this,” Senior said. “Finally, the stars aligned, and I’m so excited to be on a college campus again working with students.”
During auditions, Senior was so impressed with the broad spectrum of talent displayed by Conn students that she decided to incorporate Rauschenberg’s collaborative, improvisational spirit into the production to showcase the unique abilities of her cast. Four performances of bobrauschenbergamerica were held between Friday, Nov. 17, and Sunday, Nov. 19, in Tansill Theater at Connecticut College.
For students who aspire to a career in the theater, Senior suggests focusing on the moment.
“It’s important to remember that you’re always where you’re meant to be at any given time, and that the work is the work, whether you’re doing it in a basement or on Broadway,” she said.