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The Quality of Life

New Directions with Lisa Peterson

I took a class, did a scene, turned the light switch on and off in the back of the room and people laughed. It was an immediate passion.
– Lisa Peterson on directing

Award-winning director Lisa Peterson has directed new work by leading playwrights all over the United States, from Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! at Center Stage to Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Brecht’s The Good Person of Setzuan at La Jolla Playhouse. After directing The Rainmaker at Arena Stage in 2006, she returns this fall for The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson.

Raised in California, Lisa Peterson grew up during the new social and artistic movements of the early 1960s. She first became interested in theater during high school and took her passion to college at Yale, where she wanted to pursue acting. After she took a class in directing, however, she got hooked.

When Peterson graduated in 1983, she took a casting internship at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City. Her experience landed her a job as a casting director for EST, a position that she kept for seven years. She loved her time there because she was able to meet and see playwrights and directors collaborating with each other. In her spare time, Peterson continued directing. After a couple of years with EST, she received an invitation to become a member of the company and to direct a few short plays for EST’s annual one-act marathon. She decided at that time to focus mostly on new work because, according to Peterson, that is “really the way a director in New York can make a name for themselves.” In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, she added, “It’s more exciting to work with living writers than dead ones. They’re my favorite collaborator in the theater. I like designers and actors, but I love writers. They fascinate me.”

Peterson got her first big break when she adapted Virginia Woolf’s The Waves into a musical with David Bucknam. When she staged the show at New York Theatre Workshop, she received a Drama Desk nomination for her directorial work. She continued her relationship with NYTW, which later presented her production of Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, winning her the Obie Award for direction in 1991.

Heading out West, Peterson became the associate director at La Jolla. Three years later, she went to the Mark Taper Forum and served as the resident director from 1995 to 2005. These positions gave Peterson a chance to develop new plays, shape season programming, and direct her projects with the support of theatrical institutions.

Peterson’s directing résumé is extensive. In the New York theater scene, she directed Tongue of a Bird and The Square at the Public Theater and Collected Stories at Manhattan Theatre Club. She has also directed world premieres and classical productions at major regional theaters, including The Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, and Arena Stage.

Extras & Insights is funded, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.