Alexandra Harbold is a director/actor/dramaturge living and working in Salt lake City. She founded "Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory" together with actor Robert Scott Smith in 2013. "Flying Bobcat" produces and creates performance based works. Additionally Alexandra has worked with local companies: Salt Lake Acting Company, Plan-B and Pioneer Theater. Alexandra and Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory collaborated with NOW-ID back in 2014 on our dance-theater piece FEAST out at the Great Saltair.
I had the privilege of working choreographically with Andra on FEAST and she has such powerful internal strength, vulnerability, fearlessness and integrity in the choices she makes in the creative process. On top of that she has an intuitive musicality, sensuality and intellect that she readily accesses and a natural affinity for movement. She is indeed a force to be reckoned with!
Tell us a little bit about your background - I know that you studied at Goldsmith's College in London amongst other places, why did you choose their program? And did you originally train as an actor?
I did originally train as an actor. I went to the University of London Goldsmiths College after working with director Nesta Jones my senior year at Middlebury College, where I earned my undergraduate degree in Theatre. I wanted to continue training with Nesta and to have the opportunity to study in London.
What do you enjoy the most: acting or directing and why?
I truly love both, but directing is more intuitive for me. What I imagine creating is often beyond what I can do as an actor or as an individual artist. What Tamilla wrote about the actor’s art also resonates very strongly for me – and as an actor, I don’t think I’ve ever achieved the presence, risk, and alignment with the work that she articulates so beautifully – I do keep hunting and striving for it, and I am thankful for directors who challenge me to go further. I recognize it in other actors.
Tell us a little bit about your creative process as an actor and as a director- are there similarities?
My creative processes as an actor and as a director overlap. Whether it’s an existing play or a devised project, once I’ve read the play, I start digging and hoarding research, images, and music which feel connected to the text - feeling around for my own instincts about the play, its core question. It helps me recognize the play-world of the production we’re creating, its idiosyncratic beauty and rules. As a director and actor, it feels like the process is to align your own curiosity and appetites to the living questions in the text. When I first started acting and directing, it felt like there was a mysterious and elusive “right” way to approach a text – a target that you either hit or didn’t (I often felt like I couldn’t see the target, full stop.) Now I’m hunting for the unique alignment of that text and that company of artists – recognizing the possibilities that are only present because of that gathering of creative minds. Rehearsal is a process of drafting, layers, and constellations.
Why did you decide to create the company "Flying Bobcat" with actor Robert Scott Smith, what void did you feel that it was filling and can you talk a little bit about the philosophy behind the company? How do the two of you compliment each other?
Scott and I started collaborating together when he returned from NYC to serve as the Creative Director for the Leonardo Museum. He had developed a program called POPUP@Leo to create devised work and invited me to play on the inaugural project. Our first project, SENSES 5, led to our collaborating on two other devised POPUP works in the same year, LOVE and MIND OVER MATTER. When we began, we started from the ground with only raw ideas about a point of departure or how we would develop the work; in a very short time, we’d forged a working method and shared language that we continue to use and expand upon now. We both respond very strongly to mythos, design, movement, and music. We were also hungry for the kind of work and experimentation that we saw in London and New York.
I think we complement each other because our imaginations are both kindred but distinct, and we call out each other’s strengths and push each other. A strength I believe we share is recognizing collaborators who create the visual and aural worlds we dream about – we couldn’t do the work we want to do without them.
Our latest project with Salt Lake Acting Company and Dallas Graham’s Red Fred Project, Climbing with Tigers, is a perfect example. Scott asked our Feast collaborator, Playwright Troy Deutsch,to adapt Nathan Glad and Dallas’ book for the stage. He then asked SLAC if they could give the project a home. Scott’s asks and Troy and SLAC’s generous yeses led to the opportunity to assemble a creative force of artists.
There is a strong visual, almost cinematic component to the work that you are doing with "Flying Bobcat" - is that important to you in creating new work? It doesn't strike me as being naturalistic theater that you are cultivating; instead it feels fiercely experimental, which is exciting - was that also why you called it a Laboratory?
Both Scott and I are drawn to the immersive, shape-shifting play-world possibilities that working with film and projections creates. And yes, thank you! I love “fiercely experimental.” That’s exactly why we included Laboratory to our name. We wanted experimentation to be at the very core of our creative identity and company mission.
What excites you about being based in Salt Lake City as an artist and what do you miss from being based in a bigger city? Do you feel that there are limitations/restrictions in working here and also what are the benefits/sources of inspiration?
I find Salt Lake City exciting because there is an appetite for experimentation and the work that coexists with a strong sense of home and community. A bigger city would allow for greater cross-pollination of creative ideas. I think more exposure to artists from around the world would galvanize our own work and encourage us to take bigger imaginative risks.
What city in the world do you see as having the most exciting theater scene and why?
I find London a thrilling and vital theatre city (Complicite, Frantic Assembly, the Court, the National, et al) – not only for the work created there, but for it as a crossroads for international theatre. It also feels like home to me. NDT and Ivo Van Hove’s Toneelgroep Amsterdam tempt me to visit Amsterdam.
Tell us a little bit about the highlights of your career so far? Climbing with Tigers is certainly a highlight. Working with Animator & Graphic Artist Jarom Neumann as he created the visual world of the projections was a particular joy. Tribes (Salt Lake Acting Company) and Picnic (The Grand) this year were also landmarks for me as a director. As an actor/performer, working with you, Scott, Jesper Egelund (composer/musician), Troy, Jo, Yumelia, Jenn (dancers) and Nathan on NOW-ID’s Feast.
Who are some of the people who have inspired you in your work and why?
I am inspired by Director Mary Robinson every time I get to be in the room to witness her work. Her attention and questions stir up something electric in the work – nothing is incidental. Anne Bogart and Tina Landau (The Viewpoints Book) have transformed the way I see space and staging – and they’ve taught me to embrace “exquisite pressure".
Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s The Frantic Assembly Book of Devising Theatre – their generosity with sharing their secrets so we can all experiment.
What is your favorite quote?
Two came to mind. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett "Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question” e.e. cummings.
I asked this question of Director Tamilla Woodard and I want to ask the same of you because I think it is an important one: Have you experienced sexism in your work as a Director and if so, how have you dealt with it? Do you see more female directors working in theater today compared to when you started?
It is important. I’ve encountered sexism as an actor and director - some inadvertent - some more intentional - rationalized and self-justified, which feels more corrosive in a process. Directing offers creative agency and a defining voice in the process. It also affords the opportunity and responsibility to imagine and to facilitate a different conversation in the room and in the work. I have had the opportunity to work with and witness the process of many incredible women directors: Mary Robinson, Karen Azenberg, Robin Wilks-Dunn, Adrianne Moore, Shana Gold, Julie Kramer, Anne Bogart, Cheryl Faraone, and others. As a director and teacher, I work to support and mentor other female directors and actors.
As an actor - what director have you always wanted to work with (Dead or Alive)? As a Director - what actor have you always wanted to work with (Dead or Alive)?
There are so many. As an actor and director, I would love to have the opportunity to work with Complicite founder Simon McBurney. As a director, I would love to work with actor Helen McCrory.
Tell us a little bit about some of the projects that are coming up for you and that you are excited about?
There are two projects that I am excited to collaborate on that will go into production early in the fall. I am dramaturging Pioneer Theatre Company’s The Last Ship, with music and lyrics by Sting and book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, directed by Karen Azenberg. I am directing the University of Utah Studio 115 production of Carson Kreitzer’s Self Defense, or Death of Some Salesmen, based on the story of Aileen Wuornos.
Looking towards the future where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in 25 years?
Having adventures with (my husband) Joe and creating work with friends who challenge and inspire me.