Updated: Feb 21, 2020
Yo, every time I think of this woman and her unrelenting spirit I feel a surge of elevation. I had the opportunity to work as one of her assistant directors when she directed the MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was a whole gag, chile! The show opened up with a high energy performance of Whitney Houston's I Want To Dance with Somebody, featured a remix of Poison by BBD, and...then, our Falstaff hit the stage with a fiery rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart. It. was. LIT.
I can absolutely say that her love and passion for Shakespeare incited my own. Deemed the "Shakespeare Goddess" by the 2017 OSF FAIR cohort, Dawn more than anyone deserves the title. She will unapologetically geek all the way on Shakespeare whenever given the chance, AND, really don't get her started on her favorite, Romeo and Juliet (and by don't I mean, please do!) She's not trying to be anybody but herself and I LOVE that about her. Her authenticity and sincere energy; creativity and willingness to give everything a try is truly inspirational.
I couldn't be more thrilled to release this interview. I hope you find her honesty around motherhood and the challenges of being creative as useful as me.
I love you, Dawn. Thank you for always championing me. You embraced me in a really weird period of my life where I didn't know how to reciprocate all of the love that was being showed to me, but you kept lovin' me in spite of. You're a GOAT to me and I got you forever and ever!
Learn more about my girl at https://www.dawnmoniquewilliams.com/
Your name (w/pronouns):
Dawn Monique Williams (she/her/hers)
How you identify yourself as an artist/ (or/and) administrator:
I am primarily a director but working as an arts administrator as an Associate Artistic Director
My friend, Monet Marshall, always asks me this: What is bringing you joy right now?
My child always fills me with joy. I am so remarkably proud of her. I am also thrilled that I have a new niece. Beyond family and friends, I love the work that I do and at the moment I am in rehearsals for August Wilson’s THE PIANO LESSON and it is a blessing!
Where/From what are you drawing inspiration from these days?
I am honestly drawing inspiration and strength from the ancestors lately. Times have been very challenging, personal challenges as well as macro societal challenges and as I work to get my vibrational energy as high as I can, I am moved that so many sacrificed so much so that I could stand on this ground. I am so proud to be the living legacy of ancestors who endured atrocities beyond belief so that we could thrive.
What are you passionate about? Can you share with us some of your dreams?
I am passionate about the theatre. It’s so clichè but so true. It’s the work that makes sense to me on every level. I dream of being in a position to champion the work of all my talented friends.
Are you practicing self-care? What are some of the ways? What are your goals around how you care for yourself?
Yes! I try and take a dance fitness class everyday. I also focus a lot on my mental health. I want to be well that’s my primary goal as it relates to self-care. I want to be mental and physically well so that I can give to my family and community.
What initially drew you to the theatre? Is there something/someone you remember being influenced or impacted by? How did you come to choose theatre as a form of artistic expression? If you’re an administrator - What is it about the theatre that interests you to use your skillset (development, producing, facilitating, etc.) in support of it?
I saw the Broadway touring production of THE WIZ when I was 6 and there has been no turning back ever since. I started singing and dancing right away. Eventually started acting and had dreams of being on Broadway and then discovered directing and have been working nonstop my entire adult life. I think in my childhood it was a form of escape. Now it is a form of activism, of growing my humanity, experiencing catharsis and radical empathy.
Do you listen to music when you work? What helps to keep you focused?
I do listen to music. I am driven by music. There is a soundtrack to everything I do. As far as focus, I’m actually not sure. I think my fear of failure is what keeps me focused. It certainly keeps me on my grind.
Considering a history of marginalization, what does it mean to you to be a black woman in your position right now in the American Theatre? As the new AAD of Aurora Theatre Co, what ways to you use your platform to support/amplify the voices of Black women?
Well of course I LOVE being Black. I love being a Black woman. There are times when those parts of my identity seem to set me at the back of the pack and times when those aspects make me the perfect person for an opportunity. I know there are people who will say, “I want to be seen as an artist first.” I am not that person. I am a Black woman director. I cannot, nor so I want to, extricate any part of that to fit a mold or book a gig. If you hire me, I am coming to it as a whole Black woman and you should know that, and if someone else’s perception of what that means puts a limit on what they think I am capable of, they should watch me work. My taste is wide, my experience specific, and my skillset highly cultivated and achieved through tenacity and hard work. As the AAD of Aurora I am in a position to advocate for the artists I believe in, and you can be certain I do that. Part of my job is literary management, so I bring in scripts from Black women and other marginalized writers to the table. I’m the de facto casting director and I make sure we bring in highly skilled Black actors as part of our pool.
Kaja Dunn and I always talk about this: If you are a parent/ primary caretaker, can you expand on how you navigate/balance your responsibilities as a parent/caretaker and your life in theatre? (“I don’t know is a valid answer) -Is there any advice you might give another parent/caretaker working on balancing it all?
I have been a parent my entire adult life: pregnant at 22, daughter born when I was 23. And for most of that time I have been a single parent, so for me it is the norm. It was hard as hell, but there was only ever the option to move forward so that’s what I did one opportunity at a time. I know for my friends who enter parenthood in their 30s they experience something different, perhaps a disruption in their career momentum. I never had that problem. I built my entire career while parenting. There was guilt for sure, and often shame, but never a sense that I couldn’t have both a career and raise a child.
What sort of work excites you? When you buy tickets to witness art, what sorts of things are you seeing?
I see a lot of plays and musicals. A LOT. And as long as there are POC in major roles, I will give almost any play a chance. I also see a ton of movies in the theatre, on average, 1 a week.
When you imagine the American theatre 5-10 years from now, what are you dreaming about? More stories by, for, and about communities of color. Anti-racism as a reality. Access for all. More body diversity.
Can you share a notable moment in your career? Something you’re proud of? Are you excited about anything up now, or upcoming?
I am excited by and proud of all of it. Some days I am just so humbled to live this life where I get to do the work I am passionate about surrounded by such talented people with beautiful and generous spirits. I am amazed daily.
Is there a quote/ affirmation you live you by?
The first two are my favorite quotes, and the rest are my daily affirmations
“If it comes, let it. If it goes, let it.”
“I make my choices with integrity.”
“I am light.”
“I walk the path of my heart. I take my dreams seriously. I know that I will be provided for and I don’t look back.”
“In God I live and move and have my being.”
“What is mine will claim me, know me, rush to me. The presence of God is in me.”
“I practice a spirit and attitude of abundance. There is plenty of room at the table.”
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
“Her success is my success.”