Meg Taintor, director of Whistler in the Dark’s Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid, is a different kind of artistic leader. Having had the privilege of observing the rehearsal process (a privilege that Taintor made available to all Emerson College students), it was exhilarating to witness different style of rehearsal process for a different style of show. As director of the Whistler ensemble, she must encourage creativity, keep lines of communication open, and lead a collaborative process in which actors perform dangerous silk-stunts. All of this in addition to managing the production’s transition from the world of fringe theatre to ArtsEmerson. “We have so much to gain from this and we have so little to lose, except missing this opportunity,” she says. “So the stakes are higher, but they’re higher in a way that’s controllable for us.” Whistler is a small company with a big voice, and it’s Taintor’s responsibility to figure out what that voice needs to say—no small task for a budding company with an esteemed repertoire.
Taintor has a lot to manage, and she does it in a very hands-on way. Each rehearsal, she arrives wearing movement-wear, just like the actors. Often Taintor’s the first person to jump on the long-hanging silks that define the production. She climbs and swings on the silks, trying new ideas or experimenting with different stunts. When directing, she hops in and out of scenes, rarely writing in a notepad.
Whistler in the Dark is an ensemble theatre, and for them that means everyone has a voice. There is no stringent enforcement to who can say what. Whistler believes that all members of a production are attempting to tell the same story, so actors can comment on design, designers can comment on acting, and the director is open to constant creative dialogue.
Because of this collaborative ensemble style, the Whistlers are very close. “In terms of being a leader of friends,” Taintor says, “for every single one of these people, I was a collaborator before I was a friend. I met them all through work, which I think actually is the best way to meet people.”
The rehearsal environment is one of sardonic fun, hard work, and collaboration. Here, creativity can morph into its various representations alongside the performers (who themselves are constantly changing). This ensemble has a distinct, interpersonal chemistry that they own. We’re lucky enough that they’re willing to share it.