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Alice Jankell, Theater Director

Published on 03/13/2018

What is your life’s purpose?
To create moments of honest, visceral, and electric connection between audiences and storytellers, using the medium of live theater.

How are you living your purpose?
I’ve been working professionally in theater since my teens. I started out like many theater folk, as an actor. Then, in college, somebody handed me a play to direct, and a lightbulb went on for me: I love writing and literature, history and art history. Politics and sociology interest me. I’m a bookworm, and I speak English, Spanish and a tiny bit of French. As I started to direct that play I thought, “Wow! Here’s a job where I can use ALL my hobbies!” I couldn’t believe my luck! I continued acting through my late 20s, until I felt like I’d “earned the right to direct,” and then I made the shift. I was fortunate to have brilliant mentors.

I direct all around the country and try to create more work for as many people as possible by staying involved with theater companies that develop new plays. There is nothing I’d rather do than wrestle a new script to the ground until the story and character arcs emerge with clarity and power. That is heaven to me. And I keep growing and learning. I’m now writing musicals with my writing partner, Pamela Weiler Grayson. We expand each other’s work and make each other better!

In rehearsal with Pamela Weiler Grayson


How did you find your purpose?
When I was eleven years old, my parents took me to see James Earl Jones play Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” on Broadway. I remember that during a particularly emotional moment, Jones was crying, secreting from every orifice in his head, and I had never seen a grown-up do that. I was mesmerized by the actor’s power over the house. The audience cried silently with him, inhaling only when he took in breath, exhaling only as he let breath out. My mother passed tissues down the aisle, and the cavernous room was connected by the vulnerability and concentration of the man on stage. This, I thought, matters.

I committed to theater then and there.

What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Be honest with yourself about what really, truly makes your socks go up and down. Then find your mentors, people whose work you admire. Then intern, intern, intern, get coffee, pick up laundry, make yourself indispensable, and learn.

What resources do you recommend?
No matter what area of theater you are interested in, TAKE AN ACTING CLASS! Acting technique forms the vocabulary for theatrical storytelling. So familiarize yourself with it, whether you are a performer, a writer, a designer, a director, a producer, or an agent. (For my Master’s Thesis, I wrote a handbook on acting technique for directors, writers, designers, and producers to help unify vocabulary because I believe in this so deeply.)

Go to theater. Anything and everything. And read plays. New and old.

Connect with Alice Jankell, Director/Writer/Actress
Email: ajankell@msn.com

For Disney, Alice helped to create and develop new Broadway musicals. As Associate Artistic Director of The Williamstown Theatre Festival, her directing work included AS YOU LIKE IT, the world premiere of DINAH WAS, and ENOUGH ROPE, the special event on Dorothy Parker starring Elaine Stritch. Alice has worked and learned in venues as varied as the Mark Taper Forum, the L.A. Opera, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, La Mama, and City Theater, among many others, as well as in film and TV. Favorite acting roles include a solo performance, backed by the L.A. Philharmonic, at the Hollywood Bowl. She has taught acting at Carnegie Mellon and on the Graduate level. For the past 6 years, Alice was the Creative Director of F.A.B. Women (For, About, and By Women) under The Barrow Group’s Off-Broadway umbrella, helming the company of 125 professional female writers, actors and directors. During her tenure, F.A.B. Women generated and produced 48 new plays. Alice is a founding member of Core Artists Ensemble, and a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect.

Alice’s latest writer/director project, URBAN MOMFARE, won a Best Musical Award from the NY International Fringe Festival, was a Critic’s Choice, and garnered 4 stars from Time Out.

Education: Wesleyan, Master’s at NYU

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