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Five Questions for Director Kimberly Senior

The Evanston director tells all about her production of The Great God Pan, Amy Herzog’s play, opening April 3.

Photo: Courtesy of Kimberly Senior

Kimberly Senior is having a moment. In the last year alone, the 40-year-old Evanston director has racked up rave reviews for three recent productions including 4,000 Miles at Northlight Theatre and Hedda Gabler at Writers Theatre, and she nabbed a nomination for the prestigious Callaway Award.

This month, Senior directs the Chicago premiere of Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan at Next Theatre, opening April 3.

Chicago recently chatted with Senior about her career, The Great God Pan, and working with playwright Amy Herzog. 

How did you first hear about The Great God Pan?

The Great God Pan was originally commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre, where I was working at the time. I wasn’t working on the play but they were doing a workshop of it and there was a very informal, in-house reading of a draft. This was probably four or five years ago. I really love [Amy Herzog’s] writing and so it’s exciting to direct the Chicago premiere of it.

The Great God Pan is about a young man who finds out he might have been the victim of a sexual assault he doesn’t remember.  Were you nervous about taking on such heavy subject matter?

You know, it’s potentially frightening when you start doing some research. But as with Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, we’re not there to figure [it] out or even make a judgment. It’s not about whether or not Jamie has suffered abuse in his past. The questions are about what that searching does to him and to the people around him. If suddenly you wake up and this question comes up that you might not be who you think you are, then what happens? I think that extremely challenging subject matter is what helps to raise the stakes for the characters. 

You’ve directed two productions of Amy Herzog’s work in the past, After the Revolution and 4,000 Miles. How did you first hear about Amy?

It was actually through Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf has a program called the First Look Repertory of New Work and I produced that festival for many years. One of the years that I was producing the festival we read 4,000 Miles as part of our reading series. That was 2010.

What attracts you to her work?

Her characters are so human and they feel like a lot of people from my past and my upbringing. [Her plays] are motivated by how people behave and what people want from each other. I’m particularly interested in working with actors and doing something that feels singular and authentic. Amy’s work is about the actor and how the actor fills in the characters she creates. 

In addition to The Great God Pan, you’ll be directing Disgraced at Lincoln Center next month and you just finished directing The Who and The What at La Jolla Playhouse. How are you managing it all?

It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I love being at various stages in the process at any given time. When I first read a play I keep a piece of paper next to me and jot down the things that are surprising or exciting or a character who speaks to me or even a line that I love. I love being able to revisit that when I’m about to reopen a show because that’s what we’re looking for, creating that kind of enchantment for an audience member.

Through May 11 at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston. nexttheatre.org; $25 to $40. 

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