As you may have heard, Catalyst Ranch is producing a theatre series called Ignite Theatre that is launching October 9th. Our first production is Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling. Please welcome director Dan Foss, who has agreed to answer our goofy questions despite his status as a huge talent in the theatre community.
Dan has been directing for over 25 years and is thrilled to be returning to the first full-length play he ever directed, Steel Magnolias. Recent projects include staged readings of two new plays: Barbara Lhota’s Girl Found for Polarity Ensemble Theatre and Donna Hoke’s Safe for Pride Films and Plays, as well as a stint as co-director (with the incredible Kerstin Broockman) of Rogue Theater’s production of Don Juan in Hell. Some of his favorite directing projects include Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride for Babes with Blades Theatre Company, Godspell with Saint Sebastian Players, and Quality Street with Rogue Theater, which was named among the “Best Theatre of 2005” by Gay Chicago Magazine. Dan is a proud resident of Rogers Park, where he lives with his two cats, Tootie and Belvedere. He is super excited to be working with this incredible cast of women and with the lovely folks at Catalyst Ranch. This show is dedicated to his original Magnolias: Sheila, Tatia, Cheri, Jaye, Sarah, and Jacquie.
Nickname(s): None really. Just Dan.
Favorite Color: Gray. I know it’s boring but I find it a calming, soothing color.
Favorite thing to do in Chicago: I love to see all of the amazing, dynamic theatre that is produced here. Especially new plays by local playwrights! As far as “touristy” things go, I love the Architecture Boat Tour.
You’ve attended a meeting or an event at Catalyst Ranch – what type of event was it? What was your initial reaction to the Catalyst Ranch environment?
I was the best man in a wedding at Catalyst Ranch about 5 years ago. My first time in the space was when I came with the bride and groom, Eric and Jamie Prahl, to check out the venue. We were all so overwhelmed by the cool atmosphere. It was the perfect location for the wedding and is one of the most fun parties I’ve ever attended!
Have you done a project like this before in a non-traditional theatre space? How do you think presenting performances in non-traditional spaces will affect the production, the actors or the audience?
Theatre in non-traditional spaces is a Chicago tradition! I’ve done theatre outdoors, in churches and church basements, in what are essentially just big rooms with no stages and even in a tent at a county fair! It is always an interesting challenge but I think a non-traditional venue allows a director to bring extra attention to his or her ensemble.
How did you become interested in theatre?
When I was 12 years old my father passed away about two or three weeks before I started junior high. I always sang in the chorus in middle school and my chorus teacher Cheri Bohart (who I’ve lost touch with….if anyone knows her, help me get back in contact!) decided to direct a musical at the junior high. She encouraged me to audition for her production of Tom Sawyer and I was cast in the title role. After that I was hooked and started working with two different community theatre groups. I ended up directing for both of them many years later as an adult.
Why did you want to direct Steel Magnolias?
Steel Magnolias was the very first full-length show I ever directed almost 25 years ago. It has always had a special place in my heart for that reason and that production featured a cast of women who have been my life-long friends. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a conflict with a family member’s wedding, my Shelby from that original production would have come in to audition for M’Lynn. I have always felt very connected to the playwright Robert Harling who wrote this script as “therapy” after losing his sister Susan. The role of Shelby is based on Susan and the other five characters in the show are all modeled after real women in his sister’s life. It is so beautiful that he created this funny and heartbreaking piece of art as a way to both deal with his sister’s death and preserve her memory for her infant son who never really got to know her.
Tell us about a moment in life that made you proud.
As a theatre director there is nothing that makes me more proud than a show’s opening night. I always work hard to create a family-like ensemble environment with any show I direct so seeing that first performance for an audience is a hugely prideful time.
Do you have any humorous or bizarre stories from your past theatre experiences you’d like to share?
As an actor I once played the Messenger in Iphigenia at Aulis, a role that doesn’t come on stage until about ¾ of the way through the show, has a page-long monologue and then leaves. During one evening’s performance I entered and started to speak and the light board malfunctioned plunging the stage into complete darkness. I paused for a moment but decided to just continue with the monologue. Just before I exited the lights came back on. I felt like that was a message to me and I haven’t acted a lot since then.
What kind of projects or hobbies have you been working on outside the theatre world?
This is going to sound a little like something Ouiser would say but I really love to garden. The problem is that I live in an apartment so I look for any excuse to plant. I have four terrariums inside and maintain four flower planters on the front stoop of our building.