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Sitting in the York Theatre Company's house on a recent Monday, Lorin Latarro juts her neck forward to listen intently to a rehearsal of A Taste of Things to Come . A pencil pokes out of her ponytail. She reaches back to grab it, scribbles on the script, and whispers to her associate. She never once, however, moves her eyes from the stage.
As she writes, a Hillary Clinton T-shirt peeks out beneath her hoodie. No surprise there. Along with being a sought-after choreographer and performer, Latarro is also an activist and founder of Artists Against Gun Violence. Now, for the first time, she's adding 'New York theatre director' to that list of titles. And it couldn't be more appropriate that for her debut, she's chosen to helm an all-female cast and a female-run creative team.
"I think the numbers are going to rise in regards to women in theatre," she says. "Everybody should have a story written about them. I do think any artist can write about anyone, but we also need more women to tell their psyche's stories."
She certainly contributed to that vision when she choreographed the Broadway musical Waitress, which features an all-female creative and design team. And now A Taste of Things to Come, which plays through December 11, is moving the cause forward. Written by Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin, the musical follows four friends in Winnetka, IL as they navigate the 1950s and 1960s. From a familiar bastion of Americana -- the kitchen – they discuss everything from the presidency to a woman's role in the world.
If those topics sound familiar, well… timing matters. Even though it's about the good ole days, the production now seems more pertinent than ever. At one point, a character asserts that women can "do anything we want," and another answers, "Maybe even [become] president."
Last month, perhaps, that line would've drawn knowing laughter. But now, responses are more complicated. "That line still makes the audience applaud," Latarro says. "But in a wistful, weary way."
Even before the election, though, she was hooked by the show's exploration of who women are as individuals and how they interact. (She directed the show earlier this year at Pennsylvania's Bucks County Playhouse.)
To tell this story, she relied on her years of experience as a choreographer, and as usual, she used intention and narrative to shape the movement she created. As she worked, she quickly realized that the show needed simple, social dance more than the hyper-challenging sequences and stylized swagger she has injected into other projects.
However, there were plenty of moments when her role as director had to take priority. "The director has to take over, or otherwise you're in trouble," she says. "Because my movement is narrative-fueled, it's not a problem, but I have to be conscious [that] everything has to serve the big idea. It can be scary. What if I think a joke is funny and nobody laughs?"
Laughing herself, she continues, "I had to learn how to block a scene. I've seen 30 directors do so, but I've never been the person to say, 'Stand still when you're telling the joke,' or 'Make sure you're addressing a specific woman.' I found that thrilling."
With this show, Latarro's using her new role to explore the word "feminine." As she explains, "For me, 'feminine' means a woman having an autonomous voice."
She also wants to investigate a more loaded term: "feminist." After all, in the male-dominated theatre industry, her very presence in a room has a feminist connotation. "I think shifting from being a Broadway dancer myself to a choreographer, it took a long time for people to trust me to run a room," she says. "I had to learn to utilize my voice. Fortunately, once I start talking, people see I have something interesting to say in an interesting way."
More importantly, she says, the word means 'action.' As she explains, "To sit and tweet is not action. A feminist goes out into the world and does something. I'm a dancer: I focus on verbs. And now, I'm hoping to use that connection to action to tell a three-dimensional story."
TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available for 'A Taste of Things to Come.' Go here to browse our latest offers.
Lauren Kay writes frequently about dance and choreographers for TDF Stages.
Photos by Carol Rosegg. Top photo (L to R): Paige Faure, Autumn Hurlbert, Allison Guinn, and Janet Dacal.