What sparks someone’s interest in a career? During the more than 10 years we’ve been running our My Career Choice feature, we continue to be inspired by how women answer that question. For Katie McHugh a performance by a well-known actor launched her interest in theatre. Now Katie’s an award-winning international theatre director, producer, and educator specializing in devised and experimental theatre and the development of new work.
Dominic Fumusa, Abigail Hawk, and Jessica Pimentel
Her new project is directing the world premiere of Grant MacDermott’s play, Jasper, starring Dominic Fumusa (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie), Abigail Hawk (CBS’s Blue Bloods), and Jessica Pimentel (Netflix’s Orange is the New Black). In the play, a couple, facing the reality of their son’s illness, manage to keep both their child and marriage alive. But will a lie bring everything crashing down?
Katie, the artistic director and founder of Yonder Window Theatre Company, holds a BA in Theatre from Florida State University and an MFA in Directing from The New School for Drama. She is the founding director of the Southeastern Teen Shakespeare Company and co-founder of the Teen Shakespeare Conservatory. In 2020, Katie and her team, under the banner of Yonder Window, worked to create Stagepunch.com, a platform for mentoring young artists pursuing a performing arts career.
Abigail Hawk and Director Katie McHugh. Photo by Russ Rowland
Performances for Jasper will begin on September 8 with opening night on Wednesday, September 14, at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $25- $75 and can be purchased by visiting YonderWindow.co.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Yes I can! It was Vanessa Redgrave as Propsero on the Globe Theatre Stage in 2000. I remember thinking – if I can create a performance experience that makes people feel the way I did after that play, this is the career for me.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I am interested in so many different things, science, math, history, and teaching, to name a few, and I couldn’t decide where to put my focus as a young adult. I also have an extreme need to be creative. Theatre, and in particular, directing theatre, is where I found I was fulfilled in all my interests and could take on a leadership role.
Jessica Pimentel, Director Katie Mc Hugh, and Dominic Fumusa. Photo by Russ Rowland
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I did what everyone does . . . go to college. I started as a math major at Florida State University and though I really liked math, it wasn’t my career path. I was a dancer my whole life and realized something was missing so I tried my hand at acting. That’s where my love of theatre began. After studying abroad in London my senior year, I became an assistant director on Chekhov’s Three Sisters. I quickly realized I had a stronger passion for the whole picture on stage, rather than just my part in it. I’ve been focused on directing ever since.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I have been one of the lucky ones that has always had people in my life who supported my choices. My family, my friends, my colleagues, and mentors have all had a huge hand in my growth as an artist and individual. Without these people, I would not be successful.
Director Katie McHugh and Jessica Pimentel. Photo by Russ Rowland
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I did, several times. The one I remember the clearest was the decision to go to graduate school. I remember having a meltdown on the phone with my dad, saying: “What have I done? Am I about to spend way too much money on a self-indulgent career path? Am I giving up my chance to have a family?” For context, my entire family is in the military, serving their country and three of them are doctors. So I felt like theatre was not going to save lives. He said to me, “Kate, as long as you don’t lose sight of yourself in all this, and stay true to what you believe, you’ll find your way to creating theatre that will change lives, and you’ll find a way to have a family if that is truly what you want.”
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I would have to say with the formation of Yonder Window Theatre Company and the people in which I’ve had the honor to collaborate. The moment everything changed for me as an artist was when I went to Mexico and discovered my love of cross-cultural collaboration and multidisciplinary work. The Dream Project was the first production of YW and the first enormous devised Shakespeare piece we created. This kind of work excited me beyond measure and redefined my directorial vision.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
The greatest challenge in my career has been navigating gender politics.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Being the oldest child in a military family – maybe this isn’t a skill as much as a birthright – but it certainly taught me how to be a responsible leader.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
My ongoing relationships with my colleagues and students. The people I’ve had the extraordinary fortune to work with over the years have become family to me and this network is invaluable and something I am most proud of.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Believe in your work . . . there is not one path to success in this industry. It can easily chew you up and spit you out if you let it. DON’T LET IT! Be open to pivot, try your hand at design and performance and management and writing and directing, meet people, form bonds and dig into the work. Nothing is created on the first try. We’ve been working on one show for YEARS. Keep at it. You will get there if you believe in the work.