Sarah Benson Reps Soho Rep

02/01/2012 6:00 AM |

What is your theater origin story?
I was a maths geek, originally. And, basically, I got into this boarding school on a math scholarship and was totally miserable at the school. It was miles and miles away from my family and it was a pretty rough experience at first. I had never been involved in school plays or anything before and the second year I was there [at the age of fourteen] I got involved in this thing called the House Play Festival, and it was amazing. I found this community of people and we just started making something together and it turned school into this brilliant experience. It really transformed my whole experience of the school. I ditched maths and just hurled myself into the theater. In that play I was acting. But it was really this community thing that changed my experience. So, then I started acting in school plays. But I was an absolutely terrible actor.

So many directors say that!
Yeah, I loved the whole experience of making this thing, but it was just excruciating. I would get so nervous before I would go on stage. I would forget the props, I would show up at the wrong entrance, I was just racked with nerves. It was terrible. And so finally, I was about seventeen at the time, my drama teacher, she took me aside one day and she was like, you know, there are other things you can do besides act. I was like, really? Like what? Just get me off the stage! It's like agony. But I loved this form. So then that year I directed the House Play. And that was it. I was like, this is amazing. So that was how it really started. And then I lived in the Czech Republic for a while. I was teaching theater and directing kids and doing all that kind of thing.

How did you end up in the Czech Republic?
I was actually going to go to Russia. I was obsessed with Russia and Russian theater and literature. I was traveling through Eastern Europe on my way to Russia and Prague was the first place I went and I just fell in love with it and never left. So I ended up being there for a year. I just read so much. That was really a very formative experience, I think. And then, back in London, I was doing an English literature degree and started a theater company. My sister's a musician, and I had a lot of friends who were in architecture and fine art and other realms, so it was really about pulling together all of these people and making work with what we had. At that point it was very scrappy, it was very ambitious, it was kinda nuts. But we made these shows that, when I look back on them, were kind of really exciting. So I did that.

And then, basically, I was directing a show at the Edinburgh Festival and the guy who was assisting me was American and we were talking about training programs and I started thinking about the U.S. So, I applied for a Fulbright and got that and that really made up my mind to come here. I'd just gotten married and so we decided to come over here for a couple of years, but we planned to move right back to London—my husband's British as well. One thing led to another and I ended up working here as part of the Fulbright fellowship and went to Brooklyn College also. Then the year after that, Daniel Aukin, my predecessor [at Soho Rep], hired me to run the Writer/Director Program—the Lab, where we commission six writers a year to develop a play from scratch and we pair them with directors and they work during the course of the year to write plays. So, I ran that program. My husband and I decided, oh, we'll stay on for one more year. And then I also started to run the Prelude Festival at the Segal Center—I did that in 2005 and 2006. And then Daniel decided to freelance. So I threw my hat in the ring [to replace Daniel], but at the time we were looking at options in Berlin and back in the U.K. and all over. And then I was hired here, and that's sort of how that came to be.