Even one time theater-goers have, inevitably, wondered: How does this crazy production run backstage? Who calls the shots?

Meet Nigel Maister, the Director of the International Theatre Program and the man behind this weekend’s plays ‘Criminal Genius” and ‘Featuring Loretta.” A South African native and 14-year Rochesterian, Maister recently sat down to talk about all things acting.

How has your experience changed over the years?
I think it’s changed in a really kind of positive way in the last few years. The University has become much more supportive of the arts and the performing arts specifically. Before that there was a sense of [Todd] being forgotten; I think now we’re on the radar.

I think there has also been a change in the student body in that students on the whole are brighter, smarter and more motivated in some ways than they were when I first got here many years ago. There was more diversity in the student population then, though. More students seemed undecided about their majors or were trying to feel their way into a career path.

Did you see yourself as a director?

As an undergrad, I think I was a fairly decent actor, but I don’t think I was ever going to be the kind of actor I wanted to be, and I think my temperament suited itself more for directing than to acting. Now it’s sort of opposite I miss acting.

And how would you describe the temperament of actors?
Being an actor is a pretty courageous thing. [You have to] surrender yourself and be quite vulnerable. I won’t say you have to be ego-less because actors tend to have big egos, neurotic egos, but there is a certain sense, a certain willingness, to abandon yourself.

I was recently told by a friend that she could never be an actress because she just didn’t have the talent for it, and I said I might have the talent for it but I don’t have the guts.

Well, you know, the thing that makes it so hard is that in the space of the theater it can be like public approbation or humiliation immediately. If you’re a bank teller and you have a shitty day at work it’s not like anyone is coming in, booing you, or on a good day it’s not like they’re applauding you either, but as an actor it’s like you get up there you do your show and if they don’t like it, you immediately know. And the work as a director as well, every job you do is immediately held up for public evaluation.

How have you coped with that?
Oh, you know, by developing thick skin. I think the most important way is to try and concentrate on the work. Our work here has not always been everyone’s cup of tea, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I think it has been consistently a very high standard in engaging our viewers in an active audience process.

What is difficult for our current plays [‘Criminal Genius” and ‘Featuring Loretta”] is that comedy functions like a machine. The constituent parts have to interact and all the gears have to interlock and if those elements don’t mesh nicely then it’s not going to work. And you’ll know when it doesn’t.

What would you want a CT reader, one who has no idea who you are, to know?
I think I’d want them to know Todd is a real entertainment resource. It’s the act of sharing an experience with a bunch of people. [This process] is becoming rarer and rarer in an age where we’re trapped behind TV screens and tiny computers tapping away online. Theater is sharing a communal event… it celebrates the human need to tell stories.

Describe yourself in three words.
Irreverent, neurotic … and … drop dead gorgeous. =)

I am totally putting that in my interview.
As long as you put a big smiley face next to it.

Titus is a member of the class of 2011.

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