If you don’t already know her, please allow me to introduce to you Haley White, easily one of the most bone-deep creative artists I know in our theatrical community. Haley is currently co-directing Real Women Have Curves at the Selma Arts Center and just got off a well-received stint as Alison Bechdel in StageWorks Fresno’s Fun Home. She’s also currently studying for her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College, while taking on myriad projects around Fresno. There are times it seems to me that Haley has her sticky fingers in everything!
Haley and I found each other through The New Ensemble where I directed her as Ophelia in Hamlet (2012) and as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (2013). Her theatrical work is supported by her rich imagination, commitment to detail, and a unique vision for how she embodies a character.
As the current producer for The Fools Collaborative in Fresno, Haley has been a powerhouse of diversity and variety. She’s organized and produced site-specific theater, a series of Shakespeare readings featuring interdisciplinary techniques, and collaborative fringe festival productions showcasing personal journal writing and the debut of Drunk Shakespeare in Fresno (local inadvertent drunk performances of the Bard notwithstanding).
Her work in filmmaking, however, is where Haley has truly begun to branch out in recent years. I’ve watched her creative voice become more specific and powerful by writing, directing and producing film projects stemming from her own personal experience and passions. Her short films Maudie and Sisters Mothers Daughters spring from her deep well of personal conviction. Her most recent project was a collaboration with the Fresno Dance Collective called Unbound, highlighting their work with the Prison Arts Program, providing dance classes for women inmates in California.
But more than all of that, Haley is a deeply feeling artist who doesn’t shy away from truth in storytelling and transparency as an artist.
Here is her Drive-Thru Interview.
In one word, describe your present condition.
In one sentence, what’s going on in your world?
Tech week, prepping for my second semester of grad school, wrapping up three short film projects, and a day job in marketing.
With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of your artistic outlook.
In general, I’m feeling far more pride, purpose, and ownership in my artistry than ever before. I’m in the middle of tech week, though, on a show where I’ve had to step in and fulfill multiple roles in addition to directing. So the burn-out, frustration, and doubt are all very real right now, too. Trying to constantly remind myself there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things usually pull together even when it seems impossible.
Why “Real Women Have Curves”?
This is not a project I picked for myself, nor one I would have necessarily ever picked on my own. It was scheduled to be done at the Selma Art Center with my friend Juan Luis Guzman attached as director. He needed a partner because he had a pre-set conflict where he knew he’d be gone for the last two weeks of the rehearsal period. When he asked me about coming on board, I said yes because I wanted to work with him, I wanted to work at the Selma Art Center, I was between semesters so I had the availability, and I really believed Juan and I would be a nice yin-and-yang for the women since they weren’t going to be able to have a Latina female at the helm of the project. They would be able to get the cultural /Latinx perspective from him and the female perspective for me, which is probably the next best thing in terms of accurately and authentically honoring the material.
I originally found the script to be sort of undynamic, but this is a case where the life of the play is in the nuance and subtext surrounding the actual lines. I think our cast has done a lovely job finding the world above, below, and surrounding the text.
What do you find exciting about working with this cast?
Their resilience, their perseverance, their teamwork. We have had some big road bumps and some very long nights this past month, but they are all committed to helping one another make this the best show it can be. In that sense, these actresses are very much like their own characters. It’s always cool to work on projects where it feels like the actors on board are all in roles that sit very near to their personal life experience; it makes things feel very natural on stage and brings an energy that permeates other areas of the process. Many of these women have only known each other for a few short weeks but you wouldn’t know that by their interactions. I also think it’s always exciting to work with an all-female cast. There is just a different type of camaraderie/energy that comes along with it.
What makes a great audience for you?
Obviously, one that is respectful and attentive. People talking, rustling papers, phones going off and things like that all suck but non-artists would be shocked to know how far the disrespect can go sometimes. I’ve seen audience members literally put their feet up on the set during a show. How does a functioning, adult human ever think that’s ok?
I don’t necessarily need a loud audience (in terms of laughter or other non-verbal response to a show). I just wanna feel that they’re listening and paying attention. The control you can feel as a performer or director with a fully rapt audience- when you can get a room of over 100 people to a place where you can hear a pin drop- that’s the best feeling in the world. It’s the greatest natural high. But I believe it’s primarily on the creative team to put that sort of energy out into the room; it’s not the responsibility of the audience to get there themselves.
As a theater artist, what are you better at now than five years ago?
Trusting my instincts. Knowing my value. Respecting my training. Empowering others on the creative team.
I’m still not good at saying no or setting boundaries or taking on more than I can chew. Really, truly working on that. And I’m a control freak, which doesn’t help matters. Actively working on that, too.
What are your top three theatre reads?
American Theatre, and then I’m gonna use this space to say the Munro Review and What’s My Call Time blogs because I greatly value the support that local art receives from passionate, engaged local coverage. It’s vital.
What would you like to see more of on Valley stages?
I think the world is different since Trump got elected and so I wish theatre in the Valley reflected that more. I wish we could see less of multiple companies doing the same show title within the same couple of years, and more risk-taking, overall. I don’t want to audition or work on the same show I’ve seen done several times in a one-hour radius in recent memory, and as an audience member, I sure as shit don’t want to sit through the same stories over and over again. I want to see shows that surprise me, that make me think, make me feel, and/or make me forget about the state of the world for a few hours. I used to be all about the classics when I was younger. I’m all about new voices, new material, and new interpretations these days. I would like to see bigger risks taken in casting and acting choices, too. In short, I want to see more diversity, all around. I will say that I love whenever I see individuals and smaller group of artists producing their own stuff if they’re not finding satisfying work to take part in outside of that from the more established companies. That’s completely the appropriate response, rather than just sitting around and whining that there is nothing out there to partake in. I wish more people were doing it.
What have you found to be the most common misconception surrounding theatre in the Central Valley?
That it’s just community theatre and so that’s where our expectations should lie- both as audiences and as artists. There are so many artists here who have terminal degrees, are current or past Equity/SAG members, have decades upon decades of experience in their area of expertise, etc. We should have high expectations and we should hold ourselves to them.
I drive up to Washington for my second grad school residency two days after Real Women closes. This fall, we’ve got some things in the works for The Fools Collaborative. I’ve got a few film projects coming down the pipe. But most pressingly, after this show opens, what I really wanna do more than anything is sleep a full eight hours (or more) and clean my house.
#goseeashow: Real Women Have Curves
September 7-16. Selma Arts Center.
The Drive-Thru interview is my easy and satisfying Q&A for your busy theatrical life. I choose a handful of questions off of a menu of over 100, and I get pithy answers in return. Perhaps not the most nuanced or clever interview technique in the world, but in the drive-thru getting in and out is key!