#WeAllDeserveArts: Christen Cromwell – Director of Play Development, Two Strikes Theater Collective

January 15, 2021

There are several off-handed reasons I tell people why I love directing: I get to boss people around and it’s a darn good excuse to sport the beret/turtleneck combo. In all honesty, although each production has possibly aged me with more gray hairs I wouldn’t have otherwise and a hunchback from sitting in the dark scribbling incoherent rehearsal notes, one of the biggest benefits to directing is that it keeps my brain in shape. Having to keep up with the latest tech developments alone is tough; even for a millennial like myself, executing virtual theatre is no walk in the park, unless of course we’re talking about the one with dinosaurs and a snarky Jeff Goldblum. 

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that there are certain powers that come with directing for the stage that I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. After studying Lucille Ball and Bugs Bunny for the better part of my childhood, I knew I needed to perform; however, it wasn’t until college that I realized acting was just the gateway opiate that leads to the director’s chair. And while sitting in that position of power, I’ve managed to recognize certain parts of myself I’ve learned to appreciate. 

I am durable. There are many hours, in the day and night, that go into making a production possible. During rehearsal, maybe one actor has ripped their costume and another one still doesn’t know their lines. There is no point in letting things I can’t control break my spirit. I learn to breathe, to meditate. 

I am an interpreter. No script is going to be interpreted the same way by two different directors. It is my job to explain my vision to those involved in the production and I may have to make some concessions along the way, but the final product to leave a profound mark on everyone involved. 

I am a reader. Always quite hungry for a new script to direct, I am constantly ingesting plays or source material for a work I can compose myself. As I grow older, I am always going to want to know more and make reading an essential part of my mental diet. 

I am an educator. I love to learn and spread knowledge. The best shows are those that teach the audience something they never knew, exposed them to a reality they would have otherwise avoided. I want the audience to leave with more questions than they came in with, to never stop asking more of the world. 

I am collaborative. I have had to learn to communicate effectively with many different personality types over the years, how to set team goals and respond accordingly when they aren’t met. I am not always right, and that’s fine. Working with others reminds me that I am indeed human and thrive off of the creative energy of others. 

I am tired. While I am trying my best to remain tough, there are so many uncertainties about the future of theatre that are too exhausting to contemplate. I will remain hopeful that patrons and policy makers are continuously reminded of its importance to the world at large. That more theatre artists who look like me are encouraged to create and share their visions with all of us.

This is what the arts have nurtured in me as I am sure it has done for many other artists. For me, theatre is the language that I speak most fluently. For as long as I can, I plan to always speak loudly, sure to project, because I don’t want my powers to go to waste. We all deserve to feel whole. We all deserve the arts.

Christen Cromwell is a Baltimore-based educator and theatre artist. A proud alumna of Baltimore City College High School, Johns Hopkins University (B.A.) and Notre Dame of Maryland University (M.A.T.), she is currently the Director of Play Development for the newly-founded Two Strikes Theatre Collective

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