Travis Preston of CalArts - Collaborations Across DisciplinesTravis Preston, renowned as the director leading the charge at the CalArts Center for New Performance, is widely recognized for his relentless pursuit of pushing the boundaries of conventional theater. His trailblazing productions not only defy norms but also ignite conversations and expand the horizons of the stage. Among his many groundbreaking endeavors, his bold adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is a testament to Preston’s unwavering dedication to diversity and innovation in the realm of theater. The following article takes a look at Travis Preston’s work with artists from different fields to create interdisciplinary theater productions.

In theater, the boundaries between disciplines often serve as creative frontiers rather than barriers. Director Travis Preston of CalArts exemplifies this ethos through his groundbreaking collaborations, where he seamlessly merges diverse artistic realms to create transcendent theatrical experiences. From reimagining Shakespearean classics to pioneering experimental works, Preston’s portfolio is a testament to his unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional theater.

Travis Preston’s Background

Travis Preston was born in September 1959 in East Chicago, Indiana. His journey into the world of theater began while he was pursuing his Ph.D. in psychology at Indiana University. Despite his academic pursuits, Preston’s passion for theater led him to apply for the Yale School of Drama, where he sought to further hone his craft.

Travis Preston’s formative years in theater were deeply influenced by his immersion in Polish Theater. He embarked on a transformative journey studying under Jerzy Grotowski at the renowned Teatr Laboratorium in Wroclaw, Poland. There, he delved into the intricacies of physical actions, plastiques, and corporals alongside luminaries like dramaturg Ludwig Flaszen and esteemed Grotowski actors Ryszard Cieslak, Zygmunt Molik, and Rena Mirecka.

Travis Preston’s time in Poland extended to participating in the Mountain Project, an immersive experience in the Polish forest curated by Grotowski. Additionally, Preston was introduced to the groundbreaking work of Tadeusz Kantor and Józef Szajna, further enriching his artistic perspective.

Upon his return to the United States, Preston’s talent and dedication caught the attention of celebrated Polish film and theater director Andrzej Wajda, who invited him to assist on a production of Tadeusz Różewicz’s “White Marriage” at the Yale Repertory Theatre. This marked the beginning of Travis Preston’s association with Yale, where he made history as the first student selected to direct a world premiere production at the Yale Repertory Theatre.

Subsequently, Travis Preston of CalArts became a pivotal figure in the establishment of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, collaborating closely with Robert Brustein. During his tenure as Associate Artist, Preston focused on directing modern classics, including works by playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill, August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, and Henrik Ibsen.

Notable productions under his helm included “A Doll’s House,” “Ghosts,” and “Little Eyolf” at the American Ibsen Theater in Pittsburgh. Travis Preston’s artistic endeavors extended beyond the United States, with significant premieres like Antonio Buero-Vallejo’s “The Sleep of Reason” at Baltimore’s Center Stage and Bernard-Marie Koltès’ “Roberto Zucco” in New York, further solidifying his reputation as a visionary director with a flair for innovation.

Travis Preston of CalArts - Collaborations Across DisciplinesAbout CalArts

At the forefront of innovative artistic endeavors, the CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) stands as the professional production arm of the esteemed California Institute of the Arts. Founded with the aim of fostering a dynamic environment for the development and realization of original works in theater, music, dance, and interdisciplinary projects, CNP provides a distinctive platform driven by artists and their visions.

Going beyond traditional boundaries, the CalArts Center for New Performance facilitates direct engagement with professional communities locally, nationally, and internationally, offering an alternative model that supports emerging trends in the performing arts. By facilitating collaboration between CalArts students and renowned artists, CNP empowers emerging talents to gain invaluable hands-on experience that transcends the confines of their academic curriculum, shaping the future of the performing arts landscape.

Travis Preston’s Rendition of Shakespeare’s King Lear

One of Preston’s most celebrated productions is his site-specific adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” produced by the CalArts Center for New Performance. Premiering in 2002, this bold interpretation challenged conventional notions of theater by transforming industrial spaces into immersive stages. Directed by Travis Preston of CalArts and featuring a text adapted by Royston Coppenger, this rendition of “King Lear” unfolded across six locations within the expansive Brewery Arts Complex in downtown Los Angeles. With an all-female cast and a post-modern aesthetic, Preston’s vision shattered theatrical norms, inviting audiences on a journey through visual installations and gripping performances.

The sheer scale and guts of Preston’s “King Lear” garnered critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including five L.A. Ovation Award nominations and invitations to international theater festivals. However, Preston’s approach wasn’t without its detractors, with some critics questioning the production’s coherence and pacing. Despite these challenges, Travis Preston’s willingness to experiment with form, content and casting underscored his commitment to innovation and risk-taking in the theater.

Recognizing the need to break free from conventional norms, Travis Preston of CalArts took on a mission to infuse the timeless tragedy with new vitality and resonance. At the heart of his innovative approach was the decision to assemble an all-female cast, a move aimed at challenging stereotypes and celebrating the talent and versatility of female performers. By casting women in traditionally male roles, Preston not only provided a platform for actresses to showcase their skills but also made a powerful statement on gender equality and representation in the theater.

Complementing this groundbreaking casting choice was Preston’s vision for a site-specific staging that would immerse audiences in a truly unforgettable theatrical experience. Most notable is the industrial backdrop of the Brewery Arts Complex in downtown Los Angeles. The production embraced its surroundings, using the raw and atmospheric environment to amplify the drama and intensity of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. This unconventional venue transformed the space into a dynamic and immersive theater, blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality and inviting audiences to become active participants in the unfolding narrative.

Furthermore, Travis Preston’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional theater extended to the aesthetic and stylistic elements of the production. Embracing a post-modern sensibility, the staging of “King Lear” incorporated innovative design elements, multimedia projections, and avant-garde visuals that challenged conventional notions of stagecraft and storytelling. By experimentation and pushing the boundaries of the avant-garde, Travis Preston of CalArts invited audiences to expand their perceptions of what theater could be, encouraging them to engage with the play in a deeper and more thought-provoking manner.

Gaining widespread acclaim beyond the borders of Los Angeles, Travis Preston’s innovative production of “King Lear” garnered attention on the international stage. Its exceptional reception led to invitations to esteemed theater festivals worldwide, including the renowned Frictions Festival in Dijon, France. These accolades not only celebrated the production’s artistic merit but also highlighted the global impact of Preston’s visionary approach to theater. By earning recognition at prestigious festivals, Travis Preston’s adaptation showcased the universal resonance and relevance of his creative vision, solidifying his status as a trailblazer in contemporary theater-making.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Travis Preston’s collaborations extend beyond reimagining classic works to devising original productions that defy categorization. Through his interdisciplinary approach, Preston seamlessly integrates elements of opera, dance, and multimedia art to create immersive theatrical experiences. His productions, such as “Fantômas: Revenge of the Image” and “Prometheus Bound,” challenge audiences to reconsider the boundaries of performance and explore new modes of storytelling.

A Figure in Contemporary Theater

A pivotal figure in contemporary theater, Preston’s influence extends far beyond the stage. As the Executive Artistic Director of the CalArts Center for New Performance and Dean of the CalArts School of Theater, he plays a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of theater artists. Through his mentorship and innovative curriculum, Travis Preston empowers students to embrace experimentation, collaboration, and boundary-crossing in their artistic practice.

Travis Preston’s collaborative ventures across artistic disciplines stand as a testament to the profound impact of boundary-breaking theater. By fearlessly reinterpreting timeless classics and spearheading groundbreaking original productions, Travis Preston compels audiences to reconsider the very essence of theatrical expression. As both a visionary director and dedicated educator, Travis Preston of CalArts’ influence extends far beyond the stage, igniting a spark of creativity in artists and audiences alike. His enduring legacy serves as a guiding light for those who aspire to challenge conventions and craft transformative theatrical experiences.

Travis Preston of CalArts - Collaborations Across DisciplinesImpact on the Arts

Travis Preston’s impact on the arts transcends borders, earning him widespread recognition and acclaim across the globe. His directorial prowess shines through in productions like Luigi Nono’s “Al gran sole carico d’amore” at the Hamburg State Opera and the groundbreaking world premiere of “Fantômas: Revenge of the Image” at the esteemed Wuzhen Theatre Festival in China. These milestones underscore Preston’s remarkable ability to navigate diverse cultural landscapes while pushing the boundaries of theatrical expression. Through his innovative staging techniques and compelling storytelling, Travis Preston of CalArts continues to mesmerize audiences worldwide, solidifying his status as a visionary director with a truly global appeal.

A Career Defined by Innovation and Education

Travis Preston’s illustrious career spans across continents and disciplines, marked by a diverse repertoire of groundbreaking productions and educational endeavors. In 2017, he directed “Fantômas: Revenge of the Image,” captivating audiences at the esteemed Wuzhen Theatre Festival in China. Preston’s directorial prowess was further showcased in his production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” for the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, demonstrating his ability to breathe new life into classic works.

In a remarkable revisit to classical theater, Travis Preston staged Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” at the Getty Villa’s Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Outdoor Amphitheater in 2013. This reimagined performance, featuring Emmy award winner Ron Cephas Jones as Prometheus and Mirjana Joković as Io, captivated audiences with its innovative use of a 23-foot-tall rotating steel wheel symbolizing time and the protagonist’s agonizing plight.

August 2010 marked yet another significant milestone in Preston’s career when he was appointed Dean of the CalArts School of Theater, a testament to his leadership and commitment to shaping the future of performing arts education. In the same year, he directed a compelling rendition of Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” at the Almeida Theatre in London, starring Gemma Arterton and Stephen Dillane, showcasing his ability to breathe new life into classic works.

Travis Preston’s creative vision transcended traditional boundaries in his 2005 production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth (A Modern Ecstasy).” Exploring the depths of Macbeth’s psyche, Preston staged this one-performer drama in a minimalist set at REDCAT in Disney Hall, captivating audiences with his innovative interpretation. The production received acclaim at prestigious venues such as the Almeida Theatre in London and the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals in Australia.

Beyond his directorial achievements, Travis Preston of CalArts has played a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of theater practitioners. As a respected faculty member at esteemed institutions including SUNY Purchase, The Yale School of Drama, and New York University, he has imparted his expertise and passion for theater to aspiring artists worldwide. Preston’s dedication to nurturing talent extends to his roles at the National Theater School of Denmark, Indiana University, Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, and ACT at Harvard University, where he continues to inspire and mentor emerging artists in their creative journeys.

Career Trajectory

Travis Preston’s career trajectory reflects his deep-rooted commitment to pushing the boundaries of theatrical expression. From his formative years studying with Jerzy Grotowski in Poland to his groundbreaking productions at renowned institutions like Yale School of Drama and Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre, Preston’s journey has been defined by a relentless pursuit of artistic innovation. As he continues to challenge the status quo and push the limits of theatrical possibility, Travis Preston of CalArts remains a visionary force in the world of contemporary theater.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Travis Preston’s collaborations across disciplines epitomize the transformative power of boundary-defying theater. Through his daring reinterpretations of classic works and pioneering original productions, Preston challenges audiences to reimagine what theater can be. As a director, educator, and innovator, Preston’s legacy serves as an inspiration for artists seeking to push the boundaries of their craft and create groundbreaking theatrical experiences.

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