DREAM BIG BLOG SERIES: JEFF FRANK, Artistic Director of First Stage

What is your official job/job title?
Jeff Frank age 14
Artistic Director

What do you like most about your job?
I love being in rehearsal and working with adult professionals and young performers. The blend of experienced actors and energized and talented young people makes for an exciting and collaborative atmosphere.

 What do you like least about it?
The harsh reality of budgets. The amount of time I'm away from my family.

Did you always want to be an Artistic Director?
Not always, but once I got involved in theater and working with young people, I knew someday that I wanted to be at the helm of an organization that could make great art and make a difference in the world. I feel blessed to be at First Stage where we are committed to those ideals.

What was your dream job when you were 12 years old?
I think at that point I wanted to be an archaeologist. I enjoy history and like the idea of discovering something.

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
Hmmm … a couple things come to mind. I have the greatest respect for classroom teachers. I've been in a lot of classrooms over the years doing workshops, not sure I could be in the trenches every day, but sometimes I think I'd like to try. Also, as a big Abraham Lincoln fan (I've written and performed a one-man show), I sometimes think about getting into politics, but I wonder if it is possible to truly make a difference in that arena any more.

How long did it take to become an Artistic Director and what did you have to do?
I think it is a lifelong process, so I'm still becoming the Artistic Director I want to be. The journey started in Junior High studying theater and continued through High School and undergrad. Then I earned my MFA in Child Drama at the University of Utah in 1990. My first job after grad school was actually as an Artistic Director for Project InterAct in Austin, TX. I learned a great deal on the job, traveling with the company each day and watching shows I directed performed over and over. Then I freelanced as a teacher, actor and director for a few years. Before becoming Director of Outreach  at a regional theatre in Pennsylvania. While I was there, Rob headhunted me to become the Education/Academy Director at First Stage in 1996. I loved how the organization did things, and it was a chance for me to come back home to Wisconsin, so I leapt at the opportunity. I served in that role, eventually directing more and more until 2003 when I became the Artistic Director.

Jeff at a recent rehearsal of BIG, THE MUSICAL
What was the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to achieve your dream?
After two years in my first job as an Artistic Director, I got a call informing me that they were eliminating my position. It was hard to keep my faith. But I headed to the east coast and just dug in and found a variety of jobs teaching and acting. In hindsight, despite the challenges of free lancing for  a couple years, I'm so thankful to have had the chance to work and live in NYC. Just a great place to hone your craft and work on the artist you want to be.

Was there ever a time that you almost gave up on your dream?  What kept you going?
Before coming to First Stage, I began to wonder if I might have to start my own theater so that I could ensure the work we were doing matched my philosophy and commitment to excellence, but finding First Stage and the core philosophy of teaching life skills through stage skills was my salvation. 

What advice would you give to someone considering this career path?
John Maclay and I always say do theater only because you love it so passionately that you could not possibly be happy doing anything else. If you could be happy in another career choose that path. Theater, and acting in particular, is incredibly challenging, but for me it is simply what I must do.

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