The sun blazed outside, as it should on a hot summer’s day in July. Drewe Goldstein doesn’t mind. They settled down comfortably, inside, in a cozy nook of the New York apartment they’d freshly moved into since beginning as the artistic and production assistant for the Montgomery Place Festival at Bard College. I didn’t mind either. I sat, almost just as comfortably, in a corner of my own bedroom in Virginia, where I watched their elusive black and white cat slink across the pillowscape that framed our Zoom call. “Sorry about Lenny,” they apologized. “He’s just… walking around.” Even over a 360p virtual feed, Goldstein’s video was as dynamic and warm as any of their other works.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of chatting with the New York City-based director, photographer, actor, model, dancer, etc. (the list goes on) to discuss all things Drewe Goldstein: their art, both previous and upcoming, finding inspiration during the pandemic, and their path as a creative. While a title like ‘creative’ can be annoyingly vague, it is difficult to find a term broad enough to encompass the breadth of their talents. Often faced with the same issue, Goldstein prefers to describe themselves as a “curator of the performing arts,” at least for the time being. Of course, the title is less important than the work. For Goldstein, the priority has always been creating accessible, diverse, and representational art that “exposes people to new audiences and [represents] all people.” The director compares the act of consuming art to seeing photos at Target. “We go to Target and there’s models everywhere. It’s only as of recently that those models even kind of look like people that we know. It’s important to me that we are representing everyone.”
In pursuit of such art, there is hardly a medium that the director won’t tackle. With works spanning live theatre, music videos, movement, and film, Goldstein is an artist in the purest form, persistently creating and innovating through any personal or collective challenges life has thrown their way. After just graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.F.A. in Theatre Performance in 2020, the 22-year-old director has had one of the busiest and most productive pandemics I have seen. In the past year alone, Goldstein’s credits include: developing and directing an adapted-for-screen production of El Eterno Feminino, conceptualizing, producing, and directing the original audio play The Reason You Left Me… and the People Who Called When You Were Gone, directing and editing the music video for Anna Leonard’s “What’s Left?”, and acting in an adapted-for-screen version of Spring Awakening, just to name a few. While they have never been shy about venturing into uncharted artistic territory, Goldstein cites the volatile state of the world as a catalyst for the expansion of their work. “I think pre-pandemic I would have said, ‘I do theatre, I do dance, and I do music.’ That is what I direct,’” Goldstein reflects. “Now, I’m like ‘I do theatre! And I do film! And I do music videos!’ and I changed my trajectory throughout the pandemic.”
While the circumstances of the pandemic pushed many into devastating creative slumps, it had the opposite effect on Goldstein, who found the opportunity to double down on their craft. “I need to make work,” they said. “I don’t want to stop making art just because we can’t go into
an in-person theatre.” The purchase of their first professional camera facilitated the production of an original audio play, which led to the creation of promotional music videos, and eventually self-teaching video editing and production through online resources. “I’m making my tree, that was just one single branch, a bunch of little branches.”
The aforementioned audio play, affectionately shortened to “People Who Called,” is (as far as I’m concerned) one of the most ambitious and novel productions to be born out of the pandemic. The 80-minute audio drama, originally conceptualized as a live, avante garde movement piece, is a modern retelling of the classic tale of Penelope and her wait for Odysseus. Warm, charming, and emotionally wrought, People Who Called follows college sweethearts Penelope, a graduate student working to make ends meet, and Ody, a midshipman finishing his tenure in the Navy, and tells the ups and downs and in-betweens of a relationship on the brink. Through nuanced performances, an innovative format, and delicate world-building, Goldstein devised a touching, contemporary tale that will have you forget it was ever based in Greek mythology. The cherry on top? The audio play is free and readily available for all to enjoy on all podcast platforms. “It’s up, it’s available, it’s original, and it’s based on a work that’s in the public domain,” Goldstein explained. “Essentially making it the perfect college pandemic project.”
Today, Goldstein works with the Producing and Management staff at Baseline Theatrical in Manhattan. When they’re not opening shows like Hamilton and Passover on Broadway, the director continues to seek out opportunities to continue to make the work they’ve always wanted to make. “I apply for like 40 directing jobs a day,” they said with a laugh, and the skittish uncertainty of someone who just took the biggest leap of faith in their career to pursue freelance directing in New York City. The future for Goldstein is an “open book,” and a page-turner at that. “What that looks like?” Goldstein posited. “Who the heck knows.”
To see more of Drewe Goldstein, visit http://www.drewegoldstein.com or @drewegoldstein on Instagram. Read on, for Goldstein’s thoughts on their previous work, the state of theatre during the pandemic, and figuring it all out.
Excerpts from the interview-
Minh Pham: One of the biggest goals you’ve expressed is to “expose people to new audiences” through your art. What does that look like for you? What do you mean by that?
Drewe Goldstein: I think that, specifically in the theatre, dance, opera, and music, the “main” live-performing arts, we are really used to old white people being our audiences. I am on a mission to bring young people, young people of color, young trans people, and young queer people back to the theatre. These communities are so used to being ignored in the performing arts, that they have stopped going unless they are directly involved. I want to make sure that people are now being represented in my work, or are actually interested in the stories being told. Otherwise I’m doing a disservice to my communities.
As someone who came up in theatre, how did that impact you, and what started to change as you grew older and further into your career?
I actually didn’t start in theatre! My first beginnings with the performing arts was dance. I was a dancer first — I can talk about that forever, and how that has shaped my work — and then I was a model. I was in these two careers that were very body-centric, and then through that I moved into theatre, and found that: theatre, though it is not a perfect industry at all, was significantly kinder to me than dance and modeling had ever been. That’s how I started getting a look at how messed up these performing arts industries are, and how much change needs to happen within them. Specifically, as a dancer, I had an eating disorder for such a long time, and modeling directly after that just enhanced the issue. Then, I found this respite in the theatre where, if you were young and white-passing and tiny, you were accepted and loved. As I started getting older I was like, “Oh, so people that look like me are accepted, and loved,” and [that thought] has grown from there.
I didn’t know you were a dancer! How has being a dancer informed your art?
I really loved dancing. I grew up a really really strict ballet dancer. A lot of my work is based in movement — which is why it’s so crazy having done an audio play this year — I would say the majority of my work is based in movement, so to completely strip that away was bizarre. In the past, I have been a movement director for multiple shows and pieces.
Speaking of your audio play, People Who Called: that was probably one of my favorite works that I enjoyed this past year. Can you tell me about how you found inspiration for that piece?
I had this idea for a long time. It was supposed to be an in-person theatre piece. There was supposed to be very little dialogue. There was supposed to be a lot of text, but very little communication in the dialogue. It was originally supposed to be three actors — I was supposed to be in it, and Isaac [Baron, the sound editor for People Who Called] as well, but we were such small characters — in the original, it was supposed to be Penelope, Odysseus, and a third lover, and it was supposed to be poems given by Penelope and a microphone, while we watched a bed, with a camera overhead, while we watched Odysseus and his lover doing avant garde dance pieces on the bed.
So this originated as a stage piece?
Yes! And almost entirely as a movement piece. Arguably a dance piece set to poems. Which might still happen! But that was the original People Who Called — this dance piece that was very avant garde, very bizarre.
One of my favorite parts about People Who Called was the writing, and then I learned the dialogue was completely improvised. Was that a decision that you made on the fly, or was that always the intention when you started the project?
There was a long period of time where we were like, “We are going to write this script.” But every time we would run scenes, it was so much better when [the actors] would do what they felt was right, versus writing it all down. I would say, “This is your task. You have to hit these six moments in the scene, and I don’t care how you get there.” We’d do that about eight or nine times each per scene, sometimes more, sometimes less. Lots of what we did in the final production were things I had never heard before going into recording. As a director, that was unbelievably exciting, because it gave me the opportunity to never be bored with what we were doing. I was constantly hearing new things; nothing ever got old. [The cast] was so unbelievably excited to do it — to get to spew whatever was on their mind. A lot of it was shaped by what we were going through and what was going on in our personal lives. It was so fulfilling.
For your work during the pandemic, was there any work to reference when you were trying to adapt something to this crazy global health crisis?
One of my biggest things as a director is that I refuse — unless I had already happened to see it — I refuse to watch something that I am directing. I don’t want to be influenced. I don’t want somebody else’s take on it, and if my take happens to be “incorrect,” so be it. I would rather fail doing what i think is correct rather than halfway succeed following someone else’s example. In terms of El Eterno Feminino, I had never read it before being approached to direct. I still haven’t seen a production of it other than my own. In terms of other work during the pandemic, I really kind of stayed away (maybe this is bad to admit as a theatre lover) from online theatre throughout this time because truthfully I’m not that into it.
It’s a harder sell for sure.
Like if I’m gonna watch theatre, the joy of it is the live aspect. If I watch something filmed, I want to watch a film. That’s something that I did with El Eterno Feminino; I really wanted it to feel like a film, and not “Oh don’t you wish we were in person to watch this!” I think that’s what a lot of theatre was during the pandemic. “Oh wouldn’t it be awesome if we were in person?” Like yeah, it would be. But we need to reckon with the fact that we’re not. Online theatre was just not super interesting to me during the pandemic.
In terms of what defines a Drewe Goldstein piece of work, and finding your voice as a director, where do you feel you are now?
I am finally getting to a point where I know how to manage people with productive conversation. At least in my mind, I am finally understanding what an actor wants, what an actor needs, and what communication needs to be shared to everybody. I thought for a while that, “ALL communication needs to go to everybody!” but throughout my production assisting work, I have learned how much doesn’t need to. Too many ideas in your brain is not helpful to creation. I’m navigating that: “When is too much too much?” I think even in the past two weeks at this job in New York, my decision making process has changed exponentially.
And soon you’ll also be working freelance! The world is your oyster.
Luckily, I started being a freelance director two-and-a-half years ago, and in that time i’ve worked in New York, I’ve worked in Vermont, I’ve worked in Richmond, There hasn’t been longer than two weeks where I haven’t been either working on directing a production, and I am hoping that that streak continues. It’s like this weird part of my life where I can sort of do anything I want. I don’t have school after this… I could move to Venezuela if I wanted to!
Ramp up the theatre scene there!
Yeah! It’s just this weird part of an artist’s life where they just do whatever, and I feel like it will shape everything. What I do in these next six months will determine the rest of my career, and that is a really crazy thought. I’m figuring it out.
Minh Pham is a 22 year-old queer Vietnamese American and recent graduate of Virginia Tech. She is a professional consultant from Northern Virginia, who writes in the evenings after long days of toiling away in the corporate machine. Minh has a passion for comedy, and the stories she wishes she could have had when she was younger.
More of Minh’s Work in Mixed Mag:
“Make a Move” a SHORT screenplay (Issue 9)
TWENTY SOMETHING (Issue 10)