ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff Revels in 'Beautiful Chaos' of Theater Life

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 (Courtesy ACT)

Carey Perloff has been at the artistic helm of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater since 1992. In that time she's forged important collaborations with luminary playwrights and actors including Tom Stoppard, Bill Irwin and Olympia Dukakis. In her memoir "Beautiful Chaos," Perloff recounts her journey running and directing theater as a working mother in a historically male-dominated industry.

Interview Highlights

On Empathy

I think that one of the things we're learning about culture today is how hard empathy is to sustain. And that imagination is a muscle that has to be developed. And that if you want people to be actually empathetic to people other than them. For example, in all the studies that have been done about inequality, the more the wealthy get separated from actually knowing anybody who is unlike them, the less empathy they have. So one of the things about the theatre which is a remarkable thing is that when you see a live human being on stage going through an experience which may be completely other than your own, whether it's Medea killing her children or a piano being sold in an August Wilson play, you as a human being develop a kind of empathy for that life experience that opens your mind to the way other people live and think - and that is how a democracy functions. And if we don't have that, we are at risk of becoming an ever more stratified and separate culture. So I actually think theatre is necessary.

On Plays that Feature Women

"Ticket buyers are women. And yet ... only 17 percent of the plays produced in America are by women, and if they have a female lead, then that's cut in half. So that tells you as a culture we still don't actually believe that women's stories are universal, we think they're women's stories. Whereas, when we do a David Mamet play that's all men, nobody says that's not universal. People just assume."


Carey Perloff, artistic director of American Conservatory Theater and author of "Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater"


On the Talent Pipeline

"We assume this in medical studies and everything, that the default is male. Now that dial is changing. It is better. And I think there are amazing women telling their stories now. And so one of the reasons I care a lot about women leading organizations is that they can open that pipeline to more women who are writing, directing, creating, and that talent starts to funnel through."