When you ask Hattie Andres to describe the best part of being the first recipient of The 5th’s Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellowship, she responds with a cliché that is telling of a young disciple of musical theater:
“The best part is being ‘in the room where it happens.’ I grew up seeing so many productions on this stage and now all of a sudden I’m seeing it all come together—from the ground up.”
However, it hasn’t taken long for Andres to confirm that her fellowship entails a bit more than just being in the room. The fellowship, currently a pilot program at The 5th, seeks to provide an early-career creative artist with a unique growth opportunity while specifically addressing the inequities in access and representation. Andres’s first role this season in line with that fellowship was to serve as assistant director for Man of La Mancha.
“Allison [the Man of La Mancha director] had to step out of the room at one point to speak to someone. And the stage manager looked at me and asked what I wanted to do with rehearsal. I thought, “Whoa—this is me.” That was a thrilling, terrifying, awesome moment. So much of being an assistant director is sitting quietly and getting to know every single detail of the show—and writing down everything the director says so that you have it as a point of reference. But in that first moment— when you need to take all of that and actually lead the room—it’s very exciting.”
The arts have always played an important role in Andres’s life.
“I started playing piano and violin and participating in choir when I was five. I had my first formal theater class when I was seven. And that’s just testament to having parents who are amazing supporters of the arts. My dad is a musician—it was always like, ‘Of course you’re going to sing, of course you’re going to play music.’ Now I think they regret it, because all of their children are going into the arts.”
Andres lets a mischievous laugh interrupt her sentimental origin story. An interminable twinkle in her eye suggests that she is the kind of person who pursues her goals with passion and grace, but also humor. She discovered an interest in being a theater director by way of being a theater producer. By her junior year of high school in 2008, Andres had founded a theater company which is still producing and run entirely by young people between the ages of 14 and 21.
“Shout out to Young Americans’ Theatre Company!” By her senior year, she had self-produced a musical at her high school—a lesser known pop-influenced show called Zanna, Don’t which she championed in an effort to address issues that she cared about.
“When I was in high school, the majority of the student body still equated heternormativity and masculinity to ‘cool.’ I wanted to flip that upside down for people.”
When she speaks about her path toward artistic leadership and her aspirations of being a theater director, it is clear she is driven by an understanding of the potential impact that musical theater can have on today’s society.
“In The Age of Technology, or The Digital Age or whatever we’re calling it, musical theater has been able to retain its epic storytelling. We are constantly giving and taking things at face value. But I think musicals ask us to step beyond that, let that go and engage in a world that is real. I have a physical, visceral response to watching musicals up on stage. We can tell stories about real, pertinent things, but in a way that is different than just, ‘Here, this is what happened—and now you know it.’ Great musicals invite us to digest for ourselves and interpret for ourselves.”
Her faith in theater and musicals points her toward a horizon beyond her term with The 5th and into a future that she can contribute to in a meaningful way.
“My hope for musical theater is that we continue to be inventive in how we tell stories. And we continue to give more opportunities for all voices to be represented on the stage—voices that aren’t represented in mainstream Hollywood and haven’t been represented in theater in the past. I think that you can tell the same story from many different viewpoints and I hope that we continue to find the overlooked viewpoints—because that is how we better understand each other—and how we better understand the world around us, not just our position in it.”