Ask not what you can do for ESPA, but what ESPA can do for you.

Brendan Naylor is a Directing student at Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA). Here, he tells us about his experience in ESPA classes and what he has learned about directing and the the industry through his “SHOPportunity” assisting 2014 Tony Nominee Leigh Silverman (Best Director for Violet) with the premiere of  American Hero at Second Stage.

I took my first class at ESPA in the fall of 2013. I enrolled in Site-Specific Directing, taught by Daniel Talbott for a few reasons. I was excited by the notion of opening up the doors to the theater and taking my directing to unconventional spaces. Beyond the education aspect, though, I was looking for something a little more significant. I had taken the last year off from directing to explore a casting career, but I quickly learned that directing was where my heart was. I was eager to build up a directing community again, an artistic home where I would meet other young artists in a similar state as me. The class provided that and more. I felt empowered to do my work and create constantly. I saw theatre opportunities everywhere. It’s like the fog cleared and then the switch for my creativity was turned on.

“Being a student at ESPA provides you not only with a fantastic education, but also the opportunity to continually stretch your artistic muscles in a number of performances, readings and observerships.”

Signing up for a spring class was a no-brainer. But it wasn’t until class began that I discovered the icing on the already delicious ESPA-flavored cake. The extracurriculars! Being a student at ESPA provides you not only with a fantastic education, but also the opportunity to continually stretch your artistic muscles in a number of performances, readings and observerships. In one semester I directed a reading, directed two short plays as part of Detention, assisted two big-name directors on the One-Minute Play Festival and assisted the Associate Artistic Director of a renowned off-Broadway theater on a special benefit. But the opportunity (or “SHOPportunity,” cleverly named by Director of ESPA and New Arts Programming at Primary Stages, Tessa LaNeve) to end all opportunities was when I was given the chance to assist Leigh Silverman on the new play, American Hero at Second Stage Theatre.

To say that I was excited would be the understatement of the century. I was thrilled at the idea of spending a few weeks in a rehearsal room observing masters doing what they do best. I was relieved to have a break from my survival job. I was validated that somebody saw potential in me to not only take something away from the opportunity, but to also lend a valuable contribution to the production. My experience working on American Hero was so, so wonderful and special and I am forever grateful to ESPA for giving me the chance. This is a very exciting time for Leigh Silverman, who also directed the The Call and Gathering at Primary Stages, so I felt especially fortunate to work with her. At the beginning of our second week of rehearsals, it was announced that Leigh was nominated for a Tony Award for her direction on Violet, a significant achievement not only for the distinction itself, but also because she’s the only female nominated out of all directors and playwrights this year. After working with her, I now know there’s no one more deserving of this honor. Overall, the experience taught me a number of things about directing, but a few of my favorite gems are:

  • Leave your emotions at the door. The actors have enough to worry about up there baring their souls, they don’t need a nervous wreck of a director mucking things up.
  • Be comfortable not always knowing what will come next.
  • This business is driven by relationships. Be pleasant to work with and do your job and you’ll be invited back to the party.
  • New plays are  wonderful to work on. Having the playwright in the room constantly mulling over rewrites is incredibly exciting and crazy and definitely kept us all on our toes.

I have more, but I have to save something for my memoirs…

In all seriousness, this is an experience I will forever cherish. I made friends with so many people on this team and learned so much from the entire process. I wouldn’t have been given this opportunity if it weren’t for ESPA. Sign me up for the next class!


Registration is now open for ESPA’s summer semester. For a full list of classes offered in writing, acting, and directing for the theater, visit our website.

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