Tony Taccone, the artistic director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. He needs it to keep up a blistering pace that has him flitting to New York, Montreal, Los Angeles, Ashland and beyond to collaborate with the likes of actor Sarah Jones, playwright Tony Kushner and director Jonathan Moscone. A Tony Award–winner credited with turning the Rep into an outstanding regional theater, he wants to commission 50 new works by 2013 to create a home for playwrights and to further entrench the Rep’s identity. He enters his 11th year as artistic director this season, which opens with Taccone directing a world premiere, Yellowjackets, Itamar Moses’ critique on racism and education from his Berkeley High perspective. It runs Aug. 29–Oct. 12 on the Thrust Stage.
How stressful is a world premiere?
It’s always a little bit more intense because the event has never been shaped yet. It’s still in flux. There’s a million opinions. The job is to filter those million opinions through some sort of colander that isn’t leaking. So there’s that, which is an added pressure, but it’s also added excitement, because anything is still possible, and so the world is your oyster—or your clam. It depends on what you discover.
Have you had any really big flops?
You can’t have been in this business and done plays that didn’t tank or didn’t do that well. If I’m trying to juggle eight balls for the first time, and I get six in the air, and I’ve only done four before then, six is great. But the public sees that the two fell. So it’s all in the context of a larger perspective.
Do the critics bother you?
I never talk to the critics individually about the plays. It’s really kind of a losing proposition. It can’t help but sound like sour grapes. I have the Buddhist law of waiting three days before you get hooked. It’s actually genius, because if you wait three days, your feelings have pretty much gone down. They’ve become something else. No longer are you dealing with the blush of, or the initial heat of, your anger.
Does a bad review make you sad?
Sad is for people dying. I don’t get sad. No, I get frustrated. I get angry sometimes, because I feel like something’s been unjust. But I feel like the critics have a job to do, and it’s pretty hard job.
What do you think of the local critics?
The Bay Area is blessed with a group of critics that’s actually informed and pretty smart. They take the time to study up on what they’re talking about, and they care. If I lived in New York, I think I’d be flipped out. It’s a hard market.
Which play are you most excited about this season?
It’s sort of like saying which of your children are your favorites. First of all, you would never say it in print. It just wouldn’t go down well with the other kids. And also, they’re not born yet, so it’s a little hard to say.
What’s your style as artistic director?
Other people have said the work is informed by some urgency, by some intelligence, by some imagination. Certainly we’re known as a theater that doesn’t shy away from complicated intellectual ideas, but you hate to say that, because people think it’s a dry, boring event, and we don’t do that. If anything, I like events that are theatrically explosive. If I were going to go down with one moniker, I like that.
What about your darkest hour?
There definitely was a moment where I felt like, whether it was illusory or true, I had to make a choice between which path we were going to go down. Were we going to go down a path that was a little bit more commercial, a little bit more accessible, or were we going to try to stick to what I would call a little bit more of an edgier approach, a little bit more raw, a little bit more risky, and I chose the risky approach, although I chose the risky approach while bolstering the internal structure of the organization artistically quite a bit. And that seemed to create good synergy internally and externally, and then we got on a kind of a roll, which I think is partially the result of smart choices and partially luck.
You’ve been to the Tony Awards three times. What’s that whole experience like?
The great thing about the Tonys for me, whenever I’ve gone, is that I’ve never expected to go. It’s surreal. Surreal is the only word that begins to approach it. You’re in Radio City, which holds 6,000 people, and there’s three balconies. It’s like being in the airplane hangar. And when you’re onstage it’s like, oh, my god.
How did you get into theater anyway?
Accident. I was in Colorado waiting for my former wife to finish school, and I started hanging out with these actors in these bars and going, these people are really cool. And they were trying out for a play. I tried out for a play; I got in. And then I decided I was going to go to school because I had to wait for her to finish college. I was thinking archaeology.
So why not archaeology?
I finally understood you had to take like 18,000 units of statistics. That’s when I headed to the bar and headed to the actors. Those are people I could relate to.
Can you envision doing anything else other than theater?
It’s the only thing that can absorb the eccentricities of my particular ornery soul.
—By Judith M. Gallman
—Photography Mitch Tobias