Around The Town

The Drama League Announces First Directors Council


November 14, 2020: The Drama League (Artistic Director, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks; Executive Director, Bevin Ross) announces the formation of its first Directors Council, featuring nationally-renowned directors Daniel Banks, Melia Bensussen, Christopher Burris, Jillian Carucci, Jennifer Chang, Desdemona Chiang, R.J. Cutler, Estefanía Fadul, Raz Golden, Brian Eugenio Herrera, Adam Immerwahr, Gwynn MacDonald, Tony Phelan, Lisa Portes, Lisa Rothe, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Rob Urbinati, Nicole A. Watson, Sharifa Yasmin, and Pirronne Yousefzadeh.


November 14, 2020: The Drama League (Artistic Director, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks; Executive Director, Bevin Ross) announces the formation of its first Directors Council, featuring nationally-renowned directors Daniel Banks, Melia Bensussen, Christopher Burris, Jillian Carucci, Jennifer Chang, Desdemona Chiang, R.J. Cutler, Estefanía Fadul, Raz Golden, Brian Eugenio Herrera, Adam Immerwahr, Gwynn MacDonald, Tony Phelan, Lisa Portes, Lisa Rothe, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Rob Urbinati, Nicole A. Watson, Sharifa Yasmin, and Pirronne Yousefzadeh.

For over 100 years, The Drama League of New York has been at the forefront of the American theater community, advancing the art form by providing a life-long artistic home for directors and a platform for dialogue with, and between, audiences.

This new Directors Council is composed of award-winning directors and creators from across the country, in theater and its related mediums, who have participated in The Drama League’s director- focused programming in the past, and have committed to providing counsel, guidance, and partnership to the organization moving forward. The Directors Council, born out of the organization’s comprehensive strategic planning in 2019, was formed as a way to further embed artists in the decision- making process of The Drama League, establish peer-to-peer mentorship for Fellowship recipients, and to have the nation’s leading directors guide The Drama League’s programming initiatives as the organization expands its mission to support directors and lead in the re-emergence strategies of Broadway and the American theater industry.

“As the American theater emerges in 2021 from the COVID-19 pandemic, the incredible artists of the Directors Council will inform and partner in our efforts to create a revivified field and a better institution — one that further embraces anti-racist practices, equitably supports BIPOC artists, improves the lives of its communities, and leads the world in healthy practices,” said Artistic Director Stelian-Shanks.

“I am thrilled to have been asked to be a part of the Directors Council at the Drama League. Fresh from college I was invited to be a part of the 1987 Directors Project, and that experience — the artists I collaborated with, the senior directors who mentored me, the way I was welcomed into a community — launched me as a creator and as a person. I look forward to giving back to the many directors just coming into the field, and to working with the Drama League to provide an artistic home for all directors, regardless of where in their careers they might be” said Directors Council member Tony Phelan.

The Directors Council is one of the leadership councils of The Drama League, alongside its Board of Directors and National Advisory Committee. Invitations to join The Directors Council were sent out earlier this fall by The Drama League’s artistic staff, and additional members will be added on an ongoing basis. The council gathered on November 6 by Zoom and plans to meet on an ongoing basis in the coming months. To learn more about the Directors Council, visit


Daniel Banks (he/him/his) is a director, deviser, dance dramaturg, and dialogue facilitator. He has directed at National Theatre of Uganda, Belarussian National Drama Theatre, Market Theatre Lab (South Africa), Playhouse Square, HERE Arts Center, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, NYC and DC Hip Hop Theatre Festivals, Oval House, Teatro Technis, and with Kompany Malakhi (London). Movement director/choreography: Shakespeare in the Park, Theatre for a New Audience, Maurice Sendak’s The Night Kitchen, Singapore Rep, and La Monnaie. Daniel is co-director of DNAWORKS, an arts and service organization dedicated to dialogue and healing through the arts, engaging the topics of representation, identity, and heritage. Associate Director of Theatre Without Borders. National cabinet of U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. TCG’s 2020 Alan Schneider Director Award Winner. DL Fellow 1994, 1997.

Melia Bensussen (she/her/hers) became Artistic Director of Hartford Stage in 2019. The recipient of an OBIE Award for Outstanding Direction, she has directed extensively around the country and internationally. Raised in Mexico City, Melia is fluent in Spanish and has translated and adapted a variety of works, including her edition of the Langston Hughes translation of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, published by TCG. A past recipient of a Princess Grace Fellowship, she was awarded the Foundation’s top honor, the Statue Award. She is on the faculty at Emerson College where she previously served as Chair. Chair of the Arts Advisory Board for the Princess Grace Foundation. Secretary for the Executive Board of the Society of Directors and Choreographers (SDC). Brown University. DL Fellow 1986.

Christopher Burris (he/him/his) directed the world premiere of Geese by Samuel D. Hunter at Theatre Row and The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Other new works include: When We Wake Up Dead (Brooklyn College), Lords Resistance (The Fire This Time), Snakeskin Suit (EST Lab), Outcry! (JACK), and the 2010 FringeNYC smash, A Raisin in the Salad: Black Plays for White People. Recently, he directed The Brothers Size (Luna Stage). Directed readings/workshops: The New Group, Labyrinth, Ensemble Studio Theatre Lab, National Black Theater, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Epic Theatre Ensemble, The New Black Fest, Liberation Theater Company, Hudson Valley Writers Center, The Cell, Manhattan Theatre Source. As an actor, he has been seen on television (“The Guiding Light,” “Damage Control,” “As The World Turns”), stage (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre), commercials, and more. DL Resident 2017.

Jillian Carucci (she/her/hers) is a director and educator focused on creating quality theater for young audiences and nurturing the growth of early career artists. At TheaterWorksUSA, she currently oversees artistic and education programs in addition to casting up to 30 musical productions, workshops, and readings each season. She has worked off-Broadway and regionally and theaters such as: McCarter Theatre Center, Hangar Theatre, Atlantic Acting School, Keen Company, and Mile Square Theatre. BFA Musical Theatre faculty at CAP21/Molloy College. DL Fellow 2017. 

Jennifer Chang (she/her/hers) is a founding member of Chalk Repertory Theatre, where she won an Ovation Award, an LA Weekly Award, and the Stage Scene LA award. Other awards include: 2019 LADCC Award in Direction, 2020 APAFT Award Outstanding Direction. She was the Assistant Director of Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet on Broadway starring Janet McTeer. Select directing credits: Hannah and the Dread Gazebo (The Fountain Theatre/EWP), Animals Out of Paper (East West Players – LA Times Critics Pick), Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Artists at Play – GLAAD Media Award, Stage Scene LA Award Best Director, Ovation Award Nominated), Our American Story and Residence Elsewhere (commissioned for the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066) at the Japanese American National Museum. Head of Undergraduate Acting at UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Member of SDC, SAG-AFTRA, AEA. DL Fellow 2018.

Desdemona Chiang (she/her/hers) is a stage director based in Seattle, WA and Ashland, OR. Co-Founder of Azeotrope (Seattle). Directing credits include: Guthrie Theater, Alley Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, California Shakespeare, Seattle Repertory, Playmakers Repertory, Studio Theatre, Long Wharf, ACT Theatre Seattle, American Shakespeare Center, Seattle Shakespeare, Village Theatre, Theatre Latte Da, Heritage Theatre Festival, Book-It Repertory, Aurora Theatre, Seattle Public Theatre, Shotgun Players, Crowded Fire Theatre, Impact Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, and Golden Thread Productions, among others. Intersection for the Arts Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator. Awards/Affiliations: Princess Grace Award (Robert and Gloria Hausman Theater Honor), Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Theatre, SDC Sir John Gielgud Directing Fellowship, TCG Young Leader of Color, Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and Directors Lab West. Gregory Award Recipient for Outstanding Direction. DL Fellow 2011, 2020.

R.J. Cutler (he/him/his) is an award-winning director and producer renowned for documentaries including “The War Room,” “A Perfect Candidate,” “The September Issue,” “The World According to Dick Cheney,” “Thin and Listen to Me Marlon.” A pioneer in nonfiction television, R.J. created landmark programs including “American High,” “Freshman Diaries” and “30 Days,” among others. Cutler’s scripted work includes “Nashville,” “If I Stay,” and the award-winning podcast “The Oval O`ce Tapes.” Upcoming projects include the feature documentary “BELUSHI” on Showtime and the highly anticipated Untitled Billie Eilish Documentary for Apple TV+. Cutler’s documentary series “Dear…” is currently streaming on Apple TV+, and his musical drama “Bronzeville” has been ordered straight-to-series by Showtime. Cutler has been nominated for an Academy Award® and is a two-time Emmy® nominee. DL Fellow 1984.

Estefanía Fadul (she/her/hers) is a NYC-based Colombian-American stage director and producer of new work. Recent: Carla’s Quince created with The Voting Project, Noelle Viñas’ Zoom Intervention (NYTimes Critics Pick), Christina Quintana’s Azul (Southern Rep) and Scissoring (INTAR), Stefan Ivanov’s The Same Day (Sfumato Theatre, Bulgaria), and Preston Max Allen and Jessica Kahkoska’s Agent 355 (Chautauqua, NYSAF). Estefanía is the inaugural recipient of New York Stage and Film’s Pfaelzer Award and a 2020/21 Clubbed Thumb Directing Fellow. Alumna: O’Neill/NNPN National Directors Fellowship, Foeller Fellowship at Williamstown, Van Lier Fellowship at Repertorio Español, and NALAC Leadership Institute. She is a co-leader of the New Georges Jam, and a member of the Latinx Theatre Commons steering committee, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and SDC. B.A. Vassar College. DL Fellow 2015, 2018.

Raz Golden (he/him/his) is a director of theatre, film, and voice over. He is a Resident Director at The Flea, a member of the Roundabout Directors Group, and was a Drama League Classical Directing Fellow. His current work focuses on new and classical texts, as well as narratives that explore shared cultural histories and myths and center people of color. He has developed work with The National Black Theatre, The Public Theatre, NYU Tisch, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Waterwell, Dixon Place, and McCarter Theatre. DL Fellow 2019.

Brian Eugenio Herrera (he/him/his) is a writer, teacher and scholar who examines the history of gender, sexuality and race within and through U.S. popular performance. He is author of Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in 20th Century U.S. Popular Performance (Michigan, 2015), which was awarded the George Jean Nathan Prize for Dramatic Criticism. He is also Inaugural Resident Scholar for The Sol Project, a longstanding contributor to the Fornés Institute, and part of the Core Facilitation Team with ArtEquity. Brian is Associate Professor of Theater and Gender & Sexuality Studies in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. DL Fellow 1990.

Adam Immerwahr (he/him/his) is the artistic director of Theater J, the nation’s leading Jewish theater. He served as the associate artistic director of McCarter Theatre (Princeton, NJ) and the resident director of Passage Theatre (Trenton, NJ). Adam served on the producing team of multiple productions that have transferred to Broadway and Off-Broadway, including the world premiere of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. As a director, his work has been seen across the world, from Aspen to Zimbabwe. He has directed off-Broadway and at many of the nation’s premier regional theaters, such as McCarter Theatre, Walnut Street Theater, Cleveland Play House, Woolly Mammoth, and many others. He currently serves on the board of the Alliance for Jewish Theater. DL Fellow 2008.

Gwynn MacDonald (she/her/hers) has directed or produced theater, TV, film and radio receiving cable Ace and Emmy nominations, and Radio’s Gracie Award. She is a member of Juilliard alumni-founded Juggernaut Theatre, League of Professional Theatre Women, Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, and Society of Directors and Choreographers. Recent projects: Siachen a new play by Aditya Rawal supported by Baruch Performing Arts Center, and Makena Metz’s DEATH BITES in honor of #ADA30 for Queens Theater / Lincoln Center at Home. International play development includes works from Eastern Europe, U.K., Argentina, India and Israel. International directing includes American plays in Cuba and Bogota. Princeton University. Columbia University’s Arts Leadership Institute. DL Fellow 2005.

Tony Phelan (he/him/his) After joining “Grey’s Anatomy” at the start of season 2, Tony Phelan and his wife Joan Rater rose through the ranks and co-ran the show alongside creator Shonda Rhimes for seasons 7 through 10. For their work on “Grey’s Anatomy” they earned a WGA Award for Best New Series in Television in 2005 and were nominated for two Emmy Awards in 2006 and 2007, both for Outstanding Drama Series. Since 2016, Phelan and his wife have been developing and running their own shows including “Doubt” for CBS and “Council of Dads” on NBC. The husband and wife team enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run with their stage play Good Will at The Director’s Company in 1998, which The New York Times gave a rave review, hailing it as “touching and thought-provoking.”  Yale University. DL Fellow 1987.

Lisa Portes (she/her/ella) is an award-winning Chicago-based director, educator, leader and advocate whose aim is to define and promote a new American theatre that is driven aesthetically and politically by the world we are becoming rather than the world we’ve been. She is a co-founder of the Latinx Theatre Commons and serves on the board of the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and the executive board of  the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).  She heads the MFA Directing Program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. Her work has been seen at numerous theatres in Chicago and regionally. DL Fellow 1992, 1997. 

Lisa Rothe (she/her/hers) was nominated for SDC’s Joe A. Callaway Award for Direction for Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata, which has toured the country and also won Theatre Bay Area Awards for Outstanding Direction, Performer, and Production. Recent directing work has been seen at: The Guthrie Theatre, Kansas City Repertory Theater, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Irish Repertory Theatre,  Cincinnati Playhouse, Theatreworks/Silicon Valley, Two River Theater, People’s Light and Playmakers Repertory Theatre. Leadership positions: Director of New Works at Kansas City Repertory Theatre; Director of Global Exchange at The Lark; co-Artistic Director of The Actor’s Center in NYC; co-President of the League of Professional Theatre Women. DL Fellow 2000.

Gabriel Stelian-Shanks (he/him/his) is the Artistic Director of The Drama League of New York and a founder of A Certain Something. He has directed over sixty theater, film, and television projects across the United States and Europe, and is the author of eighteen plays, two screenplays, and a television series.  An alumnus of the Orchard Project, nominee for Best Director at the Madrid International Film Festival, and recipient of the Theatre Project Honor for Outstanding Vision, he has been recognized for his arts leadership by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.  One of the directors of Peculiar Works Project’s The Village Fragments (OBIE Award), his productions have been seen in New York, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Vienna, Sofia, Bucharest, and Budapest, among others.  Recently, his monodrama, DIASTREPHO, premiered as part of Stonewall 50: WorldPride at the LGBT Center of New York; this month, his film “The Damnable Deprivation Of Dmitri” premieres as the Opening Selection of the New Masculinites Festival.  Proud member SDC, IFP.

Rob Urbinati (he/him/his) is a director and writer based in New York, and Director of New Play Development at Queens Theatre. His plays include Hazelwood Jr. High, Murder On West Moon Street, Death by Design, Mama’s Boy and Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, published by Samuel French. The Queen Bees, Nymph Errant, and UMW: University of Mostly Whites are published by Stage Rights. His book, Play Readings: A Complete Guide for Theatre Practitioners is published by Taylor and Francis. Rob’s plays have received over 200 productions world-wide. In NYC, Rob directed for the Public Theater, Classic Stage Company, Culture Project, Abingdon, Pearl Theatre, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, New York Fringe Festival, HERE, New York Music Theatre Festival, and Cherry Lane Theatre. DL Fellow 1997, 1999, 2001.

Nicole A. Watson (she/her/hers) is a director, educator, and the Associate Artistic Director of McCarter Theater Center. As Associate Artistic Director of Round House Theatre, she directed He Brought Her Heart Back In A Box, School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, A Doll’s House Part 2, and Sweat, among others.  She is a member of the New Georges Jam and has worked with New Dramatists, the Lark Play Development Center, the Fire this Time Festival, the New Black Fest, the Women’s Project Theater, The 52nd Street Project, Signature Theater, Geva Theater Center, A.C.T., Asolo Rep, Washington National Opera, The Contemporary American Theater Festival, Working Theater, Smith College, NCSA, NYU, and LIU. Lincoln Center Directors Lab. the Women’s Project Directors Lab. SDC. BA: History, Yale. MA: NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. DL Fellow 2013, DL Board Member.

Sharifa Yasmin (she/her/hers) is a trans Egyptian-American director and playwright. She has completed fellowships with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Manhattan Theatre Club, Geva Theatre, Hypokrit Theatre, and is a 2020 Eugene O’Neill national directing fellow.  Directing Credits include plays by Naomi Wallace, Marco Ramirez, Suzan-Lori Parks, Ntozake Shange, Harvey Fierstein, Dael Orlandersmith, Eve Ensler, Saviana Stanescu and Tasha Gordon-Solmon. She has assisted directors including Pirronne Yousefzadeh, Steve H. Broadnax III, Saheem Ali, Mark Brokaw, Meredith Mcdonough, Arpita Mukherjee, Drew Fracher, Sharon Graci and Shirley Serotsky. Winthrop University. DL Fellow 2019.

Pirronne Yousefzadeh (she/her/hers) is the Associate Artistic Director and Director of Engagement at Geva Theatre Center. She has directed and developed work at The Public/Joe’s Pub, Playwrights Horizons, New York Theatre Workshop, Ars Nova, Soho Rep, Atlantic Theater Company, Ma-Yi Theater Company, Noor Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Williamstown Theatre Festival, American Conservatory Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cleveland Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Pioneer Theatre Company, Huntington Theatre Company, Milwaukee Rep, InterAct Theatre Company, and Hangar Theatre. Pirronne is a Usual Suspect at NYTW, New Georges Affiliated Artist, member of EST, and an alumna of the Sagal Fellowship at Williamstown Theatre Festival, SDC Denham Fellowship, and Soho Rep Lab. She is a founding member of Maia Directors. MFA: Columbia University. Member, SDC. DL Fellow 2006.


The Drama League of New York, since 1916, has been at the forefront of the American Theatre community, providing talent, audiences, and prosperous support. The Drama League advances the American theater by providing a life-long artistic home for directors and a platform for dialogue with, and between, audiences. The Drama League opens doors for exceptional stage directors by providing time, resources, and space to work without restriction, while augmenting skills through personalized training, production opportunities, and professional development. The Drama League carefully selects directors whose vision and talent are unparalleled, with a clear commitment to the craft, the field, and audiences.

Through our work, The Drama League celebrates the important role theatergoers have to the future of the industry, and champions the impact theater plays in civic life. The Drama League breaks the formidable barriers that impede success in the arts. These directors, nurtured and empowered by The Drama League’s support, are trained to create the most rigorous work possible, as a live exchange between artists and audiences. In doing so, we elevate the conversation, deeply impacting theaters and their communities. Bringing people together to celebrate difference, share experiences, and discover common ground are crucial needs served by the work of Drama League directors. This necessary cultural practice is the foundation of our shared humanity.