Female playwrights are not the only women making a splash this theatre season.
Women directors are also stepping into the spotlight for the first time, including Krista Jackson with The Seagull and Heidi Malazdrewich with The Secret Annex, both at the RMTC Warehouse. Kimberley Rampersad will be the first to make her directing debut with the 1989 stage revue Closer Than Ever, opening tonight.
The Dry Cold Productions season-opener is the culmination of a five-year apprenticeship for the 37-year-old Rampersad, who has been chasing every opportunity to hone the skills required to prepare a play for production.
"I wanted this badly," says Rampersad, a true product of the Winnipeg theatre system since graduating from the University of Manitoba in 2000. "I've been hungry for it. I've tried as elegantly as possible to let people know about my directing because if I don't I won't cross their radar and someone else will."
This might be her first time directing but she is a familiar face as an actor, having portrayed Helen of Troy last year in The Penelopiad at the Warehouse, as well as appearing in both Rainbow Stage productions this summer. She even danced in Manitoba Opera's Aida in April.
Rampersad also choreographed Legally Blonde, the Musical, a Manitoba Bar Association fundraiser, and the indie production Bloodless, and assisted in Rainbow's Mary Poppins.
Closer Than Ever makes her a true triple threat for her ability to act, choreograph and direct. She joins an exclusive local club that might only include Brenda Gorlick.
It should come as no surprise that the call to join the ranks of professional directors came from Dry Cold and its co-artistic directors, Donna Fletcher and Reid Harrison. The former was the 10-year-old Rampersad's first musical-theatre teacher at Academy of Dance, and the two were part of the cast of Annie at Rainbow in 1987. When the summer company revived Annie in 2012, Fletcher chose Rampersad to do the choreography. But it was Dry Cold's casting of her as Red Riding Hood in its 2002 musical Into the Woods that gave her budding acting career a welcome boost.
"It was a demanding singing-and-dancing role I don't know if I would have naturally been cast for," she says. "It was a turning point for me in the way my colleagues and directors would look at me... It is kind of poetic that they are giving me my first directing job."
Closer Than Ever, from the composing team of David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr., who penned Big The Musical, is a two-hour musical journey exploring the realities of adult life -- aging and careers, second marriages and midlife crises. In the audition room, Rampersad found herself on the other side of the table for the first time, casting a critical eye on friends.
"It was difficult to watch someone come in and sing a song and for me to push aside everything you know about them," says Rampersad, who cast Peter Huck, Aaron Hutton, Jennifer Lyon and Debbie Maslowsky from among 30 candidates. "It was challenging, humbling."
Rampersad, who was a part of a three-month directing apprenticeship program at Toronto's Obsidian Theatre Company in 2008, was an assistant director for RMTC's It's A Wonderful Life the following year and Rainbow's Buddy Holly last summer.
She has heard plenty of advice but she most appreciated being told that she doesn't have to walk into the rehearsal hall knowing all the answers, but she needs to anticipate most of the questions. Another veteran director opined that nine-tenths of the job is in the casting.
"I believe it, but I won't work like that," says Rampersad, whose love of dance was inspired by watching Arthur Duncan tap dance on TV's The Lawrence Welk Show. "I better cast it right, but I'm not going to rely on the actors to do nine-tenths of the job."
For rookie playwrights, it's not the debut run of their play that's crucial but the second production that acts as important validation. Is it the same for a first-time director? She doesn't think so and feels the pressure is on her now because she doesn't know if she ever get another chance.
"People will have opinions about my show," says Rampersad, who has been cast in the musicals Crazy For You and Man from La Mancha at the Stratford Festival next season. "It's like having your baby in front of everyone and asking them if it's cute or not. I know there will be people who will honestly not like how I've directed it and I need to be tough enough to take that."