When we discuss the art scene in Greenpoint, we often focus on the Pencil Factory’s many inhabitants or the other visual artists working out of their studios, homes, and even in our neighborhood parks. But North Brooklyn has always been teeming with artists of many different stripes, including versatile theatermakers like director Dina Vovsi. Dina has worked in collegiate and Off-Broadway theaters, crafted plays centering on immigrant experiences, and created immersive experiences in outdoor settings. Below, we get to know the Greenpoint-based director while discussing her career, the importance of affordable housing, and — of course — her dog Bruce.
Greenpointers: How long have you lived in Greenpoint, and what brought you here?
Dina Vovsi: I’ve lived in Greenpoint for about two and a half years. Before moving here, my partner and I were in Kensington for a year, and before that, I lived in Williamsburg for six years, so I’ve spent a lot of time in North Brooklyn. I am super lucky — my name was drawn in the affordable housing lottery for an apartment in a brand-new, mixed-income building, which has made being an artist significantly more possible over the past couple of years. It’s been a financial game-changer, and I can’t stress enough how everyone needs to be submitting for these buildings on NYC Housing Connect; I know quite a few people who have been selected recently, so it’s really not as impossible as legend says. We live in the quieter, north end of the neighborhood, and I love being near the water and walking our dog, Bruce, to Transmitter Park and Greenpoint Landing. More people know his name than mine, which I’m totally fine with.
You’ve directed in devised, community-based, academic, and new play development settings — do you have a favorite atmosphere to collaborate in?
I believe that all of these ways of working inform one another, and switching up genre, collaborators, environment, and audience on a regular basis keeps me passionate, engaged, and dedicated as a director and theatermaker. Burnout is real and it can be incredibly refreshing to sit with a classic after an especially trying experience with a new play, or to dive into a piece with a 20-person cast after directing a solo show.
I do think my favorite collaborative environment is when I’m devising with an ensemble and leading or co-leading the generative process, but that is also, unfortunately, the kind of work that tends to get the least amount of institutional support. It’s work that takes a really long time to create, often with a lot of artists involved from the get-go, and American theater companies have clung to a very traditional new play development model that is focused on the playwright first and foremost. That’s not to say I don’t love collaborating with playwrights — I think playwrights are geniuses — but I’ve never felt more like an artist than when I’m devising, and I firmly believe that my best creative work happens in those rehearsal rooms.
What kinds of stories are you most passionate about telling?
Right now, there seems to be a common thread in my work that involves characters coming to terms with their identities — as women, as immigrants, as flawed human beings — and the path to get there is complex, heartbreaking and hopefully wildly funny and theatrical, too. Lately, I’ve been especially interested in finding celebratory moments in these stories. So often, we focus so much on the downfalls that we don’t take the time to sit with the joy, and I’m curious about what happens if we’re not afraid to unabashedly revel in it.
Have you seen any productions lately that have really stuck with you?
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Signature. Good Chance’s The Jungle at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Behind the Sheet at Ensemble Studio Theatre. What the Constitution Means to Me at New York Theatre Workshop. What to Send Up When it Goes Down at the Movement Theatre Company.
Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
Yes! I’ll go back into the development process soon for The Only Ones with co-creator and playwright Liba Vaynberg, which is a Working Theater 5 Boroughs 1 City commission investigating the intersection of the Russian and Pakistani immigrant communities in Brighton Beach. Then, a staging workshop for Mac Wellman’s Sincerity Forever, which I’m directing in The Flea’s next season, and a reading of Deborah Yarchun’s Drive as part of the culmination of The Civilians’ R&D Group. I’m also a lead artist for The Motor Company’s upcoming Communal Spaces, an amazing festival that fellow director and friend Lillian Meredith spearheads every year, creating site-specific theater in community gardens. I’ll be working with Northside Community Garden in nearby Williamsburg. And the devised play I’ve been creating with a truly incredible group of collaborators, Untitled Parlor Play, or, For Home Amusement, will also have another workshop soon.