The actress and educator McCaela Donovan (no relation) could definitely use a few more hours in her day. For her full-time job, she’s Assistant Director of the School of Theatre at Boston University. Beyond that, she also finds time to serve as Associate Artistic Director of Bridge Repertory Theatre, currently beginning its second season. Finally, as a much in-demand talent, she’s appearing in Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning “Assassins” at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.
Donovan estimates that between now and January, her combined obligations will find her working 88 hours a week. “But I love it,” she said.
Originally from up-state New York, McCaela attended Boston College, earned her master’s in Theater Education at Emerson and then got her master’s of Fine Arts in Acting from Brandeis.
Despite an already crammed schedule, she helped found Bridge Rep last year. The company just opened its second season with the world premiere of “The Forgetting Curve.” Productions of “Fufu & Oreos,” “Sixty Miles To Silver Lake,” and “Julius Caesar” are still to come. Prior to a rehearsal for “Assassins” at New Rep, we spoke about her work. Following is a condensed look at our conversation:
Q. Bridge Repertory Theatre had a really successful first season. How did that all come about?
A. There were four of us involved in a production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” at Commonwealth Shakespeare. The majority of us had gone through a lot of graduate school training and we were all on the same page. Olivia D’Ambrosio (Producing Artistic Director), who formulated the idea to start the company, had lunch with myself and our colleague Joe Short in Providence. She sat us down and said “I really want to start doing our own work.” And that’s how it all started, over lunch.
Q. Tell me about your role as Bridge’s Associate Artistic Director.
A. I kind of think of myself as the connector. Olivia has really good skills in terms of organizational, administrative skills, and pooling resources and thinking “producorially” outside the box. And Joe is really wonderful with set design and set building and construction . . . My area of strength has always been that I really love to network, and not in the slimy kind way (laughs).I love people and I love to be social. I’ve unknowingly networked for eight years. It wasn’t even intentional. I just went and started seeing a lot of theatre and having coffee with people and getting to know the artists in Boston. That has built, unbeknownst to me, this enormous network that I have to pull from and go to.
Q. Clearly, everyone on the team has to know their strengths.
A. I’m a good Number Two. I’m a good supporter. I’m a good second man. I’m a good person to bounce ideas off of. I think I get too passionate to be the leader, but I am more than happy to support that person and then have my ideas respected within that. This has been an ideal situation for me because I also have a full time job and I act in different theaters in town, so there’s no way that I could actually singlehandedly run a company by myself right now.
Q. Anything surprise you in the process of putting a company together?
A. How freakin’ expensive it is! It’s shocking. Equity actors and stage managers make what most people would consider a measly salary at a middle level theater. It’s like grocery money. But the theater has to pay double that for each actor because you’re paying the health insurance weeks on top (of salary). So it adds up very quickly . . . It’s very easy to get swept up in creating the art, but we can’t create the art until we figure out how to sustain fiscally. It’s been a good learning curve for all of us.
Q. Let’s talk about “Assassins.” This is a complex musical side show detailing notorious assassins throughout history, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley. You play Squeaky Fromme. They all seek immortality through violence. When this show opened in 1990, it proved fairly controversial. How will audiences see it today?
A. That’s the thing. I don’t know if it’s going to be as controversial as it was. Because unfortunately, we’ve seen so much more horrific things come about. I did this show and I did this role seven years ago at Company One. It was actually my first real professional gig in Boston. So it will be interesting to revisit it, especially now that I’m older and with a different group of people, obviously.
Q. The assassins in the show can be characterized as a group of misfits who just want to be heard. Kind of sounds like everyone on social media.
A. That’s the interesting thing. Everyone has an opinion now and feels free to share it on social media. . . . (they) feel safe doing that. But they’re not as (strong) when they have to get behind it in a human (way) and say it out loud. . . One thing that it’s really going pertain to more now is what we’ve seen in the media in terms of bullying and ostracizing people and people feeling disconnected . . . [“Assassins” is] brilliantly written, that goes without saying. Obviously, its Sondheim.
Q. As John Wilkes Booth says in the show, take a stand and they’ll listen to you.
A. It speaks to what happens when someone feels they don’t have a community – and that they will cling to whatever community will bring them in. That can be very wonderful, but it can also be very dangerous.
Q. So you’re a Sondheim fan?
A. Oh God, l love him. I think it’s a shame he hasn’t written more . . . He has incredibly high standards in the way that he writes. You have to be an actor, you have to be a great singer. . . . you have to be a great musician in terms of your phrasing and understanding the music and where it’s going and your impulse to follow certain phrases . . . I find it fairly to easy to connect to and very easy to learn. I guess that’s very lucky because it is challenging for some people. For some weird reason I’ve always felt at home with his work.
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Assassins,” Oct. 4 - 26 at New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets: 617-923-8487 or newrep.org. For information on Bridge Rep, visit bridgerep.wordpress.com/.