As an elementary school student, Daira Rodriguez remembers being excited to go on a field trip to a show of Annie the Musical. However, when a sudden thunderstorm led to plans being canceled, the theatre team decided to come in and perform in the small gym inside the school, with nothing but costumes and props. Something about the gesture struck a chord with Daira, which it seems, never stopped resonating. A professional director, Daira recounts: "Honestly, I don’t know what it was about that grand gesture that made me beg my mom to sign me up for a youth theatre immediately afterwards—but I did. It was the first community I felt part of and the one I’ve consistently sought since. Something stuck I guess!"
Having decided to make a career in theatre, Daira admits that it has not always been easy, nor would it be, especially if you are not a male director. "For my family, it was about showing them that I was committed and that I could do it…And a responsible amount of lying—I was supposed to double major in something practical!"
Directing, Daira says, is "not a financially forgiving career." She further shares that family might not always be around as support, "but you can certainly find a supportive community in mentors and in your peers that have undoubtedly gone through something similar. My fellow first-[generation] friends have done a lot to show me the way."
Even in the professional space, it takes a lot to be able to carve out a space for oneself, especially since, "Theater spaces have also been a ground for many people to be taken advantage of for things like class, race, and gender that often went unchecked, until very recently, in the name of creating ‘art.’" Daira feels fortunate to have worked with directors of varying gender identities over the years, "but I’ve always felt like I have to prove myself because I am not a man," she says. While, on one hand, working with people from different backgrounds meant greater exposure and a more culturally rich experience, gender identity related struggles continued.
Daira will be directing Elyse and Mae Play the Most Epic Game of Life Ever, by Kandace Mack at the Strawberry Jam Festival. "Kandace has a talent for hilarious and realistically flowing dialogue that captures the truth of childhood friendship," says Daira. What specifically drew her to directing the play was how it uses The Game of Life as a way to introduce scary, adult concepts to these young characters while also relieving the adults in the audience who continue to be affected by the actual game of life in some very real, unfair ways."
As Daira prepares to present the play at the SJAM festival, directing, she says, is more about being a part of a collaborative process than taking control of every aspect. "Being a director means giving control over to some very talented people and making sure all the work is cohesive—I promise your piece will be better for it. You create the skeleton and the team will bring it alive! It also means not knowing everything and being able to ask for help. If you have made every decision in a process, you haven’t allowed the piece to reach its full potential through the act of letting every person on your team influence it."
Daira tries to experiment and diversify with every show that she directs. Even at the SJAM festival, she plans to bring on stage aspects she has not attempted before.
Elyse and Mae Play the Most Epic Game of Life Ever is presented as part of the Strawberry Jam Director's Festival running June 8th-July 8th, 2023. With new titles every weekend, SJAM is dedicated to providing local directors with the opportunity to grow their craft through practice.
Check out the full SJAM 2023 Line Up Here