For eight years, Darko Tresnjak has served as the artistic director at Hartford Stage. This June, the Tony-Award winning director will take his final bow in Hartford and be succeeded by Melia Bensussen. During his stint, the Serbian-born director oversaw Hamlet, The Tempest, Rear Window (with Kevin Bacon), Kiss Me Kate and many other productions, two of which made their way to Broadway: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and Anastasia.
Before his final season comes to an end, Tresnjak stopped by the Colin McEnroe Show to reflect on his time as director. He discussed how challenging it is to create a successful musical, why he plans on staying in Hartford, and why change is good.
You can listen to Colin McEnroe’s entire interview with Tresnjak, which originally aired on February 8, 2019.
On being a director for eight years:
There are artistic directors who direct and directors who are artistic directors and I'm definitely in my heart a director who artistic directed at two institutions. Ultimately the artist lately is winning out. So I find that in the next phase of my life all I want to do is really direct.
And it's been a great, great time on Hartford Stage. It's been the best -- I've had such a wonderful time with our staff, our board, the whole community. It has been such an honor but I can't keep up. I'm getting older and I can't keep up. I’m so grateful to our staff, the board, the artists who graced our stage, mostly the audiences, I meet extraordinary people every day in Connecticut and it’s been extremely satisfying, and I want to say a big thank you.
On why he’s not renewing his contract:
Anastasia is playing in New York, [a] national tour, [it’s in] Spain, Germany it's opening up in Mexico City, and in Holland at The Hague. There's a wonderful team of assistants and I have a European assistant who's fantastic but it is my production and I do have to be involved. So just the schedule started to get kind of overwhelming and I wanted to stay at Hartford Stage as long as I could do an absolutely great job and give it all my energy. I think change is a good thing for me as an artist and for an art institution.
On the boom in musicals and plays with successes like Hamilton:
It's been absolutely great for the whole field. It's a burgeoning art form and it creates stresses on other shows. Hamilton is among other things incredibly financially successful and it creates expectations maybe for other shows. Only 25 percent of the shows on Broadway ever recoup. It's actually very, very hard to do a successful piece of populist entertainment like Hamilton. It's one of the hardest and it's very tricky.
Right now what I'm most thrilled about is a musical becomes a hit because young people have turned it into a hit. It's this young fan base and they have a way of communicating with each other. I saw a lot of this happen with Anastasia. They created a culture around our show and it's fascinating.
On his most satisfying Hartford Stage play:
Hamlet was deeply satisfying in every way. There’s a number of Shakespeare plays I would like to do them again because I think I could do them better. And I think for that play I don't see the reason to do it again. I've really said what I wanted to say with that production. But I did think that I wanted to direct every single Shakespeare play and I've done a number of them. But now working with living authors especially composers and lyricists is deeply satisfying. So now actually that's my main interest.
On his own musicality:
You would not want to hear me sing at all but my timing is absolutely perfect. So I internalize every timing and I read music. I rarely have to look at the score so that every rhythm is inside of me and I never forget it. So it's great. And even with operas, I know the timings exactly. I'm always on top of it right. But having worked on so many operas and musicals I've started writing one of my own and that's actually mostly what I'm focused on secretly. I've been working on something for two years and that's what's obsessing me 24/7 that's what's keeping me up at night. Nevertheless, there are things inside of me that I want to say that I can't say through other people's work. So I think it's a natural outgrowth that I would want to do it on my own.
On what else is next:
I like Hartford very, very much. I plan to be a subscriber to support the arts institutions -- I'm just going to pass the hardest parts to Melia. When I grew up, we moved so much. You know this is the longest I've been anywhere it's Hartford. So it's a tribute to this city and I still want to be around. I have a house in Manchester on a quiet street. It's a haven for artists. It's great when people come over so I'm gonna be around. I love Max’s Downtown on the bar side-- there’s great liquor--so you’ll find me there.
On the American way of creating musicals:
I’m proud of what we achieve with a limited amount of time because we don't have the luxury of European state-funded budgets. So this American way of crafting art, I don’t think people realize we are asked to do a lot. Don’t assume that the [Wadsworth] Atheneum museum, the Hartford Stage, the [Hartford] Symphony, that we’re all so secure. I looked at the funding, we get a fraction of what we used to. It makes me upset. And as somebody who worked very hard for this theater and this community, even with corporate support, don’t take us for granted.
You can see Tresnjak’s final musical as artistic director at Hartford Stage, The Flamingo Kid, from May 9-June 9.