During his 15-year career, theater director Daniel Aukin has been recognized for his natural, truthful performances. Aukin’s directing approach is unconventional: He pushes his actors and collaborators to make mistakes—and learn from them. Two years ago, Aukin brought his talent to The New School for Drama as a visiting professor; this semester, he leads a graduate directing course as part of the MFA Theater Directing program.
Although Aukin grew up close to the footlights—both of his parents work in British theater—it wasn’t until he was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago that a student-run theater club piqued his interest. Now Aukin, who ran the downtown theater Soho Rep from 1999–2006, is in high demand. This year alone, the Obie Award winner has received high-profile praise for his direction of plays including Amy Herzog’s 4,000 Miles, Derek Ahonen’s The Bad and the Better, and Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews.
In spite of his busy schedule, Aukin has managed to channel a great deal of time and energy into the classroom, where he stresses the importance of experimentation. Aukin helps students “find their own way through the woods” even if this means “failing lots of times along the way to artistic success.” For Aukin, making mistakes is a means of working out what intrinsically works in a script, thereby allowing a director to focus on the other, move variable elements of the performance.
At The New School for Drama, “There’s a lot to talk about, but I try and to ground my the conversation through teaching in practice,” says Aukin. To achieve this hands-on method, Aukin’s directing class involves asking his students to work with first-year graduate acting students.
Aukin urges his students to create a sense of immediacy when interpreting dramatic texts. “In every production,” says Aukin, “I want each performance to feel spontaneous, some aspect that feels like it’s happening right now, even though everyone knows dialogue is from a script,” says Aukin.
Although Aukin will be involved in many theatrical projects in the coming year, he is quick to affirm his passion for teaching. “I certainly resonate with the overall ethos of The New School, but more than that, my conversations with [Directing department head] Lou Jacob make me excited to continue my work here.”
Read more about Daniel Aukin and his current performances.