The Story of Holly L. Derr

I was working on a cover letter for an application for a teaching job and having trouble figuring out how to start. “I am writing to apply for your open position …” is not exactly an attention grabber. Plus, it is hard for me to talk about myself with the kind of authority required in a job application, so I decided I would write the first draft in the form of a story. Once I’d written it, I decided I’d share it with everyone. (In Los Angeles speak, I’m “putting it out into the Universe.”) This is my story so far.

Once upon a time, a little girl named Holly L. Derr fell in love with stories. She read and read and read and read everything she could get her hands on, and then she drafted her family and friends to act out the stories over and over. Several decades later, Holly became a theater director. Because duh.

Holly grew up in Texas, where she always felt a little out of place. She liked theater and music and books; most everybody else liked football. So she set out on an adventure to find a home. She went to school at the University of North Carolina. She lived in New York City and worked at The Public while running her own theater company. She went to Columbia University to learn how to be a better director from two of the best directors there are: Robert Woodruff and Anne Bogart. Then she moved to Vermont to teach for seven years at Marlboro College, Smith College, and the ART.

Three years ago her adventure brought her to LA. While here she has guest directed at the California Institute of the Arts, the University of California at Riverside, and Chapman University. She directed her own adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath at Son of Semele. Not surprisingly, given her love of stories, she began to write, and before she knew it, she had developed a national reputation as a feminist media critic and theater scholar. Her articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Bitch Magazine, and XX Factor/Slate, among others. Through interviewing theater makers for Ms. Magazine and HowlRound she has developed relationships with the artistic directors of countless Los Angeles theaters, including The Theatre @ Boston Court, The Antaues Company, 24th Street Theater, East West Players, The Los Angeles Theater Center, the Latino Theater Company, and the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

This summer Holly’s adventure will take her to Maine where she will direct Romeo and Juliet at the Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House. The production will feature one of her favorite storytelling tools: Gender-flipping. The production, set in a Renaissance+Gothic-inspired period, will accentuate the gender confusion written into the play (Juliet is more masculine than Romeo, who is rather feminine) with a female Mercutio, a female Tybalt and a gender-flipped masquerade so that when Romeo and Juliet meet, he is dressed as a woman and she as a man. This kind of storytelling serves to open up a well-known play to new and surprising interpretations and provides insight into the instability of gender norms during Shakespeare’s time as well as ours.

Because teaching is one of her favorite modes of storytelling, Holly cannot wait to get back in a classroom. In addition to acting and directing classes, she teaches theater history, literature, and theory with a particular interest in plays by women and people of color. As a feminist media critic, she enjoys applying her ability to analyze stories to writing about film, television, video games, and comics as well as theater. Her hope is that theater can be understood as a part of the larger American culture of storytelling and at the same time, make use of the fact that it is the only mode that happens live.

Though her story isn’t even half way over, Holly has found her home. Southern California provides the perfect combination of theater, film, and educational institutions for her life as a director, writer, teacher, and feminist.

In conclusion, weather.

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