Lear deBessonet


Doris Duke Impact Award, 2015
Theatre

New York, NY

Driven to make theatre relevant and accessible to audiences of all backgrounds, OBIE-award winning director Lear deBessonet is the founder/director of Public Works at the Public Theater, for which she has directed two pageant-style Shakespearian musical adaptations, Tempest (2013) and The Winter’s Tale (2014). Each work featured over two hundred New Yorkers from all five boroughs, with appearances by gospel choirs, marching bands, park rangers, and taxi drivers. Previous large-scale community projects include The Odyssey (2011) at the Old Globe, and a site-specific Don Quixote (2009) with homeless shelter Broad Street Ministry and punk-gypsy ensemble The Psalters. Her 2013 work Good Person of Szechwan (with the Foundary Theatre at LaMaMa; Public Theater) received multiple honors including OBIE and Lilly Awards. She is a recipient of an NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors (2009-2011) and has also served as a visiting professor at New York University.

  • Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
  • Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
    Good Person of Szechwan (2013)
  • Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
    Good Person of Szechwan (2013)
  • Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
    Tempest (2013), Public Works
  • Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
    Winter’s Tale (2014)

Suppose you just met someone who didn't know your work. What project from the past 10 years would you direct them to as an entry point to you and your work, and why?

Tempest exemplifies my large-scale pageant style productions, which explore the politics of civic joy. Our Public Works production took as its inspiration an incredible historical moment: in 1916, fifteen hundred New Yorkers came together to create a community-based pageant inspired by Shakespeare’s Tempest. Leading up to our production, we worked intensely all year with five community partner organizations (Domestic Workers United, Fortune Society in Queens, DreamYard in the Bronx, Children’s Aid Society, and senior citizens from Brownsville Recreation Center) who made up the core ensemble. The show ultimately featured 106 Community Ensemble Members, 32 Gospel Choir Singers, 24 Ballet Dancers, 12 Mexican Folk Dancers, 10 Hip Hop Dancers, 6 Taiko drummers, 5 AEA Actors, 5 Brass Band Players, 3 Taxi Drivers, 1 ASL interpreter, and 1 bubble artist. I am always searching for a way to unite my aesthetic passions with my civic concerns, and Tempest was a manifestation of that intention.