Markus Potter talks directing, mentorship & leading with kindness
Assistant Professor, Theatre & Dance
Producing Artistic Director, NewYorkRep
Bay Area, California. Lived in NYC for the last 20 years.
M.F.A. Columbia University
B.A. San Francisco State University
Specialties: Directing, New Play Development, Acting Training
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In addition to my work at KU, I am a Theatre Director and the Producing Artistic Director of NewYorkRep, an off-Broadway theatre company with the mission of developing and producing innovative new plays and musicals that inspire and compel social change.
Preference: Onstage? Offstage? Both?
After grad school, I spent many years as an actor, then transitioned into directing and artistic leadership. I'm happy to jump back onstage if someone breaks a leg, but at this point, I am primarily focused on directing and producing.
What made you want to pursue teaching?
My father was a life-long teacher. As an 8-year-old, I vividly remember sifting through letters from his students, recognizing the impact he had. Years later, I've always held on to that impulse of wanting to give back. In college, I frequently found myself helping my friends prepare auditions and realized that I had the ability to help actors. When I was on the road working in the regional theatre, I taught master classes at various BFA and MFA programs, then in New York I ended up teaching part-time at several conservatory programs. I have had some of the kindest and generous mentors in my life, like Anne Bogart at Columbia, as well as Ed Trujillo and Jim Kirkwood in my undergraduate days to whom I owe everything. Being able to give back and offer the kind of mentorship I received is what led me to KU, where I'm honored to be surrounded by an inspiring group of people.
What is your favorite thing about teaching and/or the theatre profession/industry/etc.?
The community. The people. The exchange of ideas. Creating a space where individuals of all backgrounds are invited to live in their truth.
What professional experiences and areas of expertise do you bring to the classroom?
Much of my work as a director has focused on new play and musical development. I currently serve as Producing Artistic Director of the NewYorkRep Theatre in Manhattan. I've been a co-producer on Broadway as well as a lead producer commercially off-Broadway and have been involved in almost every aspect of the theatre profession, so I hope to bring a sense of the bigger picture to the classroom.
What has been your proudest moment as a professional in theatre?
My proudest moment in the theatre has been the play "Stalking the Bogeyman." The story was featured on "This American Life," then I had the pleasure of co-adapting and directing the story for the stage.
"Stalking the Bogeyman" tells the true story of journalist David Holthouse, who wakes up one morning and discovers that the man who raped him when he was seven years old has moved into his neighborhood. After 25 years of suffering through Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder, David decides that the best solution is to murder him, "to walk right up to him and scrape him from this world like a piece of dog shit off my shoe." The play had its world premiere in North Carolina's NC Stage, then played off-Broadway, London, and just had its Australian premiere last summer. For more details about the piece, here is a feature story from Sydney's Audrey Journal.
How would you describe your creative process?
An underlying component of my creative process comes with the understanding that every creative endeavor requires a vividly specific approach. The creation of every story asks that we stay open to the needs of the collaborators involved. The moment I find myself being prescriptive in my creative approach is when I need to shake my pre-conceived notions, and instead, embrace the danger of not knowing how the process will unfold. With that said, there are certainly some recurring themes that tend to pulsate through many of my projects like the attempt to create a rehearsal room that is ripe for creativity, and risk-taking. Creating an inclusive room where productive collaborations are possible is single-handedly of the most important things I hope to accomplish as a director and artistic leader.
If you could give your students one piece of advice, what would it be?
Lead with KINDNESS and generosity. Resist the urge to gossip, and if you ever find yourself jealous of others, see if you can convert that feeling into being inspired by others.
What are you directing next at KU? ("The Christians" opened Sept. 27 and continues this weekend. Don't miss this fantastic show! Get your tickets.)
We are deep in rehearsals for "The Christians" by Lucas Hnath, playing weekends Sept. 27 through Oct. 6 in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre at Murphy Hall. The play opens our University Theatre season and will feature a choir made up of 30 community members, with musical direction by guest artist Kelley Hunt, an internationally touring recording artist and pianist.
The play urges us to take a look at our own moral compasses as we explore the human face of ideology, asking why we believe what we believe. The Crafton-Preyer Theatre will be transformed into a megachurch, and invite patrons of all backgrounds and faiths to experience this riveting new work by one of the most influential young writers of our generation.Tickets are on sale at the KU University Theatre ticketing office in Murphy Hall and online HERE.
Tell us about your current research projects.
At NewYorkRep, we have been developing a new play, "Chasing Gods" by Paris Crayton III. This summer, NewYorkRep partnered with the Kansas Repertory Theatre to present the first workshop production of the play. KU theatre students worked alongside professional actors from the KC community, including local legends like Walter Coppage. The playwright, Paris Crayton III, who is also an Artistic Associate at NewYorkRep, was in residence this summer working alongside the Kansas Repertory Theatre team. "Chasing Gods" is one of the most exciting new plays I have worked on in a long while. Set in 2016, three weeks after the Pulse nightclub shooting, the play asks how a family with different ideas about faith and religion find love and aim to come together when tragedy, religion, and death create divides between their own personal morals and identities. We have a developmental reading in NY this November, as we drive toward the off-Broadway premiere next fall.
"UNTITLED OPIOID MUSICAL"
Today five people per hour die of an opioid overdose in our country. Enter the Sackler family and Purdue Pharmaceuticals bringing Oxycontin to Americans under the noses of our government — insisting it wasn't addictive. At NewYorkRep, we are in the early research and development phase of a new musical that explores our nation's epidemic which is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, killing more people than guns or car accidents, at an even higher rate than the HIV epidemic at its peak. Epidemiologists predict we aren't far from 250 deaths per day now that fentanyl has arrived with approximately 3 million Americans addicted. We just came from an inspiring residency at the Goodspeed Musicals Johnny Mercer Colony, and continue to move full steam ahead with the ultimate hope of creating a story that will move our community to advocate for life saving addiction treatment and research, as well as political leadership capable of steering America out of the worst drug epidemic in modern history, while employing a healthy skepticism the next time a pharma company announces its latest wonder drug.