Directing

Every story — every play — belongs to all of us. I insist on organic, even raw, storytelling and create dynamic stage pictures. I collaborate with designers to shape each world. I dig deep into the text with actors until we’ve reached its core; then I guide our way back to the surface, to what is compelling for an audience. I mine scripts for every single truthful moment.

With every play, I work with artists to tap into our shared humanity. Because the most powerful theatre strips away what’s corrosive and divisive, reminding us that we’re all inextricably linked.

 
 

Out of Orbit
by Jennifer Maisel. Williamston Theatre. 2018.
World premiere.

Scenic Design: Jeromy Hopgood
Lighting Design: Heather Brown
Costume Design: Holly Iler
Sound Design: Jason Painter Price
Props Design: Stefanie Din
Projection Design: Alison Dobbins

Excerpt from interview in the Lansing State Journal

“There is a lot in it about being a woman in particular and being a mother and daughter in particular and what that means. What are the pressures that are on women? Particularly on women who are single mothers who are trying to find this often impossible balance between work and family. How much ambition is too much ambition?

It’s an intimate story, but it has these epic proportions. The location, the span of time—the entire team has come together to help tell that story. We use projections as a huge part to let the audience know where they are and when they are on this abstract set.”

Excerpt from Encore Michigan review by Bridgette Redman

While actors are often skilled at creating chemistry and building in a few weeks of rehearsal connections that can represent years of build-up, these two have a different challenge. They have to show two people who don’t connect. Theirs is a chemistry that creates sparks and threatens to explode. Their dialogue is quick and sharp and they both manage it extremely well to create the necessary tension between the two of them. Shepherd-Bates provides them with space and pacing that

keeps the relationship taut and filled with tension.

 

The Impossibility of Now
by Y York. Tipping Point Theatre. 2018.
Michigan premiere.

Scenic, Props, + Projection Design: Monika Essen
Lighting Design: Joel Klain
Costume Design: Shelby Newport
Sound Design: Quintessa Gallinat

Excerpt from the review by Roy Sexton

What keeps the piece from devolving into maudlin soap opera? Sprightly dialogue by York that values adult wit over self-indulgent shtick and, perhaps more importantly, smart direction from Frannie Shepherd-Bates that allows each of her talented actors to shine and genius set and projection design from Moníka Essen that elevates the narrative with a hauntingly dream-like quality...

Tipping Point and its Producing Artistic Director James Kuhl are perhaps too-often unsung for the consistent level of quality and engagement they bring to their work. Productions there are consistently top-notch, relatable, and transporting. They take chances on new material, use their space in clever and creative and economical ways, and provide safe space for an extraordinary array of talent to play. The Impossibility of Now is a perfect example of the humane and humanistic approach they take to theatrical arts, and, for that, this critic is grateful.

 

A Painted Window
by Christy Hall. Williamston Theatre. 2017.
World premiere. Pulsar Award: Best Play.

Scenic Design: Elspeth Williams
Lighting Design: Dan Walker
Costume Design: Karen Kangas-Preston
Sound Design: Jason Painter Price
Props Design: Michelle Raymond

Excerpt from the Encore Michigan review by Bridgette Redman

Frannie Shepherd-Bates directs this show and she makes the transitions between time periods flow easily and clearly. The play switches between time periods, a few weeks apart. She places her actors expertly, especially in the scenes between Charles and Josephine, where Sylvia hangs in the background, a quiet presence that is non-intrusive, yet a quiet part of the scene. It is both symbolic and physical.

Excerpt from the It's All Theatre review by Daniel Skora

Williamston Theatre is presenting “A Painted Window”, a little gem in its own right... a compelling drama about love, loss, and the often heartbreaking complexities of sibling relationships. Williamston has given a convincing launch to this World Premier of playwright Christy Hall’s moving drama. With Crawford, Lowell, and Travis, director Frannie Shepherd-Bates has assembled an accomplished cast.

 

Sex With Strangers
by Laura Eason. Detroit Public Theatre. 2016.
Michigan Premiere. Wilde Award Nomination: Best Play.

Scenic + Props Design: Sarah Pearline
Lighting Design: Cecilia Durbin
Costume Design: Vince Kelly
Sound Design: Julia Garlotte

Excerpt from the 4/4 star Detroit Free Press review by John Monaghan

Directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates with a sharp ear for the script’s comic and dramatic elements, “Sex with Strangers" is the third and best show yet from the new Detroit Public Theatre, a well-equipped black-box space off the lobby of the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Praise for the production sounds a lot like the reviews that greeted Olivia’s first novel: It is clear, clever and bracingly honest.

Excerpt from the Encore Michigan review by Tanya Gazdik

Directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates, the set design, lighting and music production are all top-notch... While the undertone of the play is serious, there are light and bright exchanges of dialogue which add some much-needed humor to what otherwise could be a very dark script, given the subject matter... The characters are equally engaging and this two-hour play does not drag, leaving the audience wanting more, if not a more fairy tale outcome.

Excerpt from the Examiner.com review by Patty Nolan:

Frannie Shepherd-Bates directs this briskly-paced, tight two-hander. The notion that digital technology has amplified connections that were once kept private is a new that this production deftly handles. It is easy enough to become someone else on the Internet, but as with the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is trickier to recall that alter-ego once he’s been on the town. In her program notes, Shepherd-Bates writes, “In Ethan and Olivia – in their desires not only for each other, but for their art to become something other than what it is – we can see in ourselves…. Ultimately, the way we connect with others is only partially within our control.”

 

King Lear
Shakespeare in Detroit. 2015.
Wilde Award: Best of the Bard.

Scenic + Lighting Design: Gwen Lindsay
Costume Design: Cal Schwartz
Sound Design: Frannie Shepherd-Bates

Excerpt from the Encore Michigan review by Marty Kohn

Don’t have weekend plans? Lucky you. Shakespeare in Detroit’s “King Lear” is the best Michigan production of a Shakespeare play that I’ve ever seen. Frannie Shepherd-Bates’ Stratford-worthy staging brings out the best in a very good, sometimes superb, cast and illuminates the timeless and universal nature of Shakespeare’s text without “updating” its era or location to make it seem so. Certainly, other productions have done that. What’s different here is its emphasis on “Lear” as an ensemble piece. It’s not just about the title character.

Excerpt from the 4/4 star Detroit Free Press review by John Monaghan

Director Shepherd-Bates, working with some of the best actors on Detroit-area stages big and small, understands the subtleties of the classic text... The noblest quality of Shakespeare in Detroit’s “King Lear” is its stamina. Where a lesser company would start to tire as the body count mounts, this production is among the most consistently lively I’ve seen in years.

Excerpt from the New Monitor review by Robert Delaney

No Shakespeare lover should miss this remarkable production of 'King Lear,' which must be counted as a triumph for director Frannie Shepherd-Bates...This is the sort of production that makes me confident that you'll thank me for recommending that you cancel whatever other plans you might have in order to catch one of the remaining performances.

From Greg Crawford's (Detroit Free Press) Top 10 of 2015

... Shakespeare in Detroit company gamely tackled “King Lear...” and delivered one of the most memorable productions of the 2014-15 theater season. Veteran director Frannie Shepherd-Bates assembled an impressive local cast and created an entertaining, sometimes visually arresting “Lear” that was a shining example of the DIY ingenuity that helped define Detroit in 2015.

 

The Maids
by Jean Genet. Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company. 2013.

Scenic + Props Design: Adam Crinson
Costume Design: Katie Casebolt + Frannie Shepherd-Bates
Sound Design: Frannie Shepherd-Bates

Excerpt from the Encore Michigan review by Carolyn Hayes

Lamentably postponed and long anticipated, Magenta Giraffe Theatre's production of "The Maids" (by Jean Genet, translated by Bernard Frechtman) is categorically worth the wait...  director Frannie Shepherd-Bates use cresting tension and the crucial force of opposites to dabble in a dangerous game and see it through to mind-bending ends... With a firm grasp on its dichotomies and an impressive ability to turn on a dime, "The Maids" delivers no shortage of intellectual rigor bolstered by riveting stakes. This production's strident tone, extravagant performances, and fundamental teamwork lay the groundwork for an insistent treatise on the roles we take on within our relationships, jobs, and society, as well as how we define them (and they us).

Excerpt from the Examiner.com review by Patty Nolan

This is an intense but rewarding play, and Shepherd-Bates calculates the emotive dynamics to deliberately disorient the audience. The three-woman cast is amazing. As the sisters Claire and Solange, actresses Strez and McMahon take the audience on a roller coaster of emotions, with hair pin turns, sudden drops and dizzying highs. Meredith Gifford, as Madame, seems to play right into the maids’ little drama, shifting from honey to histrionics quickly enough to further confound one’s sense of reality. At the end of the play – one simply doubts that it really is the end. Jean Genet has the last laugh on us all.

Excerpt from the New Monitor review by Robert Delaney

Frannie Shepherd-Bates directs a cast of accomplished local actresses in this production... I wouldn't have missed [Molly] McMahon's performance in this play for anything. 

Excerpt from the Detroit Free Press review by John Monaghan

Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates understands that the show is not only dark but also repetitive. She compensates by amping up the energy level... By the end of the play, the sisters are exhausted and so is the audience. Yet we are left with a greater understanding of the pathological frustration that divides the have and have-nots during Genet's time as well as today.

 

Soul Mates
by Kirsten Knisely. Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company. 2013.

Scenic & Props Design: Gwen Lindsay
Costume Design: Lauren Montgomery
Sound Design: Frannie Shepherd-Bates
Original Music: Jesse Shepherd-Bates

Excerpt from the Detroit Free Press review by John Monaghan

Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates keeps her stage sparse, employing a white backdrop and some simple props and furniture... The simplicity of the staging is consistent with the play's basic and simple message: We need to learn to cherish those people in life who truly understand us... I was brought to tears by a scene set in 1969 that finds the bell-bottomed Kat learning that her best friend Jack has just gotten a draft letter from Uncle Sam. It left me with the feeling that I was witnessing something singular, intimate, and altogether fresh.

Excerpt from the Encore Michigan review by Carolyn Hayes

At once simple and complex, Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company's "Soul Mates" delivers variations on a theme, with a gentle but insistent twist. This world premiere – the first professional production for emerging local playwright Kirsten Knisely – is an ambitious piece that seeks to blend the freedom of isolated two-person vignettes with the intricacy of meticulously planned links that tell a larger story. Here, backed by a sharply considered concept and the evident accord of a gifted ensemble, director Frannie Shepherd-Bates wisely focuses on the rewarding connections of the play's diverse array of soul mate relationships, allowing the burgeoning web of connectedness to speak for itself... Ultimately, Shepherd-Bates and company have cultivated a deeply felt series of relationships at intriguing junctures, welling up with comedy and honesty in an evocative cycle.

Excerpt from the Examiner.com review by Patty Nolan

Directed by Magenta Giraffe Artistic Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates, “Soul Mates” is swiftly paced but not rushed. In the intimate Abreact Performance Space, the smallest shrug or eye roll reads to the back of the house. Fortunately, this company has learned to scale their nuanced performances appropriately. With each vignette, this play is funny, or romantic, or heartbreaking, or charming – but it is always honest.

Excerpt from the New Monitor review by Robert Delaney

Under the thoughtful direction of Frannie Shepherd-Bates, four very talented local performers... portray a variety of characters in nine scenes spanning a period of about six decades... "Soul Mates" is an impressive work being given an impressive production.

 

La Ronde
by Arthur Schnitzler. Abreact Theatre. 2011.

Scenic Design: Alan Batkiewicz
Costume, Props, + Sound Design: Frannie Shepherd-Bates

Excerpt from the Encore Michigan review by John Quinn

... What really shines here is tight ensemble acting and polished direction. Four actors... show a great deal of comfort with each other, remarkable considering the amount of bed-hopping - and in contrast to the play's theme of "taking," there's a lot of "giving" on stage. In these brief vignettes it's necessary to establish character and motivation as soon as possible and no one disappoints. If the production is to remain faithful to the theme, it's important that we recognize social class differences; here British dialects mirror the translation's distinctively Anglic tone... Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates took a risk in dusting off this relic and skillfully returned it to relevance.

Excerpt of the Rogue Critic review by Carolyn Hayes

With scenarios as varied as married intercourse, near-anonymous encounters, and masters commingling with the help, the scenes aren’t alike by any means, but Shepherd-Bates wisely roots out their many parallels. Each spans the period before, during, and after a sexual encounter; the intercourse itself is heard but not seen, somehow both minimizing and maximizing the awkwardness of group voyeurism as viewers sit in complete darkness and listen to strangely chipper music piped over a brief, animal duet. (Shepherd-Bates is also responsible for the sound design, a collection of Victrola-staticky ditties that intentionally undermine what might otherwise be mistaken for drama. In practice, the conceit is allowed to be absurdly funny, as are other elements of the characters’ interactions.) The conversational games and clumsily veiled intentions of the parties as they lead up to the act are achingly stilted, mired in the convention that the woman isn’t supposed to want it and the man isn’t permitted to ask for it. Contrasting these careful and tentative preambles are the often curt post-coital interactions, in which previously paired objectives wildly diverge. If the scenes are at all uncomfortable to watch, it’s primarily because they can ring awfully familiar — our personal mating rituals, it appears, are more universal than unique. 

Excerpt from the New Monitor review by Robert Delaney

... This is an important piece of theatre. And with the inspired direction of Frannie Shepherd-Bates and performance by four fine local actors, this is an excellent production of this seldom-performed work... This is a production many theatre connoisseurs won't want to miss.

 

Last of the Boys
by Steven Dietz. Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company. 2011.

Scenic & Props Design: Gwen Lindsay
Costume Design: Lauren Montgomery
Lighting Design: Neil Koivu
Sound Design: Frannie Shepherd-Bates
Original Music: Jesse Shepherd-Bates

Excerpt from the Detroit News review by Lawrence B. Johnson

"Last of the Boys..." is staged by the youthful Magenta Giraffe Theatre with a wise patience that allows the tale the full force of its unexpected punch... That denouement director Frannie Shepherd-Bates and her cast imbue with a compelling ambiguity and a poignancy that leaves the theater with you.

Excerpt from the Rogue Critic review by Carolyn Hayes

Shepherd-Bates honors the struggle of her characters, but also takes pains to show them engaging in regular life and supportive relationships. A fireside scene — a fine showpiece of Neil Koivu's lighting design — is calm and friendly in its relaxed affinity, then all the more withering when it becomes apparent how close-lurking the past can be for these characters. Viewers willing to venture into Last of the Boys should expect massive doses of intellectual and emotional stimulation, but not all of it is dire. Alternately light, mournful, funny, and eerie, this fine production is disarming even as it connects.

Excerpt from the New Monitor review by Robert Delaney

It is a play that ranges from raucous humor to intense drama, and director Frannie Shepherd-Bates has given us a moving production with the help of some of the best local acting talent.