Michelle Bossy began her directing at the ripe age of five–writing, directing, and acting in plays in her own backyard. Her passion for directing from young age led to her pursuing a career in the industry, taking what would be a childhood game into a dream job.
Now, at just 32 years of age, Michelle Bossy has already had a career worth coveting. She attributes her success as a director to determination, ambition, and kindness. It is with these three character traits that she constructed her own major in college and later began her career as assistant director at Primary Stages.
Michelle is a pro at rolling with the punches, fitting in where needed, and knowing how to command a room. Today, Michele shares with us how her go-getter attitude and tenacity has led her too making a career for herself in a cut-throat industry.
Full name: Michelle Bossy
Location: New York, NY
Current title/company: Associate Artistic Director, Primary Stages
Educational background: I went to Webster University for acting and singing, a degree in musical theater, but ended up getting the first degree in directing from the program.
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was at Primary Stages! It’s actually where I have spent my entire professional career, which is very rare and special. I started here as an assistant director. One of my mentors in college, Susan Gregg, had worked with Casey Childs, the founder of Primary Stages, at the start of their careers. She suggested that I meet him when visiting New York for my showcase (which is a time when BFA students try to make professional connections in New York and LA). Casey was really receptive and said he’d like me to come work at Primary Stages once I had graduated.
You received the first Undergraduate Directing degree from Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts. Tell us a little bit about the process of constructing your own degree. When did you know that directing was a passion of yours?
From age five, I would put on shows in my backyard with my sisters. I’d write, direct and act in them, and I loved it. Then I started acting in a children’s theater company in Las Vegas, NV called the Rainbow Company, when I was 10 years old and did a ton of theater and acting in my hometown community. Most people who do theatre find their way in as actors in the beginning, and I was certain for so long that’s what I wanted to be. But in college, I had incredible mentors who kept pointing me the way of direction. At first I was unsure, but once I began in that part of the conservatory, it was a very natural fit. Sometimes people can see you more clearly than you can see yourself. As for constructing my own degree, it was fantastic being able to respond to the parts of the program that really worked, like studying abroad in London.
And I have a perfect name for being a director. Perfect.
You quickly made a name for yourself in a theatre industry, walk us through a brief career bio.
I was an assistant director at Primary Stages on several shows, and then Andrew Leynse, the Artistic Director of Primary Stages, asked me to be his assistant. Primary Stages was about to go through an incredible period of growth, and I was able to grow with it – I was the House Manager, Company Manager, did literary work, was an Artistic Associate and in 2006, became the Associate Artistic Director of the company. I was only 26 at the time, and it was scary and tremendous. It was fundamental that I had learned many facets of the organization. It was also very important that I kept directing whenever I could, which I have done at Primary Stages, and in New York and regionally (what we call theater companies outside of New York). One of the things I tell young theater artists is that you have to be willing to say “yes” and do things that are humbling, like mop the bathrooms or tear tickets, even if it isn’t what you ultimately want to do. That is how people recognize loyalty and talent.
You are currently the Associate Artistic Director of Primary Stages in NYC. Walk us through a typical workday or week for you?
There are lots of irregularities in what I do and it’s important to jump in where needed, especially when we are in production for a show. Typically I teach acting, have meetings with playwrights, directors and designers we are cultivating relationships with, read a lot of plays and attend many readings, cast projects, and work on future planning for the organization. I hire staff for our upcoming productions, and make sure that our current show is running well. Most every day ends with me seeing some play, having drinks with a friend, and collapsing into bed at the end of a 14 hour day.
What is your favorite part of your role at Primary Stages? What would you say is the most challenging?
My favorite part of working at Primary Stages is that I really believe in what I do. The most challenging thing is feeling like I don’t have enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I would like to.
From co-founding Plum Theatre Company to producing the World Premiere of Dread Awakening and Little Monsters your career has been filled with noteworthy accomplishments. What character traits would you say have been instrumental in your success?
I think creating opportunities for myself has been very instrumental in my success. When you are young, you are unproven and you have to show the community that you can do it. You cannot wait for them to anoint you. Also, determination, ambition, energy and kindness.
What inspired you to start Plum Theatre Company? Tell us a little bit about your vision early on.
I have always been interested in working on new plays. My friend Brian Pracht and I were at school together, and he is an actor/playwright who had a lot of material that he wanted to put up. We started the organization so we could have an umbrella to work underneath. But it’s a very fluid thing. Because producing is my “day job” (even if it’s the most fun, wonderful day job ever) sometimes it’s important to just be a director.
You also teach acting and playwriting for the Einhorn School of Performing Arts. Have you always been passionate about teaching and inspiring young artists?
Absolutely. One of my responsibilities at Primary Stages is mentoring young artists, and I do that through the acting and playwriting classes I teach, hiring all of our interns for our career development program, and by running the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writer’s Group. I am actually on a retreat in Vermont as I write this with the New American Writer’s Group. I also teach for Syracuse University and do a lot of outreach with my alma mater.
The entertainment industry has been known to be a highly competitive industry, what advice would you give aspiring directors and artists?
Volunteer at organizations whose work you really believe in, and cultivate relationships with people you would like to work with. It’s a socially connected business. Also make things that are yours, that you have ownership over, with a distinct point of view.
Between all of the various projects you’re involved in how do you find time for balance?
It’s something I am learning to be better at every day! It’s not easy being out every night of the week at events or shows. I think it’s really important to nurture all parts of your life: the professional, and personal. And to spend time doing things I really love, like being with friends, shopping, reading, going to concerts, relaxing. I’m also a newlywed so I want to spend a lot of time with my new husband. My husband and I love to travel, and we do that often.
Considering all you’ve done, do you have any goals you’re still striving to achieve?
Of course! I would like to direct more, and continue to grow at my current organization. I am interested in working on more Broadway shows. I would like to see Primary Stages have a second stage, where we can produce the work of more emerging playwrights.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Have patience. Keep being curious. And you are in New York to be an artist. Don’t get distracted by things that don’t really matter.