We can hardly contain our excitement as we welcome Tamilla Woodard aboard our Miami Motel Stories team. She’s one of the most imaginative, insightful and unconventional directors we know. We’re sure you’ll be just as excited as we are, after getting to know her!


So, First, Some Background:

Tamilla was an actress before she was a director. She completed her BFA at Carnegie Mellon University. Eventually, though, she started to find that traditional theater just wasn’t enough. She wanted to do something big: change the relationship between the actor and the audience. At the Yale School of Drama, she became the first actor to serve as artistic director of the Yale Cabaret. But she was still frustrated by the gap between the people on the stage and the people in the seats. So, like a true self-starter, she co-founded PopUp Theatrics, a company through which Woodard produced shows like Hotel Project, a performance that turned the audience into flies on the walls of hotel rooms, bringing them into the intimate action of storytelling.

Now, Woodard’s here in Miami, working with us on Miami Motel Stories, a site-specific theater project that takes place inside motel rooms around Miami, over a span of three seasons.

Our project reporter, William Hector, met up with Woodard at Miami Motel Stories’ first location. While we’re not revealing the specific site yet (though, trust us, it’s awesome), we can share Woodard’s thoughts as she begins this amazing undertaking.

Here’s a sneak peak of the wonderful workings of her mind!

Tamilla Woodard, Closing the Gap Between Audience and Actor

An interview by William Hector

To start with, since we’re dealing with a current trend that some audience members might not have experienced yet, how do you, Tamilla, define immersive theater?

I would say if the audience is in the middle, it’s called immersive theater. We have different words for this, like site specific, immersive, interactive, participatory. I think about immersive theater as three dimensional. The work, the crafty work of the director, is inciting the audiences’ sight; calling them down a hallway, through a room, or in a closet. The whole thing, the whole idea of immersiveness is how do you incite people to see again. Theater is a safe space to just open yourself twenty percent more.


 And what does that twenty percent more look like? Is it all about proximity, like just being twenty percent closer to the action, or does the audience get to participate in the story as well, hands on?

Before you even have participation, that’s just viewership. The next step of course is participation and what does that mean? Over time, we [PopUp Theatrics] developed a method, an approach. There’s an invitation, so the audience knows they’re welcome, and the degree of access they have. That’s the invitation and it has to be as clear as the text. The next thing is the lure. How do you draw them closer? How do you move them beyond what they expect their level of spectatorship or participation to be? That’s [makes line reeling in noise] literally the lure. Then there’s the reveal. How do you reveal the story that’s inside of them? Because that’s the point of having an audience close to [the action].


 So with that clear approach of invitation, lure, and reveal, how do you then build on that base every time you encounter a new space? Does the space itself change the process?

The site is absolutely defining. The community is the other thing that’s defining. We’re usually going somewhere we’ve never been, and so we count on our partners there, our creative partners, our creative producers or directors.We’re always operating with multiple directors and multiple playwrights, so we can really engage with collaboration in the highest form that is possible.


In this case, our first playwright is the brilliant Juan C. Sanchez. Can you tell us about how that collaboration has been so far? Between you and Juan?

We’ve been in constant conversation since our first visit to the place. We didn’t talk content until we got to the [site], because we didn’t know what the space was going to offer. We’ve been [working] with groups of actors. Small things, artifacts, are showing up in their response to the space. We’re just going to collect these artifacts, and whatever calls to Juan is how we begin. I put structure, which is generally my job no matter what, when creating immersive work. I author structure and the writer authors the content of that. And we bring it together and we alter structure and content depending on where we’re trying to get to.

That sounds amazing. I know it’s too early to show all your cards, but right now is there anything you can share about the content and structure you’re working with for Miami Motel Stories?

We know thematically some things that are interesting. Sanctuary. Refuge is an interesting thing because that’s what [the hotel/motel] has been in many different ways. We know that this place has been in existence since 1927 and it’s been in different states of undress, and that is something we’re interested in. Not in a “history of the hotel” way, but who we are as people in 1935, 1945, 1965. It’s a way to track us as a nation, this community as a place that was changing, depending on who was arriving and who was leaving. And the micro of that is really the macro of the country.


You mentioned both sanctuary and refuge. What would you say is the difference between the two?                 

I think sanctuary is a safe harbor. It’s a place where you can be, like in a storm under the underpass. You can just wait there until the thing is over. It’s not permanent. It’s just a holding place. A place to put yourself back together again. I think we all seek it in some way.

A refuge is a hiding place. A place to take yourself away from something.  You know, refuge in alcohol. You wouldn’t say sanctuary in alcohol. But it’s a place to push things away. One of the questions was, who has forgotten you and who have you forgotten? Because I think that sometimes, the occupants here were hoping to be forgotten. Or they were wishing to be remembered. Those people will be in the [stories we tell]. I like to say nothing’s made up, though it may be fictionalized.