Outgoing Artistic Director Andrew Borba’s tenure with Chautauqua Theater Company is old enough to vote.
Over the span of the last 18 years, Borba has played many roles within the company. He’s been an actor, a director, a teacher and a text coach. He served for eight years as associate artistic director to his predecessor Vivienne Benesch, and for six as artistic director.
Borba shepherded the words of Shakespeare into the minds of budding young actors and into the community beyond the Institution gates. He achieved gender parity in company leadership and majority BIPOC representation in casting. He stewarded the company through the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, remaining committed to producing and sharing art with the world.
Borba said that serving as artistic director over the past six years has been unquestionably rewarding and unquestionably hard. Nevertheless, he has been committed to facing head-on any and all challenges that arise. He departs at the end of the season, and this weekend’s closing performances of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mark his last time on the Bratton Theater stage in his tenure.
“This has been a time when the world is upside down for a lot of different reasons, whether that is because of COVID or whether it’s because of the renewed vigor of social justice,” Borba said. “There are challenges in the theater in general, but specifically, Chautauqua Theater Company engages in those questions. I’ve been very interested and very front-footed about trying to really work with and through those questions in the way that we hire, and the shows that we’re doing and the way we engage with the community here and off the grounds.”
Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, hired Borba as artistic director upon Benesch’s departure. Moore said that Borba’s legacy is fourfold: the growth of New Play Workshops as a space to incubate new works, the birth of the Young Playwrights Project and its attendant nurturing of young playwrights, an honoring of classic works and a celebration of living playwrights.
Under Borba’s leadership, the NPW program featured Birthday Candles, a Noah Haidle play that made it to Broadway. Borba selected mainstage productions by current and living playwrights such as Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ‘67 and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.
“Andrew has been the right leader for Chautauqua, demonstrating a love for place, people and presenting theater that matters,” Moore said. “From continuing a commitment to the New Play Workshop program that birthed Birthday Candles’ path to Broadway, to collaborating with our arts education team on a Young Playwrights Project for local schools, Andrew has shown a value for theater in all aspects of life.”
Irene Cramer is the vice president of communications for the Friends of Chautauqua Theater, an organization that supports the CTC through fundraising and events like parties and group meals. She also spoke to Borba’s emphasis on producing both classic and contemporary works. She has appreciated his meticulous and insightful approach to programming, and enjoys hearing his thought process.
“He would explain why he chose the various pieces, and it’s always extremely thoughtful, and incorporated both older plays and new things that people weren’t familiar with, of course, with the whole new workshop component,” Cramer said. “I always really appreciate it. I think they’ve chosen an awful lot of great things.”
Cramer’s husband Steven Goldberg, another member of the Friends of Chautauqua Theater, also finds Borba’s perspective invaluable.
“He’s always fascinating to talk to because he has this very holistic, very broad view of theater and the arts,” Goldberg said. “He not only does a lot of theater, but he teaches, he performs in film and television. He’s got a wide knowledge of the whole area, and so he brings that to the activity here.”
Borba has an enduring love for Shakespeare, and his very first experience at Chautauqua, in 2005, involved him teaching Shakespeare to graduate students. He has served as the text coach for the vast majority of CTC’s Shakespeare offerings throughout his tenure.
That experience tracks with his career growth, both within and outside of the Institution. Borba is a professor of acting at the University of California, Irvine (as well as the co-head of the university’s acting Master of Fine Arts program), where he specializes in teaching Shakespeare. The teaching skills he honed at Chautauqua serve him in that role.
“He’s quite the master of tackling Shakespearean language and helping the conservatory with it,” Cramer said.
Borba, along with previous CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy, spearheaded the creation of a CTC Shakespeare touring production. For four or five years before the pandemic hit, the company brought Shakespeare out into the local community, performing in Jamestown and Mayville.
“I really hope that the touring Shakespeare company continues because it’s been wonderful, it’s been a great way to engage with communities, and it was very much catching fire in a way (pre-COVID),” Borba said.
Cramer testified to the value of that effort.
“A big part of the goal of Chautauqua Institution is to go beyond the gates into the community with the various offerings,” she said. “Theater has been one of the best ways of reaching community members, and it’s been extremely successful.”
One of Borba’s first professional directing gigs was at Chautauqua. The significance of the skills, practical and otherwise, that he acquired and honed here on the grounds is immeasurable.
“I’ve learned, certainly, directing skills from other directors and from designers and that sort of thing,” Borba said. “I’ve absolutely gained leadership skills, administrative skills. I’ve been able to work my acting chops here as well. I also think I’ve gained empathy, not just for people in theater, but for people across the board who are striving to create an environment where people can learn and grow.”
Borba thinks of Chautauqua as a theatrical home and deeply values the sense of support and community. He feels that his time here has not only made him a better theater artist, but a better human and parent as well.
“I think also those things go hand in hand with parenting — a rigorous, supportive and encouraging atmosphere — for me, those things translated directly into parenting,” Borba said.
Borba thinks of CTC as a bridge for artists of all stripes between one phase of their life and the next. That concept informs his commitment to diversity in hiring and casting.
“We, the theater company and the Institution at large, are a place of opportunity, and we need to open our doors,” Borba said. “And that has been my goal: To open our doors to people so that they can benefit in the same way that I have.”
Borba finds the atmosphere of growth for young artists and experienced ones alike to be extremely rewarding. It’s a space to do work on one’s craft without the pressures of the watchful eyes of critics or the demanding pace of a typical working actor’s life.
“The magic of this place is that it’s all about the work,” Borba said. “And because of that, we see people take what they have here out into the world. It’s not just skills, necessarily. It’s about how to work together. It’s about how to work on different shows. It’s about how to work with professional actors. But the other thing that they really take away is that they are worthy and capable.”
CTC Managing Director Emily Glinick, who stepped into her role this season but has known and worked with Borba at Chautauqua for a decade, noted Borba’s wacky sense of humor.
“He is full of the most terrible dad jokes and puns, and I’m always razzing him about his terrible sense of humor,” Glinick said.
Cramer also noted Borba’s sense of humor, saying that she thinks his best directing is in comedy. Some of her favorite productions that he has directed include Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and Noises Off by Michael Frayn.
At Thursday’s Brown Bag in Smith Wilkes Hall, aptly titled “Bye Bye Borba,” Borba said that directing comedy is his favorite. He described sitting behind his father, his wife and his two children during Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the first CTC production he directed, and the thrill he felt when all four of them laughed at the same moment.
“The sound of the communal laughter when something really hits on the Bratton stage, it’s like a drug,” Borba said.
Goldberg told the story of a Friends event where the cast and crew of CTC spoke about aspects of their resume that fell outside their primary field. Borba interviewed each company member, asking questions both silly and serious.
“For about half of them, his final question was, ‘So tell me. Have you seen “Taken 3”?’ ” Goldberg said. “Which of course is the movie he was in where he dies before the credits. So every time he said it it was hilarious, and for about the next couple of years, I would totally tweak him about seeing ‘Taken 3.’ ”
Although it’s nigh impossible for Borba to name a favorite experience or memory from his almost two decades with CTC, he mentioned his appearance in the Liam Neeson film as a notable moment. His film and television career gained momentum around the same time he started at Chautauqua.
“I book more in film and television immediately after I’ve returned from Chautauqua than any other time in the year,” Borba said. “And I think the reason is that I’m sort of artistically anchored and connected, and I go into auditions, and I’m just fuller when I walk in.”
Borba was only in “Taken 3” briefly, but it was a long shoot that took place in Santa Monica, California, Atlanta and Paris. The Paris portion was a glamorous whirlwind that landed in the middle of the CTC season. Borba finished the text work for one CTC show, flew across the Atlantic for the shoot and returned in time to direct the final show of the season.
“It just felt right, in the sense that they were feeding each other, but (Chautauqua) also made it possible to do all those things,” Borba said. “I’ve always tried to be what my wife and I call possibilitarians. Which is about asking, how do you make it possible? How does it happen? And this is a place of possibilitarianism.”
Borba described his departure as bittersweet. He won’t miss the weeds in the lake, but he’ll miss just about everything else.
“We will miss him dearly, and his gift has been helping us understand more about ourselves and each other,” Moore said. “We are so grateful for Andrew’s deep commitment to working with (incoming artistic director) Jade King Carroll on a transition that leads Chautauqua Theater Company to the next stage of enriching lives.”
Borba is not only prepared, but thrilled, to see what Carroll will do and where CTC will go from here.
“Change is always good,” Borba said. “I think that I’ve had such an extraordinary opportunity here, so it’s also time for someone else to have that extraordinary opportunity.”
He continued, “If I believe what I preach, and I try to practice what I preach, if this place is a bridge, I need to walk across a bridge and let someone else come in. That is the spirit of this place. That has been the spirit of what I hope my leadership is. And I’m super excited to find out what the next chapter of CTC will bring. I cannot wait to see it.”