Alumni and The Arts
Taccone Offers Sage Advice
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Judging from the myriad displays of art on display this past weekend, it’s no secret that today’s Boston College student body is a talented bunch, and that the arts on campus are livelier than ever thanks to their efforts. But even with our current glut of riches, it’s always fascinating to look back at the talented artists that BC has produced in the past. To that end, this year’s Arts Festival featured two events that highlighted some of BC’s most notable artistic alumni. The common denominator at both events was Tony Taccone, BC ’72, the artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the 2012 recipient of the Arts Council Alumni Award for Artistic Achievement. Taccone’s list of credits is impressive: he commissioned and co-directed Tony Kushner’s famous epic Angels in America, has overseen world premieres of plays by the likes of David Edgar and Lemony Snicket, and has recently written two scripts that debuted last year. In 2009, the theatre magazine Playbill called him “the most prominent artistic director in America right now.”
On Thursday at 3 p.m., Taccone was joined by two other prominent theater luminaries for a panel discussion called “Tough Decisions: Leading the American Theater in the 21st Century.” Also present were Kate Maguire, BC ’77, the artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Group, and Paul Daigneault, BC ’87, the producing artistic director of SpeakEasy Stage Company (and director of this year’s production of Into the Woods). Over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, moderator David Dower presided over an engaging discussion about the power of art and the challenges of balancing the needs of art and business.
The three alumni each followed unusual and not-always glamorous routes to their current success. Daigneault recalled doing grunt work in New York City after college: serving as part of an off-Broadway crew, sweeping theater stages, and crashing on the floor of his friend’s apartment at night. Maguire recounted her first year with the Berkshire Theatre Festival, when even the slightest proposed change caused an uproar among the festival’s board members, who wanted only “happy endings and stars” instead of more original work. Taccone recalled the sobering moment from early in his career of staring at a checkbook with no money and figuring out how to pay all the actors in a week.
Despite such stumbling blocks, though, all three panelists persevered because of their artistic calling. Daigneault used the metaphor of a burning candle—one that must be kept lit despite the world’s attempts to blow it out—to explain his passion for theater. Taccone eloquently summed up the artistic experience as “trying to explore deep truths through the prism of each other.” It was a message that resonated with the audience members, many of whom were BC seniors in the theater department. During the audience Q&A session that closed out the panel, the students present asked for career advice, and the panelists offered their wisdom to guide the next generation of BC alumni in their pursuit of artistic success.
On Friday at 2 p.m., Taccone was present again for the annual edition of “Inside the BC Studio.” Scott Cummings, the chair of the theatre department, moderated the hour-long discussion that traced Taccone’s life and career. Taccone discussed growing up in working-class Queens and being part of a family that encouraged artistic expression; his grandfather was a photographer and his father ran an art studio. Aside from the artistic gene in the family, Taccone credits his eventual career to his college experience. Taccone attended BC during the tumultuous years of 1968 to 1972, a time of protests, student movements, and above all, the fervent belief that “the revolution was going to happen.” Taccone, an English major at a time when there was no theatre department, first discovered his love for performance when touring an epic poem called “The American Dream” at local poetry cafes.
From there, Taccone jumped from theater scholarships to directing and acting jobs, solidifying his reputation in the industry. At one point, his daring production of a controversial political play led to the arson of his theater by a group of South African vigilantes. Taccone quipped that it was “the single greatest compliment” he has ever received. Though his job may be more stable now, Taccone shows no signs of slowing down. As the discussion winded down, Taccone shared insights into Ghost Light and Life Without Makeup, two recent plays that he co-wrote. Clearly, Taccone continues to forge his own artistic path, embracing the call to “set the world aflame” along with so many other BC alumni. n