2019 MID-CAREER ARTS PRIZE FOR THEATRE
Victoria Bussert began her journey to directing professionally at age seven. Slightly less glamorous, her stage then – complete with a blanket hung on a clothesline for a curtain – was located in the basement of her family’s home in Munster, Indiana.
“I always knew I wanted to direct,” states the high-energy Director, Music Theatre Program and Professor of Theatre at Baldwin-Wallace University. “In my schooling, though, people always tried to get me to go in other directions because there weren’t women to look up to then.”
In fact, the first undergraduate program she enrolled in said she could major in acting or theater but not directing, so Vicky transferred to Barat College, a woman’s institution, to increase her chances to direct, and she did. She confirmed her niche as a director. “I did act for a while in high school and college, but that never did it for me,” she says. “What excites me, what I love is what happens in collaboration that produces more than any one person can do by themselves, so I was interested in the bigger picture.”
Between her junior and senior year, she worked as a production assistant at the Academy Festival Theatre, an Equity theater that used Barat’s performance space during the summer. She earned a whopping $75 as a production assistant, but more important, the second professional show she worked on, Mornings at Seven, moved to Broadway and won a Tony Award. The director, Vivian Matalon, was then asked to direct a Broadway revival of Brigadoon, and he invited her to be his assistant. “Before I even graduated, I had a job on Broadway, and I thought, ‘Wow, it’s all so easy!’” she says with a chuckle.
To avoid being someone’s assistant for her entire career, Vicky decided to earn her MA and MFA at Northwestern University in Chicago. She continued to break barriers along the way, as she faced more challenges as a woman director. During her final quarter there, Gerald Freedman arrived to direct a musical. Impressed by his student’s talent, Freedman invited her to become his assistant at Great Lakes Theater Festival the following year, 1986. She ended up directing about ten months of the year out of town, so was happy to accept when BWU offered her a faculty position. “I had never wanted to teach, but I saw it as an opportunity to rebalance my life,” she says.
Under her guidance, BWU’s program reached number one in the 2018-19 OnStage rankings for Best Bachelor of Music (BM)-Music Theatre Programs, and the publication called the university "a top destination for any student wanting to study musical theatre." Her first BWMT program audition 24 years ago had four people show up and she selected 2. Today, Vicky auditions 800 to 900 students for 20 slots each year.
Vicky continues to serve as a resident director at Great Lakes Theatre in Cleveland and for Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Additionally, she has worked as a professional freelance director for more than 30 years. Her New York credits include The Gig at Manhattan Theatre Club, Dust and Dreams at the York Theatre and concert stagings of Lizzie, Factory Girls and The Circus in Winter at New World Stages.
Vicky has extensive experience directing regional and national tours, including Into the Woods, Barnum, Once on This Island, Guys and Dolls, The Secret Garden and The Who’s Tommy. Her international credits include the Danish premieres of Avenue Q (2012 Reumert Award nominee) [title of the show] for the Fredericia Theatre, Friar Tuck in Russia, along with the Danish and London premieres of Lizzie.
In August, Vicky directed her BWU students in a performance of South Pacific in concert with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center. She’s especially excited this fall to direct the academic premiere of Kinky Boots in November. The production will be a complete re-envisioning of the huge Broadway hit.
“Vicky is a dedicated teacher, and has launched many talented and gifted careers,” says Jeff Herrmann, Production Manager, Great Lakes Theater, who has worked closely with her for more than 20 years. “She is also a brilliant director who brings inventive entertainment to our community, and will continue to do so for years to come.”
Outside of her office, framed Broadway production posters autographed by her former students line the walls. “My goal for my students is that you can graduate in May and be ready for this type of arena immediately,” she says. “I want to give them the best shot possible.”