Let your life feed your art and your art feed your life. Avoid becoming someone who only does theater, sees theater, and hangout with theater people. It’s important to see work that inspires you and to continue to develop a network of fellow artists and collaborators, but if you only do the art you have nothing to make the art about except the art. Live a full life and be inspired.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Stephen M. Eckert.

Stephen M. Eckert is a queer director making queer theater queerly. Their artistic practice includes collaborating on new plays, musicals, contemporary performance, and opera; as well as critical engagement with canonical texts. They were the founder and Artistic Director of the award-winning Promethean Theatre Company in New Orleans and their work has been seen in New York, London, and at the Prague Quadrennial.

Some credits include “A Small Breach of Protocol at Big Rick’s Rockin’ Skydive Academy” (Sam French Off-Off-Broadway Festival,) “ID, Please“ (Tête à Tête New Opera Festival,) and “Paul Ryan Presents Aynnie: The Lil’ Orphan Objectivist” (People’s Improv Theater.) www.StephenMEckert.com

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a pretty conservative household in Michigan. I started doing crew for my school shows in middle school, and didn’t start acting in them at all until high school. I went to a conservative evangelical christian high school, but found a niche playing moody romantic leads like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice or Mr. Brooks in Little Women. I got my largest role in the spring musical, Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, only because the actor originally cast was expelled for being outed as gay.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

The first piece of theater I ever remember seeing was a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Fisher Theater in Detroit when I was around 5 or 6. My only memory of this performance was a very muscular, shirtless Jesus being crucified. I think this experience has defined everything I’ve directed since.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was really lucky to assit for a lot of directors in New Orleans including Rocky Graham, Aimee Hayes, and Gary Rucker. Each of them taught me a lot about staging, comedy, timing, and transitions. I’m also really grateful for my professors at Carnegie Mellon, Greg Lehane and Caden Manson who wrote the book on directing (literally,) and threw that book out respectively.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once performed in a Production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead where me and a dozen other actors had to crawl under the platform of the stage (probably 18 inches high) and wait there for 30 minutes until we could make our entrance as the players. We all really got to know each other well by the end of the run.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

You can have the best show in the world, but if nobody knows about it, what’s the point? The first show I produced and directed in New Orleans, a pair of Christopher Durang plays, The Actor’s Nightmare and Titanic, is still something I’m really proud of, but we had so many performances where we had more folks on stage than in the audience. It’s pretty demoralizing. Since then I do my best to make sure my work is marketed!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on a solo performance piece that’s both live and streamed on Twitch that combines the existentialism of Albert Camus and video game speedrunning. It’s called The Myth of Sysiphus, or Why Don’t We Kill Ourselves? or Yuka Laylee and the Impossible Lair Zero Bees%. I’m hoping to use AI to build the text and maybe even perform it myself!

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

Decide what success means for you then go for that. I’m not sure if I’ve achieved “success” yet, but I am grateful for all the work I get to do. I love theater and making it is a joy.

The best advice I guess I have is to create your support systems and make sure you have boundaries between your professional life and your personal life. This includes in the arts. Too often we romanticize this idea of a struggling artist, and while its true that the career is hard, nobody should martyr themselves to make art. Be clear about that distinction between your work and your life. Make sure you have time for the life part.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Breath, take a break, make some money, pay some bills, go on dates, catch up on TV shows, call your parents. Live. An artist who doesn’t have a life is boring. You end up only making work about making work, and who is that for? We already have Sunday in the Park with George. Work hard, but if you’re struggling take care of yourself.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Well I’m not yet on Broadway (though I am available for any assistant or associate directing positions available. Call me!) so I’m not sure how valuable my advice is, but I’ll see what I can do.

  1. Let your life feed your art and your art feed your life. Avoid becoming someone who only does theater, sees theater, and hangout with theater people. It’s important to see work that inspires you and to continue to develop a network of fellow artists and collaborators, but if you only do the art you have nothing to make the art about except the art. Live a full life and be inspired.
  2. But also support other theater artists. See your friends’ readings/showcases/opening weekends. It can get expensive, it takes time to schlep to the basement its in, and a lot of it might be bad, but support them. Build relationships both because human beings require connection and because your career does too.
  3. Listen. Your professors, directors you assist, and fellow artists have experience you don’t. Hear them. Whether you heed them or not is up to your judgment, but listen to them and make that call.
  4. Get obsessed with something. Whether its theater-related or not, related to a project you’re working on or not, enjoy the process of diving deep into something. Whether it’s the X-Men character Psylocke,, Ivo Van Hove’s non-duplicate production of RENT, Anita Bryant, or Absurdist philosophy fall down some rabbit holes! They give you something to talk about and sometimes inspiration for your work. (All of these are personal obsessions of mine.)
  5. Be shameless. Worried about bothering that producer you met in line to get tickets to Here Lies Love? Don’t be, email him. Show him your excitement about your work. Feel gross about calling in favors so your show can have mics? Don’t be, you need them and the worst they can say is no or nothing at all. This shame isn’t productive, it’s getting in your way. People like to help others, especially talented people with cool ideas. Ask them. The same is true for asking people to come to your show. Get them in those seats!

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?

I haven’t been on a lot of film or TV sets, but directing for the camera is a very different challenge than for the stage. I love to make stage pictures/large compositions that tell stories. A lot of that work in film is done by the cinematographer and editor instead.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

People need to vote and volunteer for Democratic political campaigns. Make calls, send texts, go door to door and organize, especially in swing states. And before any of that, take some time to understand how our government system works, not just how you want it to work, but how it works right now. Idealism and Twitter activism is great, but practical knowledge backed up by real action is a lot more valuable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

For my work and my life I sometimes reflect on Sondheim’s rules of songwriting:

Content Dictates Form/Less Is More/God Is in the Details/all in the service of/Clarity/without which nothing else matters.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Anybody who can give me work, haha. But some of the directors working now that I respect the hell out of and would love to talk with include Joe Mantello, Tina Landau, Ivo Van Hove, Robert Ick, Sam Gold, Susan Stroman, Casey Nicholaw, Marianne Elliott, Julie Taymor, Sam Mendes. Really anybody! I’m inspired by their work, and frankly I want to ask to assist them. haha

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

My website probably needs some updating (advice number 6, update your website) but it’s at www.stephenmeckert.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.