Travis Preston of CalArts’ rise to becoming one of the leading voices in American theater wasn’t exactly typical. About halfway through his Ph.D. in psychology, the celebrated director decided to shift gears and apply to the Yale School of Drama. This decision would culminate in a career spanning several decades, marked by over a dozen landmark works, an artistic directorship/deanship at CalArts, and a list of international awards.
Today, Travis Preston of CalArts is considered a master of both contemporary and classical theater and has made a name for himself by combining these two approaches. To better understand the artist’s vision, his career, most prominent works, and how he has risen to become one of the most respected thinkers in American theater is discussed below.
Psychology No More, Theater Instead
Travis Preston of CalArts was born in East Chicago, Indiana, and spent the majority of his early adulthood thinking he’d become a psychologist. Yet, midway through a Ph.D. at the Indiana University, Preston discovered an untapped passion for the theater. In a surprising twist of events, he dropped out of the University of Indiana and enrolled in the Yale School of Drama.
This decision would change the course of his entire life. While studying at Yale, Travis Preston of CalArts worked alongside Andrzej Wajda, a celebrated Polish director, and was selected to become the first student to direct at the Yale Repertory Theatre. After graduating, he followed in his mentor’s footsteps and moved to Wroclaw, Poland to further study Polish theater.
By studying the techniques and directorial vision of Polish artists, a powerful appreciation for modern theater grew within Preston, which has continued to influence his work today. The avant-garde nature of Travis Preston of CalArts’ more contemporary interpretations of classic theater draws a direct link to the works of Jersey Grotowski.
Preston’s Most Notable Contributions to the Arts
Throughout Travis Preston of CalArts nearly 40-year career, he has produced and directed some of the most compelling interpretations of classic opera and theater in the modern age. Notable works include:
- Lulu (1996): An opera in three parts, on which Preston worked with the Royal Family of Denmark and the Danish National Symphony
- King Lear (2002) – A modern take on Shakespeare’s seminal tale of justice, loyalty, and reconciliation set against the backdrop of Los Angeles’s sprawling and industrial Brewery Arts Complex
- Macbeth (A Modern Ecstasy) (2005) – Another modern take on a Shakespeare classic performed and embodied by a single actor as they channel each character in an almost shamanistic manner.
- Prometheus Bound (2013) – An industrial and brutalist take on the Ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, who steals fire from the gods.
Along with his interpretations of classical theater, Travis Preston of CalArts has also created a modern retelling of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for the silver screen in the form of his 1993 film, Astonished.
Travis Preston of CalArts as an Educator and Arts Director
Along with his personal productions, Preston has also worked throughout his career as an educator and arts director at some of the most prestigious institutions around the world, including:
- Columbia University
- Yale University
- Indiana University
- Harvard University
- New York University
- The National Theater School of Denmark
- Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts
In 2002, Preston was welcomed to become the Artistic Director of the CalArts Center for New Performance, where he was worked ever since. As an educator, Preston is known for his focus on teaching the technical aspects of directing as well as the importance of research and analysis.
He frequently uses his own work as teaching examples in order to help his students better understand the creative process. In this way, Travis Preston of CalArts has helped to foster the talent of the next generation of American theater directors.
Awards and Recognition
Throughout his career, Travis Preston of CalArts has received a litany of awards and recognitions. In 1996, he received the Best Opera Production Citation for his production of Lulu, and again in 1999 for his production of Al Gran Sole Carico d’Amore. He has also been inducted into the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Arts as a Chevalier, making him officially a knight.
Despite his many recognitions, Preston shows no signs of slowing down and has recently worked with the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique, Paris to produce a stunning performance of Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie.
Travis Preston of CalArts unique career has taken him all over the world and seen him produce some of the most memorable theater of the past few decades. His work has been celebrated by critics and loved by audiences, solidifying his place as one of the most respected voices in the American theater scene.