May Adrales, an award-winning director and artistic leader who has directed over 25 world premieres, has been appointed director of the Fordham Theatre program.

Adrales’ directing credits include performances in several cities written by a diverse group of playwrights. She most recently helmed the world premiere of the Obie-winning production of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Before that, she directed Rajiv Joseph’s Letters of Suresh and Chisa Hutchinson’s Somebody’s Daughter at the Second Stage Theater in Manhattan. These followed productions in venues such as the Actors Theater of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep, and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

In 2013, she was featured in a New York Times article about “new power players of Off-Broadway” who were challenging a historically male-dominated field.

A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Adrales, who is also now an assistant professor of theatre and visual arts, also brings a wealth of experience in the academic realm. She has directed and taught at Juilliard, Harvard/ART, New York University, and Bard College, and served on the faculty at the Yale School of Drama and Brown/Trinity’s MFA program. She served as the artistic director of The Lark, an international play development think tank and laboratory. From 2006 to 2009, as an artistic associate, she spearheaded the Shakespeare Lab at New York’s Public Theater.

In 2010, she directed a production of Mrs. Packard by Tony-nominated director, playwright, and screenwriter Emily Mann for Fordham Theatre’s Mainstage Season, and the experience stayed with her, she said.

“I was impressed with the caliber of students, and the passion and the commitment that they brought to the craft. It was also my first collaboration with Emily Mann, who has been such an important mentor and advocate for me in my career,” she said.

Adrales said she also admired the scope and imagination of Fordham’s mainstage productions, and the participants’ willingness to interrogate tough questions. That’s key to her vision of theater as a self-described “citizen artist.”

“Theater is a unique art in that it is a social art form. It exists in community; it exists in dialogue. Even a solo performance only exists as a dialogue with the audience. That makes it the platform for social change,” she said.

“I think that we all endeavor into this art form as citizens. We participate in a dialogue, and that act of building a stronger citizenry is one of the goals of this program.”

In addition to teaching a class in the fall, Adrales is returning to the departments’ mainstage season this spring, to direct aulis, by Christopher Chen.

Adrales noted that is an especially important time in history to think about ways to truly be inclusive. As a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines who grew up in the small coal-mining town of Covington, Virginia, she understands what it means to be an outsider.

“How do you truly create radical accessibility in theater? How can we really make the vision of equity, access, and inclusion vibrant in all aspects of what we do?” she said.

“Those are those bigger questions I have been struggling with since before I got here, as an artist. I take the responsibility in leading the program to really try to find tangible, workable solutions for how to bring that vision to fruition.”

As a director, she embraced that vision by championing works of new artists—and embracing the power of a good chuckle. In September, in an acceptance speech for the Andrew R. Ammerman Directing Award from the Arena Stage, she noted that all of her work has been rooted in a “mischievous desire to make good trouble,” an echo of the late civil rights leader John Lewis’ call to action, with a twist.

“The most powerful political work I’ve ever done has been comedies. Comedy is a tool that we use to zero in on our foibles,” she said.

“It’s a way for sparking recognition, and of course, if you recognize yourself in any situation, you start to build empathy. It’s mischievous in that way. It’s telling a message through comedy and telling a story through visual beauty. If you’re seeing something beautiful or haunting, that image is going to stick with you, and you’re not going to feel pummeled with a political message.”

The past few years have made clear how important resilience has been, and how important the art of storytelling is, she said. The pandemic also inadvertently revealed how some groups, such as those with disabilities, were being left out of the theater world before technologies such as Zoom opened new opportunities for them. This will be foremost in her mind going forward, she said.

Ultimately, success in her role, she said, will be seeing the spark for a young person that really finds their voice for the first time.

“That happened to me around this age, and it was those moments that really shaped me as the citizen artist that I am. I know that all the students here will do amazing, fulfilling things for themselves, and I hope to be witness to that journey,” she said.

“It’s about the ripples that the program will create rather than the big prizes at the end of the day.”

Adrales herself has received numerous prizes for her work, including the TCG Alan Schneider Directing Award, the League of Professional Women’s Josephine Abady Award, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation’s inaugural Denham Fellowship. She has been awarded directing fellowships at New York Theater Workshop, Women’s Project, SoHo Rep, and the Drama League.

For the theater faculty, Adrales is a welcome addition whose vision jibes perfectly with efforts already underway.

Elizabeth Margid, a professor of directing and the person who chaired the search committee, said it’s exciting to have someone who will have the time and space to take the long view.

“She has the ‘vision thing.’ She’s that kind of person. She dreams big, and because she’s so warm and leads with love, and is so articulate, she’s the kind of person that people want to work with,” she said.

Chad McArver, a professor of lighting and set design and chair of the department of theatre and visual arts, said he expects Adrales will help facilitate the ongoing transformation and conversation that the department has been engaged in since the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

“We’re moving into a social justice focus with our anti-racism work that we’ve been doing, so she’s like the capstone for all that,” he said.

“The way she’s been thinking and working as an artist is perfect for us.”

He also embraced the label of “citizen artist.”

“We want to make sure that we are educating students who have been empowered as artists, and will be upright, leading citizens wherever they land,” he said.


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.