by Lorie Lewis Ham
The San Joaquin Valley is filled with an incredible amount of talent and we enjoy giving our readers a chance to get to know more about these talented people here in KRL. This week we are profiling local director J. Daniel Herring who just finished the 115th fully mounted theatrical production that he has directed!
J. Daniel was born in Martinsville, Virginia. He first became involved in theatre when he was in high school when his best friend was in a play so he wanted to be too. “That was in 1976, so I guess I am in my 40th year and haven’t looked back.”
The first show that he ever directed was also in high school. J. Daniel went on to earn his B.A. at Virginia Tech and his M.F.A. from Arizona State University, both in theatre. He directed two shows when he was in graduate school, but his first professional gig was at Stage One when he directed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. He worked for 20 years at Stage One in Louisville, Kentucky prior to moving to Fresno in 2007 to work at Fresno State.
Some of the shows J. Daniel has directed since moving to Fresno are Cabaret, Our Town, and The Elephant Man for Fresno State. Next to Normal, I Am My Own Wife, and just recently, Casa Valentina, for StageWorks Fresno. And The Glass Menagerie, Comedy of Errors, and The Importance of Being Earnest for Good Company Players.
“I have been directed by J. Daniel four times now, and each show has been among the most artistically fulfilling experiences of my acting career so far,” shared local actor Terry Lewis. “As a director, J. Daniel has the ability to help you really find the heart of a scene, the overall arc of a play, and his transition work (from one scene in to the next) is amazing. I always come out of his shows a stronger actor. He has also become a dear friend to me, and I absolutely adore him.”
J. Daniel directed local actor Brooke Aiello in Venus in Fur last year (which Terry Lewis was also in), and she says that he is exactly the sort of leader you want helming a play. “He is fair minded and open to collaboration but at the same time he is there to guide you. The most amazing thing is you can’t feel him doing it. You just look back and realize that he kept you safe, kept the ship off the shoals and yet pushed you to new places. Also, the rehearsal room is always full of laughter which is the best gift you can have when doing the work.”
His connection to theatre is not just as a director but also as a teacher–he will be starting his 10th year as part of the theatre department at Fresno State this fall. Currently he is the Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts at Fresno State. “I had the opportunity to be a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 2000 and loved my experience there, so when I saw the job posting at Fresno State in 2006, I applied and the rest is nine years of history now.”
The formal classes that he has taught at Fresno State are Directing Theatre for Young Audiences, Creative Drama, and their Introduction to Theatre course. Along with being Chair, directing a University Theatre production, and the Theatre for Young Audiences Tour, he continues to teach the Directing Theatre for Young Audiences course.
“I believe when you are teaching directing you must make it about the entire production process of the art form as much as you can,” stated J. Daniel. “From choosing and conceptualizing the script, to getting it on its feet with the actors during rehearsal, to sharing it with an audience. An understanding and appreciation of the complete production process is what I hope students walk away with from my directing course.”
Whether directing a show at Fresno State or for a local theatre company, J. Daniel doesn’t change the way in which he directs. “I firmly believe that directing is directing. I don’t change my style or approach whether I am directing at a community based theatre, educational theatre, or professional theatre.”
Former Fresno State student Dane Oliver has been directed by J. Daniel in numerous shows. “He’s a spectacular director. His ability to create a singular evocative vision out of the theatrical mess that is a script and a cast and a design team, supersedes that of any other director I’ve worked with–before or after graduating college and leaving Fresno.”
Austin Yarbrough, another Fresno State alumni, has also worked with J. Daniel several times. “What impresses me most about him are the risks he takes diving headfirst into new and unknown plays. Directors like J. Daniel are a playwright’s best friend, as he knows just how to take fresh ideas off the page and make them reality. And above all else, J. Daniel Herring is a man devoted to people, seeing their potential, taking chances on them, helping them grow. His direction has helped shaped both my career and my spirit, as I am sure he has for many others.”
J. Daniel doesn’t have a favorite type of play, but wants to direct something that speaks to him and that is a challenge, whatever type of challenge that might be. “The more I have to think about how to bring my vision to life for a show the happier I am.”
What he enjoys the most about directing is when he has discovered his vision or concept for a particular play, and then when he gets to collaborate with all of the designers and actors to bring that vision to life is the icing on the cake. What he finds the hardest is casting. “I struggle with those decisions more than creating a vision or staging a play.”
“J. Daniel brings a heartfelt passion to his work as a director,” shared Visalia actor and director Chris Mangels. “He not only deeply cares about the subject matter he is exploring, but he works to engender a similar respect and commitment in his actors and collaborators. With J Daniel, theme and message come first, and when you work with him you become his fellow soldier, inspired to fight for the playwright’s cause.”
Having the opportunity to not be pigeonholed and getting to direct every type of show, J. Daniel feels has helped him grow the most as a director. But what inspires him most is when someone he doesn’t know from an audience walks up to him after a show and says, “Thank you for telling my story.”
As to the future, his goals and dreams are connected to always wanting to create the best possible theatre, whether that is with his Fresno State students or fellow theatre colleagues in the community.
“The way in which J. Daniel Herring chooses to live epitomizes the heart and soul of theatre — using our collective talents to come together and give everything we can in order to create beautiful work,” shared local actor Steven Weatherbee, who worked with J. Daniel in two GCP shows. “But J Daniel doesn’t stop there. From the moment I came into contact with him, he has been encouraging, supportive, and has a serious knack for cultivating growth with those lucky enough to work with him.”
With a love for travel, J. Daniel finds a way amidst his busy schedule to take at least two trips every year. While it is hard balancing everything, he wouldn’t have it any other way! “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t work this way.”
You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.