JoAnne Winter

“Word for Word’s” Founding Director Shares Insights on The Dramatic Arts

As noted in an earlier post, San Francisco’s ‘Word for Word’ will soon stage the work of renowned Irish author and short story master Kevin Barry.

JoAnne Winter is a founding Artistic Director of Word for Word Performing Arts Company.

Founded with Susan Harloe in 1993 as Artists in Residence of Z Space Studio, and soon created a Charter company with other Z Space resident artists and members of the Bay Area theatre community.

Since Harloe stepped down in 2022, Winter has been the sole Artistic Director and works with Associate Artistic Director Vanessa Flores Chacko.

Winter has been a professional actor, director, and theatre teacher, working in the Bay Area for over 35 years.

She holds a BA in Theatre Arts from San Francisco State University, graduating cum laude, and graduated from the professional acting training program of the Drama Studio of London.

With Word for Word, Winter has performed in or directed many shows. Some favorites as an actor include “Xingu” by Edith Wharton, “Two on a Party” by Tennessee Williams and “Home” by George Saunders, and as a director Lucia Berlin: Stories and Wants and Conversation with My Father, by Grace Paley, and Spring Rain, by Bernard Malamud.  She also founded and oversees Word for Word’s arts education program, Youth Arts.

In addition to her work with Word for Word, she has performed and directed for many Bay Area theatres including Magic Theatre, Marines Memorial, Marin Theatre Company, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, as well as nationally and in France.

In this exclusive interview with Cultural Currents, she shares a few insights and observations on theatre and state of the arts.

Cultural Currents: What impact did COVID have on your theatre company?

 JoAnne Winter: Like everyone , Covid was difficult, but I’m happy to say that we survived and are back doing what we do best – making brand new theatrical productions from stellar short stories.

 CC: Were there any important lessons learned during that crisis?

JoAnne Winter:  I think the biggest lesson we learned was what a loyal audience we have. They stuck with us and supported us through the lock down and are back with enthusiasm. We also, like other arts organizations, had to pivot and figure out how to produce our particular art-form virtually. We created a podcast with our wonderful company members and other Bay Area theatre favorites, performing audio recordings of Word for Word style audio performances of short stories by writers such as George Saunders and Toni Cade-Bambara.

CC: As sole Artistic Director, how do you work and collaborate with your team?

 JoAnne Winter: Theatre is a very collaborative art and I’m lucky to be a part of a wonderful company – we have 20 core company members in Word for Word and we work together to choose the stories we’ll produce and discuss the direction of the company. Our Associate Artistic Director, Vanessa Flores Chacko and I create the vision for Word for Word, incorporating input from our Core Company. Also, Word for Word is a program of Z Space – a development home for new American theatre and we couldn’t make our shows without the amazing staff of Z Space.

 CC: How should your audience prepare for the upcoming production?

JoAnne Winter:  They should come with open hearts and minds and prepare to be delighted by these joyful, funny and beautifully written stories and the inspired work the artists have done to bring them to the stage.  It’s not required that you read the story beforehand – I’m sure you’ll enjoy the performances either way.  But of course we encourage everyone to go out and get the book. Authors are our favorite people and we want to support them.

 CC: Are there any other questions our readers should have for you?

JoAnne Winter: Well, if they’ve never seen a Word for Word production before, they might be asking – “What the heck is Word for Word?”  And I would tell them, you kind of have to see it to really understand, but, it’s kind of like opening a book and having all the characters of a story pop out and perform it for you. It’s as if the characters are telling the story as it’s happening to them – with lights and music, sets and costumes – just like a play really, but with the added thrill of the short story writer’s language spoken exactly as written.