Josie Bray ’01 & ’03: Changing the Landscape

Josie Bray, 2001 B.A., 2003 M.A.

Bio: Josie Bray is a director/choreographer, producer, and teacher. Josie is a two-time winner of the IRNE award for Best Choreography of a Musical. She was the Co-Artistic Director of the Animus Ensemble, a Boston-based theatre company, for five years and also served as the Executive Director of Green Street Studios, Center for Movement and Dance. In New York City, Josie choreographed several off-Broadway plays. Josie has worked on several national tours and on the 2009 Broadway Revival of Ragtime. Josie has also directed at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and teaches Movement for Actors at Emerson College. She is currently a senior Partner at U Rock Theatricals in New York City, where she is producing two musicals intended for Broadway.

How has Emerson prepared you for the work you do with students today?:

My education at Emerson planted seeds that have driven my values, the way I teach, and how I communicate with students and with colleagues throughout my entire career.  I try to work with students in a way that helps them to become engaged in their own creative process and in their own physical experience as actors, movers, and artists.  Emerson helped me to understand and dissect power structures, symbols in art and politics, and messaging while also giving me a taste of what it means to create my own work.  This has informed my artistic career hugely, and is the same kind of seed I hope to plant with my students and professional clients.

In the performing arts community, the topic of parallel careers comes up. What are some tips you would offer to students looking for more than one avenue to a sustainable, creative career?:

When I was a student, parallel careers never came up in conversation.  There was the day job, which you hoped to never have to have or quit as soon as you could, and then your art job, the thing you really wanted to do.  I first learned about parallel careers at the Actors’ Fund when I was living in NYC, and it has been so helpful.  One of the best things an artist can learn is another set of skills that are in demand, that can be flexible, and that can offer an increase in income as you get better.   

When I was working on my first Broadway Show as the Director’s Assistant, I had just been trained as a yoga and pilates teacher.  I thought I had to keep that a secret from the Broadway community, because I was around “real” professionals.   Then, I realized that most of the Broadway Actors had other things they did to be financially stable–they were massage therapists and teachers and owned dog-walking businesses. One was even an accountant.   A young artist should find something else that they enjoy doing, and that they are interested in getting good at, and that has the kind of flexibility to do less of or to change their hours when they are working on a show.

For myself, as I’ve worked to make theatre and dance, I’ve continued my movement training and my continued to build my teaching skills.  It’s wonderful when I teach artists, but I also give private coaching sessions to all kinds of other people.  This has circled around in surprising ways; one of my personal training clients in Manhattan became one of the first investors in TREVOR, the musical I am working to bring to Broadway.  Other clients there have continued to offer support in other ways–celebrating with me when I achieve milestones on the show or giving me a place to crash when I’m in the city for work.  Having multiple careers has not only made my work sustainable, it’s allowed me to find resources for creating a new show that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

You’ve been working on Trevor the Musical for quite some time. Can you tell us a little about it and future plans for production?:

TREVOR the musical is a coming-of-age story about identity, the struggles of growing up, and emerging sexuality.  Trevor is a 13-year-old boy in 1981 whose vibrant imagination drives a turbulent journey of self-discovery of being gay, having his first crush, dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence, and wanting to be accepted even when the world isn’t ready. It is based on the 1995 Academy Award-Winning film of the same name.   The film’s premiere on HBO also caused the launch of The Trevor Project, the nation’s only accredited crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization focused on saving young LGBTQ lives.

My Company, URock Theatricals, is the Creative Producer on this piece.  We’ve been working on it for six years in collaboration with writing team Julianne Wick-Davis and Dan Collins, as well as Director Marc Bruni and Choreographer Josh Prince.  The musical had its world premiere at the Writers Theatre in Chicago in August of 2017, where it broke all box office records for the theatre and was the winner of 8 Broadway World Awards.  We are currently in the process of moving the show to Broadway. The best way to follow the show is on FaceBook.

What does representation for womxn mean for you in the field of Performing Arts?:

Working in the Commercial Theatre, I am often in meetings where I am either the only womxn or I’m one of two womxn.  There are even less people of color. It’s a bit of an old boys’ club.  On one hand, it’s quite difficult to break in.  On the other hand, womxn and people of color have an opportunity right now to really change the landscape, both in terms of what kind of work is being made as well as what the culture of show business is.  We can make work that matters, and work that says something important.  I think the world is hungry for that right now, and I’m taking this as an opportunity to make theatre that means something.

Who would you love to collaborate with next on a project and why?:

I’m hoping to go back to my physical theatre roots on my next project and create a piece about healing from trauma with an ensemble of womxn physical theatre artists.  I’m looking for female-identifying physical actors, particularly people of color, who are interested in devising a piece from scratch in a bare-bones way.  I’m hoping to create something that can tour internationally in small venues.  While I’ve loved creating work for Broadway and will continue to, I miss the intimacy of small theatre.  So many women have experienced trauma and have found ways to heal, and I truly think that story needs to be told. Howe, keen observers of nature and the human condition; and journalist Rebecca Traister who writes a lot about the growing single women demographic.

By Jessica Chance
Jessica Chance Assistant Director, Liaison to Alumni and Graduate Students Jessica Chance