Director Anne Kauffman sets sail on Encores! Titanic

Anne Intro

Anne Kauffman was Artistic Director of City Center’s Encores! Off-Center 2017-2020. She is a Resident Director at Roundabout Theatre, a frequent collaborator with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe, Artistic Associate and Founding Member of The Civilians, co-creator of the Cast Album Project with Jeanine Tesori and Taneisha Duggan, and a Clubbed Thumb Associate Artist and co-creator of the CT Directing Fellowship. Most recently Kauffman was nominated for a Tony Award for direcitng Mary Jane on Broadway. 

Anne Interview 01

The RMS Titanic bound from Southampton, England on its maiden voyage was set to arrive at Pier 59 in New York City on April 17, 1912. Instead of seeing the majestic ship appear on the horizon, people all over the world were shocked to read newspaper headlines of its sinking in the North Atlantic Ocean. Although the ship never reached its destination, if you look closely, you will find its remnants scattered throughout the city. A faded Cunard sign, its shipping company, remains on Pier 54 in Chelsea; a memorial to Isidor and Ida Straus, who perished in the catastrophe, can be seen at one of the entrances to Macy's on 34th Street; and a few blocks north, the Hudson Theater stands as a testament to its founder, Henry Harris, another of the souls lost at sea.

New York City is haunted with reminders of a promise that was never fulfilled, "At once a poem/And the perfection/Of physical engineering," as put by composer Maury Yeston in Titanic, the musical he wrote with Peter Stone. It's only fitting that for the director Anne Kauffman, who helms the Encores! production at City Center (June 11 – 23), that the musical is a ghost story. "We're all coming to this space knowing they're doomed," she explains, "so we're all there to be told around the campfire what happened that dastardly day."

"It's a story of greed, ingenuity, hope, technological advancements, invention, the Icarus spirit of it all," says Kauffman, who immersed herself in photographs and historical material to further understand a disaster that has never ceased to fascinate the collective imagination. Although people think of Icarus's calamitous fall from the heavens as his wings melted, "there is also the desire to make these wings, the desire to discover,” she says.

Titanic Cast


The cast and creative staff of Encores! Titanic

Anne Interview 02

It's the same desire that led her to put together the brilliant team of creatives to help her envision what Titanic could be. The beloved musical has been interpreted in myriad forms ranging from the epic Broadway production, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1997, to intimate chamber versions, proving the show's malleability. "The genius of the musical is that you don't even need a set because it always tells us where we are," expresses Kauffman, "it's Shakespearean in its lack of specificity for sets."

"We're not building a boat or any of that," she announces, instead, she hopes audience members will become co-creators in a process of discovery and imagination. Scenic designer Paul Tate dePoo III has created a sparse set, a void or a mirror, depending on who's looking, where audience members can project their own interpretation. The ensemble will come and go, as buoys or phantoms, and even the actors will be involved in determining the meaning of each performance. "We have actors like Judy Kuhn and Bonnie Milligan playing these characters without fully losing themselves in these roles," she explains. "We'll be in the water from the very beginning, floating in the space."

Affecting tonality more than practicality, Kauffman, who recently received her first Tony nomination for Best Direction of a Play for Mary Jane, will employ the tools she has used throughout her prolific career to pinpoint the essence of the work. She distills it and removes adornments, using the practicality of prose to achieve poetry. “‘What's the least we can do with the greatest impact?’” is my motto," she explains.

Kauffman affirms that theater lives in the domain of metaphor, which allows for every interpretation to be resonant. Therefore, Titanic today can be an invitation to reflect on hubris, an exploration of class as a construct ("when the boat was sinking everyone was the same class," she says), and a story told by ghosts of an empire that hasn't realized it's already vanished.

Jose Solís is a Honduran cultural critic and founder of the BIPOC Critics Lab; he is currently based in Madrid, Spain.

30 Years of Encores!


Feb 21 – Mar 3, 2024

An all-star cast sets sail in Titanic, including Chuck Cooper, Eddie Cooper, Andrew Durand, Drew Gehling, Ramin Karimloo, Judy Kuhn, Jose Llana, Bonnie Milligan, Brandon Uranowitz, and Chip Zien. Directed by Anne Kauffman (The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window), this nearly sung-through show from creators Maury Yeston (Grand Hotel) and Peter Stone (1776) paints a heartrending portrait of the individuals whose dreams of America were dashed in the Atlantic.

Learn More