Q & A with Candace Barrett Birk


Candace Barrett Birk is an actor, teaching-artist and director. She made her Twin Cities directorial debut as director of the sold-out world premiere of The Chanukah Guest in 2014. She returns as director for the production at MJTC this December. 

How did you first get involved in theater as an actor and as a director?
I’ve been involved in theater ever since I was a little girl. My mother loved the theater and I grew up in Des Moines where I had wonderful, wonderful teachers. Theater is an ensemble art form – lots of different people doing lots of different jobs – and I was, and still am, fascinated by them all.  Acting was one way in.  I also jumped into directing and teaching. 

What was it like directing the Children’s Museum in LA and how does that experience feed into your directing work in theater?
I’ve worked with children and stories since I was in high school. I love to tell stories, hear stories, make up stories. How we hold stories and change stories is of interest to me as well. And kids are so good at playing with their stories. When we moved to Los Angeles, our son was 8 and I took him to the Children’s Museum and fell in love. It just turned out they needed someone at that time. I started as the volunteer coordinator and eventually became the director. It was one of those gifts from the universe. The Children’s Museum was really like a big experiential theater. The exhibits are built around experience and telling stories. That was my focus while I was the director there.

How did the path of your career lead to the intersection of arts and wellness?
A few years ago, I was a part of developing a connection between the Guthrie Theater’s Education Department  and the healing community. That work resulted in the creation of the Theater and the Healing Arts program at the Guthrie.  Also I went to the University of Minnesota to explore the crossover between arts and wellness. At the U of M's Center for Spirituality and Healing, there was a program for health coaching. The program was a perfect fit. I worked with the Guthrie to create and facilitate workshops for health practitioners, and worked with the health coaching program at the U of M to bring the power of story to the healing arts community. I also have a private health coaching practice.

What did you learn from your first experience directing The Chanukah Guest that you will bring to the return run? 
I love the story – and this year we have the opportunity to find even more in it. Like any good story, there is always more to learn from it. So we’ll build on what we know from before and discover new delights as we continue to work. It’s a different cast so it’s a completely different show. What this new ensemble of actors brings to the show will make it new and different, give it a fresh look.  Again it's not a remount, so I’ll be mindful of that. Our primary attention is to the small, young ones in the audience for whom this may be their the first theater experience. I’m seeing our play as a kind of transition between having one of their grown-ups read them a story, and going to a big formal theater. I have enjoyed learning about the Jewish traditions around Hanukkah. Part of what makes theater so compelling  is learning about different people, places, cultures, and different ways of being in the world.