February 3, 2023
Travis Preston of CalArts

Travis Preston, Theater Director – A Biography and Overview of His Career Works

Travis Preston of CalArts’ rise to becoming one of the leading voices in American theater wasn’t exactly typical. About halfway through his Ph.D. in psychology, the celebrated director decided to shift gears and apply to the Yale School of Theater. This decision would culminate in a career spanning several decades, marked by over a dozen landmark works, a directorship at CalArts, and a list of international awards.

Today, Travis Preston of CalArts is considered a master of both contemporary and classical theater and has made a name for himself by combining these two approaches. To better understand the artist’s vision, his career, most prominent works, and how he has risen to become one of the most respected thinkers in American theater is discussed below.

Psychology No More, Theater Instead

Travis Preston of CalArts was born in East Chicago, Indiana, and spent the majority of his early adulthood thinking he’d become a psychologist. Yet, midway through a Ph.D. at Indiana University, Preston discovered an untapped passion for the theater. In a surprising twist of events, he left Indiana University and enrolled in the Yale School of Drama.

This decision would change the course of his entire life. While studying at Yale, Travis Preston of CalArts worked alongside Andrzej Wajda, the celebrated Polish film and stage director, and was selected to become the first student to direct the Yale Repertory Theatre. After graduating, he followed in his mentor’s footsteps and moved to Wroclaw, Poland to further study Polish theater.

By studying with extraordinary Polish artists (including Tadeusz Kantor, Josef Szajna, and Jerzy Grotowski), a powerful appreciation for modern theater grew within Preston, which has continued to influence his work today. The avant-garde nature of Travis Preston of CalArts’ more contemporary interpretations of classic theater draws a direct link to the works of Jersey Grotowski, with whom he worked.

Preston’s Most Notable Contributions to the Arts

Throughout Travis Preston of CalArts nearly 40-year career, he has produced and directed some of the most compelling interpretations of classic opera and theater in the modern age. Notable works include:

  • Lulu (1996): An opera in three parts, on which Preston collaborated with the Royal Family of Denmark and the Danish National Symphony for Copenhagen as the Cultural Capital of Europe.
  • King Lear (2002) – A modern take on Shakespeare’s seminal tale of justice, loyalty, and reconciliation set against the backdrop of Los Angeles’s sprawling and industrial Brewery Arts Complex. Toured to France.
  • Macbeth (A Modern Ecstasy) (2005) – Another modern take on a Shakespeare classic performed and embodied by a single actor as they channel each character in an almost shamanistic manner. Toured to London and Australia.
  • Prometheus Bound (2013) – An industrial and brutalist take on the Ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, who steals fire from the gods. Produced in association with the Getty Villa.
  • Fantomas, Revenge of the Image (2018) – Having its world premiere at the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, this project was based on early cinema and featured a moving audience unit that transported the entire audience through a space activated by multiple video projections.

Along with his interpretations of classical theater, Travis Preston of CalArts has also created a modern retelling of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for the silver screen in the form of his 1993 film, Astonished.

Travis Preston of CalArts as an Educator and Arts Director

Along with his personal productions, Preston has also worked throughout his career as an educator and arts director at some of the most prestigious institutions around the world, including:

  • Columbia School of Arts
  • Harvard University
  • Yale School of Drama
  • New York University
  • Indiana University
  • The National Theater School of Denmark
  • Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts

In 2002, Preston was welcomed to become the Artistic Director of the CalArts Center for New Performance, where he has worked ever since. As an educator, Preston is known for his focus on directing that expands the boundaries of performance – fostering a generation of artists known for their adventurous work.

He frequently uses his own work as teaching examples in order to help his students better understand the creative process. In this way, Travis Preston of CalArts has helped to foster the talent of the next generation of American theater directors.

Travis Preston of CalArts

Awards and Recognition

Throughout his career, Travis Preston of CalArts has received a litany of awards and recognitions. In 1996, he received the Best Opera Production Citation for his production of Lulu, and again in 1999 for his production of Al Gran Sole Carico d’Amore. He has also been inducted into the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Arts as a Chevalier, making him officially a knight.

Despite his many recognitions, Preston shows no signs of slowing down and has recently worked with the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique, Paris to produce a stunning performance of Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie.

Final Thoughts

Travis Preston of CalArts’ unique career has taken him all over the world and seen him produce some of the most memorable theater of the past few decades. His work has been celebrated by critics and loved by audiences, solidifying his place as one of the most respected voices in the American theater scene.