Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller was an up-and-coming director when she made the choice to leave theater for motherhood nearly 16 years ago. In 2005, Kaller began working her way back into the scene with off-Broadway plays like Dangerous Beauty, opening the door for her to join the creative team of Geoffrey Nauffts’ faith-meets-sexuality drama Next Fall in 2009—which, as everyone knows, opened to critical acclaim before jumping to Broadway in 2010 with the help of celeb producers like Sir Elton John and David Furnish. We caught up with this talented supermom to find out what it’s like to make your Broadway debut at 50 and end up among the Rialto’s elite in the process.
You left theater behind for motherhood. Why did you make that decision?
I was nursing my second daughter while I worked on a play. She started losing weight because I wasn’t around to feed her enough. I said, “I can’t be an artist for hire anymore.” It took an event that drastic for me to see the problem.
How did you handle making that choice?
I called a friend in Bermuda and just cried about it. She said, “Well, why don’t we start a theater company here [in Bermuda]? We’ll keep our kids with us.” So that’s what we did. We were called Two Island Productions. Three or four months a year I’d take the kids to Bermuda. We did play development, kids’ theater workshops and a big annual concert called Broadway in Bermuda, all while providing day care for ourselves and our artists. The key for me was finding a way to stay creative. But it’s important to me that people who read this understand my husband makes a good living, which is how I was able to do that! I don’t want to sound cavalier.
Growing up, did you envision yourself more as a working girl or a mother?
Both. I always knew I wanted kids. I got married young, at 27, to a man I met when I was 18! I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but as the director, you’re birthing these shows—and I never considered what it would be like to birth plays and children [simultaneously]. Of course, everyone handles it differently. For me, personally, I just didn’t feel I could do commercial, mainstream theater and be the best mom I could be.
But obviously you hit a point where you couldn’t take being away from the stage anymore.
That happened when I started working with New York Stage and Film Company several years ago—they were the first to hire me when I was ready to do a little work again. Some of the best artists in the country pass through their doors, and I absolutely caught the bug of, “Oh, I want to be doing New York theater again!” Because of the way NYS&F supports new writers, I eventually eased my way back in through developing new plays. They kept hiring me. I kept working and meeting incredible new people. Then, suddenly, my Broadway debut’s happening, at age 50, and my children are old enough that I could do it. It’s lucky.
How did Next Fall fall across your plate?
Once I caught the bug to do New York theater again, I started soliciting myself out to every nonprofit theater in the city. I couldn’t travel to far-off theaters to work. Eventually I was attached to one of playwright Christopher Durang’s projects [the musical Adrift in Macao at Primary Stages], which put me back in the mainstream. A Durang gig will do that! Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall came as a result of that. And I love it. I believe in the show so much, it literally gave me a hunger to crawl back into the spotlight.
Did Next Fall have the aura of something that might turn out to be bigger than you anticipated?
It did! Our invited dress rehearsal off-Broadway was so strong that both our production photographer and the photographer from The New York Times stopped shooting. They were literally shooting—click, click, click!—and then just put down their cameras and started to watch the show. I started weeping. I thought, “My God, look what we have here.” I just knew it in that moment.
Is the Tony Award madness overwhelming?
Other than figuring out what to wear to these events, I’m enjoying all of it! When you’re at the point of your life I am, you’re just humbled and appreciative and really, really giddy! I have opportunities now I’ve never had before. I mean, I’m starting a whole new portion of my career—I can hand-pick what I want to do. And here’s what they don’t tell you: The Tony Awards stuff is fun.
In what way?
My mother and I had a ritual where I would skip school one Wednesday a month [to] see a Broadway matinee. We watched the Tony Awards together every year. So to be here, having done it and made it, is amazing. And as a woman! That doesn’t happen all that often! Female directors are rare on Broadway. I had to be told the number of female directors on Broadway vs. the number of men, and was astounded. I feel so honored to be part of the club.
Is hanging out with other directors is like being at a sausage party?
Nah, I spend all my time with Leigh Silverman and Marcia Milgrom Dodge [laughs]. I’m kidding! It never feels like a boys’ club, because the other directors are so warm. We all cross paths. I've never felt any prejudice in my day to day life.
I still feel lucky. Every day that I walk into the theater, I kiss the stage.