Day 30 – Risa Brainin

Jim Sirianni interview with Risa Brainin

Risa Brainin is a freelance director and Founder/Artistic Director of the groundbreaking new play development program LAUNCH PAD at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Brainin served as Artistic Director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz (2001-03) where she directed The Sea Gull, Hamlet and the world premiere of Brad Carroll’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. Prior to SSC, she held the position of Associate Artistic Director for both Kansas City Repertory Theatre (2000-2002) and Indiana Repertory Theatre (1997-2000). From 1987-1997, she resided in Minneapolis and had a rich association with the Guthrie Theater, serving as Resident Director (1991-93), Associate Company Director (1995-96) and acting instructor in the company’s outreach program (1987-97). 

Other directorial credits include plays at Syracuse Stage, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Playmakers Repertory Company, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, American Players Theatre, Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Portland Stage Company, Actors’ Theatre of Kansas City, New Harmony Project,, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Ensemble Theatre, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Clarence Brown Theatre, Commonweal Theatre, TheatreSquared, and the Red Bull Theatre. She directed the premiere of Bob Stromberg’s That Wonder Boy in Minneapolis and the United Solo Festival in NY (WINNER: United Solo Fesival and Backstage Award, Best One Man Show and Best Direction, 2015) and Annie Torsiglieri’s “A” Train also at the United Solo Festival in NY (WINNER: Best Production, 2017 and Best Encore, 2018).  Over ten years in the Twin Cities, Ms. Brainin directed for many companies including Mixed Blood, Illusion Theatre, History Theatre, and the Cricket Theatre.

Since creating LAUNCH PAD in 2005, Brainin has developed and directed many new works with the playwright in residence including Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play, John Walch’s The Dinosaur Within, Barbara Lebow’s Plumfield, Iraq and La Niñera: The Nursemaid, Sheri Wilner’s Kingdom CityBiederman’s Match (based on Max Frisch’s Biederman and the Firebugs) by Beau Willimon, music by Michelle DiBucci, lyrics by Portia Kamons, Entangled by Lila Rose Kaplan, Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky by Alison Tatlock, The Talented Ones by Yussef El Guindi, We Want the Funk, a rustbelt lullaby on the one! by Idris Goodwin, Staging the Daffy Dame by Anne Garcia-Romero, The Watsons Go To Birmingham — 1963 adapted by Cheryl L. West, What Martha Did by Enid Graham and Appoggiatura by James Still which  premiered at Denver Center Theatre Company in January, 2015.  In the reading series, she has developed plays by many others including Jami Brandli, Deborah Brevoort, Mia Chung, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hutton, and Joyce Carol Oates. LAUNCH PAD was featured in American Theatre magazine for its innovation and contribution to new play development.  

The former director of education for SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development, Ms. Brainin has taught and /or directed for the MFA programs at University of Minnesota and University of Missouri-Kansas City, UC Santa Cruz, Butler University and the BFA Program at University of Utah. A graduate of the Carnegie-Mellon University Drama Program, Brainin has served on grant panels for the Theatre Communications Group and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is past President of the Board of Trustees of the National Theatre Conference, and serves on NTC’s Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award Committee. 

Launch Pad

Creating the Next Great American Play

Celebrating 15 years and led by Artistic Director Risa Brainin, LAUNCH PAD is nationally recognized for its innovative contribution to new play development. As a creative laboratory for professional playwrights, UCSB theater students and faculty, and guest artists, LAUNCH PAD is collaboration and experimentation at its finest.

Through its full-scale Preview Productions, Summer Reading Series: New Plays in Process, and recently added New Play Pop-Ups, LAUNCH PAD leads the way for university students to gain the valuable first-hand experience of working alongside professionals, participating in the creative process as it’s happening.

Preview Productions

Each academic year, LAUNCH PAD chooses one play to be developed as a full-scale Preview Production with all the design elements of a professional premiere. As part of the Departmental season, Preview Productions provide the opportunity for playwrights to see their work in three dimensions while continuing to make changes throughout the performances. LAUNCH PAD holds open auditions for all UCSB students. Students also participate as assistant directors, dramaturgs, stage managers, design assistants, and crew.

Summer Reading Series: New Plays in Process

Each summer, three professional playwrights join the UC Santa Barbara community as artists-in-residence to collaborate with UCSB students enrolled in THTR 146: LAUNCH PAD: New Plays in Process. In this three-week class, playwrights, students, and professional artists come together to workshop new works. Participating as actors, stage managers, dramaturgs, and designers, everyone contributes to the development of the play. From the first moment to the last, the play is in constant evolution: actors receive new pages, new scenes, and sometimes even new characters. Each week’s work culminates in a staged reading for the public.

New Play “Pop-Ups”

Several times each year, professional playwrights are invited to “pop in” for a one-time staged reading of their new play. LAUNCH PAD provides a director, actors, and a theater… playwrights see their work “up on its feet” and in front of an audience, adding valuable insight to the development process.


Many LAUNCH PAD plays have gone on to be produced at professional theaters across the country such as the Denver Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Chicago Children’s Theatre, and others. For a list of our nationally acclaimed playwrights, PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE.  

Celebrating 15 years of Donor Support

LAUNCH PAD depends upon the generous support of its donors and patrons. If you’re someone who loves theater, values the collaboration between students and professional artists, or wants to be part of new play development, PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING THE LAUNCH PAD FAMILY.

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