‘The Exonerated’ play has multi-talented director in Felipe E. Macias

Published 3:04 pm Monday, September 4, 2023

Felipe E. Macias has one big hope for people who come to see Theatre Oxford’s production of The Exonerated at the Powerhouse September 8 and 9. “I really hope that people who come to see this walk away thinking about it. I am really hoping for a lot of conversations the following week.”

An award-winning theatre veteran who serves as technical director in the Theatre and Film program at the University of Mississippi, Macias is director of The Exonerated, a play that includes six true stories of wrongfully convicted survivors of death row.

Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, the play is based on interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and public records. It won the 2003 Drama Desk and Outer Critic’s awards and also the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Champion of Justice Award.

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“Once I started researching this and what happened to these people, why it happened to them, then I thought we have six wonderful stories wrapped up in one play,” Macias said in a recent interview.

A native of El Paso, Texas, who grew up in New Mexico, Macias served 25 years as Designer and Technical Director in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Eastern New Mexico University. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at that university and chaired its Department of Theatre and Dance for more than eight years. He also won the university’s Spirit of Eastern award for his achievements as a faculty member.

Macias served as designer in over 150 productions, including in 2015 the world premiere and subsequent European tour of the opera Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His resume as a designer includes a long list of theatrical productions of Shakespeare’s plays as well as plays such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Miss Firecracker’s Contest, Camelot, and Tartuffe

However, Macia’s long and varied career also includes his work as director of plays such as All’s Well That Ends Well, Waiting for the Parade, and Agnes of God. He directed five of his former student and award-winning New Mexico-based playwright Leonard Madrid, including Aurora, A Tale to a Muse, and Perla.

“To have a director who is so respectful of your work and honors it is always a gift,” Madrid said about Macias during a recent interview. “One time he was directing one of my plays when I was 19 years old, and he gave me the same respect he would a play that has been done a million times.”

Madrid said Macias’ broad experience as a designer and technical director as well as director gives him a unique perspective when leading a production. “Dealing with a theatre polymath who can do more than one thing is always going to be a benefit to everyone else in the room,” Madrid said. “Someone who can speak the language, they tend to be the best collaborators.”

Madrid said that some directors come into a production with an attitude that 10 to 12 percent of the script will need to be cut  even before they’ve read the script. Macias isn’t one of those directors. “He honors the script for what it is. He is there to be a resource of knowledge for rewrite and development, but he is never going to say unilaterally you are wrong and I am going to fix this.”

Macias said his varied experiences in the theatre indeed are a benefit when directing. “Directing is a composite of everything. We always have to be sort of generalists in the business, but the director has to be able to talk to designers, to actors, to the production people.”

As for cutting or shaping scripts, Macias said his focus is always on the story being told. “You have to have a respect for the script. That is where you start. You don’t begin buying a car by saying I want to take stuff out of it. You have to look at it, evaluate it. How does it relate to the story?”

That’s what is compelling about The Exonerated, Macias said. Six compelling stories from people with shared experiences but each with individual reactions to those experiences.

Before coming to Mississippi, Macias served on the board of the New Mexico Alliance for Arts in Education, the Region VI selection committee for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and served for 10 years as vice chair of the design wing of the Southwest Theatre and Film Association. He also served as Designer and Technical Director for the Department of Theatre and Film at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama.

Macias is married to Kate Hooper, president of the board at Theatre Oxford. 

Tickets to The Exonerated will be available at the door and seats can be reserved at  https://oxfordarts.com/theatreoxford.

The Powerhouse is located at 413 South 14th Street in Oxford (on the corner of University Avenue). Parking is in back near the water tower. To learn more about Theatre Oxford, visit its website (theatreoxford.org) or follow Theatre Oxford on social media (@theatreoxford).