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Joe Banno
Over a multifaceted career, Joe Banno – who recently established a new residence in Los Angeles – has distinguished himself as an innovative, critically acclaimed director.  In work that has been called “joltingly powerful”, “audacious” and “engagingly freewheeling”, he has brought his unique, directorial vision to well over 100 productions spanning classical and contemporary theatre, opera, musicals, video and film.  He has also, in a successful second career, established himself as a fresh voice in classical music, opera and film criticism, with hundreds of his pieces published in newspapers across the country.

His stage-directing has been seen across the US – from a co-production between NYC’s Blue Heron Theatre and the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, to the inaugural production of LA’s Mutineer Theatre, to hybrid stage-works incorporating text, dance, video, music, and visual arts for experimental companies like MusicaAperta and The In Series.  He has created stagingsof new and classic works forthe Folger Theatre and Theatre J (DC), Rep Stage and Adventure Theatre (MD), Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theatreworks (WI), Wolf Trap Opera and the American Shakespeare Center (VA), Opera Northeast (NYC), and San Francisco’s Marin Opera (CA), among many other companies.

For a decade, Banno was the artistic director of DC’s groundbreaking Source Theatre Company.  His productions at theatres in the Washington DC-area have been nominated for 38 prestigious Helen Hayes Awards – four of them for Outstanding Production and four for Outstanding Direction – and have won 9 of them, including one for Outstanding Direction.  Banno is also the recipient of the Mary Goldwater Award and the Bud Yorkin Award, both for excellence in directing.

With a film backgroundthat includes studiesat NYC’s School of Visual Arts, The New School for Social Research and Global Village Video Center, degrees in theatre from Georgetown and Carnegie-Mellon Universities and further studies at NYU and the British-American Drama Academy, and long experience in the classical music world, Banno brings a uniquely wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary perspective to his work.

In 2009, Banno released his first independent feature-film, “Sleeping and Waking”, which had a theatrical run in indie-cinemas around the US, and has since been streamed on Netflix, Google Play and YouTube Movies and offered for sale at Amazon, Blockbuster and other retail outlets.

Among the many hats he has worn throughout his eclectic career, Banno has written on classical music for the Washington Post, directed a web series, worked as general manager at radio station WFUV-FM in New York City, headed–up a new-works funding initiative at Opera America and, for two years, was the on-camera co-host for the official U.S. live-broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards to the Arab world on Alhurra Television.He has frequently served as an acting coach, conference panelist, competition judge and theatre consultant.  Banno has interviewed conductor James Conlon before a live audience at the Folger Theatre, and director John Pascoe on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.  In 2010, and again in 2012, he guest-lectured in Pulitzer-Prize-winner Tim Page’s arts-criticism seminar at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism, as well as recently guest-lecturing in theatre classes and workshops at Pepperdine University, Catholic University, St Mary’s College of Maryland and The Shakespeare Theatre (in Washington, DC), and serving as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 Partners for the Arts opera competitions in Virginia.

As an opera director with over 40 productions to his credit, Banno has had his most recent successes with “The Marriage of Figaro”, “The Magic Flute” and “CavalleriaRusticana&Pagliacci” at Opera Delaware.  His modernist stagings of “Otello” for Washington Summer Opera, “Sweeney Todd” with Wolf Trap Opera, and “La Tragedie de Carmen” and a Bernstein double-bill at the Alba Music Festival (in northern Italy) – together with his emerging-singer workshops of “The Coronation of Poppea” and “Das Rheingold”, and his experimental stagings of non-theatrical musical works (most notably his “Winterreise” for DC’s innovative music-theatre-dance collective, The In Series, and his theatre/chamber-music/haute-cuisine event, “Re:New”, with renowned Chef Jose Andres and the ensemble MusicaAperta) – have reconfirmed him as a challenging and original interpreter of the art-form.


Known as well for his work in musical theatre, Banno’s production of “Evita” – a collaborative project between Open Circle Theatre’s company of artists-with-disabilities and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange – was a critical and popular success.  His work in musical theatre extends from classics like “Carousel” (anational tour with Opera Northeast) and “Fiddler on the Roof” (a hit production at Connecticut’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre) to lesser-known works, such as William Finn’s early “In Trousers” (at Source Theatre Company) and the DC premiere of “Six Women With Brain Death” (Razor’s Edge Theatre).  Banno’s world-premiere staging of “Executive Leverage” at Source Theatre Company received a Helen Hayes Award Nomination for Outstanding Production of a Musical.


Banno’s career has seen him direct over 60 contemporary plays – including dozens of new scripts – at a host of theatres.  From 1997 through 2006, Banno served as artistic director of Washington DC’s creatively audacious Source Theatre Company, where he nurtured the development of burgeoning writers (among them, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and CaleenSinnette Jennings) through the annual Washington Theatre Festival of New Plays, and produced and directed works by a who’s-who of contemporary American playwrights, including a multi-year cycle of plays by David Mamet.  Under his creative leadership, Source expanded its mission – producing late-night theatre; offering seasons of music ranging from intimate cabaret to rock festivals to chamber music series and opera workshops; hosting shows of gallery art and photography; and forging partnerships, artistic residencies and co-productions with other DC theatre companies – resulting in Source’s growth into a bustling, multi-disciplinary arts center.


Celebrated for his culturally relevant updating of classic plays (like his American-set deconstructions of “Tartuffe”, “The Cherry Orchard” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Source), Banno has been particularly noted for his work in Shakespeare.  He has directed eight Shakespeare productions, including “Hamlet”, “The Merchant of Venice”, and a notably popular staging of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Folger Theatre (where his production of “Romeo and Juliet” won several Helen Hayes Awards, including one for Outstanding Direction).  His Shakespeare directing has also been seen at Washington Shakespeare Company/AvantBard (seven productions including the rarely-produced “Cymbeline”, “Pericles”, “Troilus and Cressida” and “Edward the Third”), and in the American Shakespeare Center’s historically-recreated Blackfriars Theatre (for a twice-extended, year-long run of “King Lear”).

Banno has recently begun directing film, and his first independent feature, “Sleeping and Waking”, was released in 2009.  Boasting a wide-ranging knowledge of film, television and related media, and trained in film production, single- and multi-camera video production, cinema history and film semiotics, he has been involved in the world of visual media in a wide range of positions – film critic, projectionist, cinema manager, co-director on live-theatre telecasts for VA cable television, and creative consultant on the festival-award-winning 1995 film, “Bigger Fish” (Second-Hand Smoke Prods).  In 2012, he completed a two-year project directing a web-series featuring nutritionist Janis Jibrin, for fitness guru Bob Green’s website, ranging from interviews and exercise videos to cooking demos and on-site restaurant features.  He has several independent film and web-based projects in development.


As a critic with an extensive body of published work to his credit, he has contributed reviews and articles on music and film to a number of publications, including Opera Monthly, Yankee Magazine, and DC’s alternative weekly, Washington City Paper, where he was the opera critic, as well as a film reviewer, from 1989 to 2008.  He has been a classical music critic at The Washington Post since 1993, and reviewed classical recordingsfor the website from 2009 through 2012.  In 2013, he began contributing concert reviews to the Los Angeles Times.


The last few seasons have seen Banno developing and directing a number of new stage works: the plays “Elvis Blossom” and “Dear Abe” (at Virginia’s incubator for original scripts, Studio Roanoke), the school-violence drama “Rage” and the Absurdist satire “Smartphones” (at DC’s multi-national stage company, Ambassador Theatre), the dark-comedy “NgalaMuti” and the punk-rock musical “Requiem” (for the graduate playwriting program at Catholic University’s School of Drama, in Washington, DC), the American premiere – in a freshly revised and newly orchestrated version – of the British theatre-for-youth musical, “Spot’s Birthday Party” (at Maryland’s Adventure Theatre), the Irish play, “Elvis’s Toenail” (at Sidewalk Studio Theatre in LA) and the film-adapted, one-man show, “Wonderful Life” (at LA’s Theatre Asylum).

In his first production for Northern Virginia’s American Century Theatre, his audience-interactive staging of Durang’s “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” was enthusiastically received, as was his second production for the company, a rare revival of the stage-version of “Judgment at Nuremberg”, which received seven DC Metro Theatre Arts Best of 2014 Awards.In recent seasons, Banno staged a double-bill of Leoncavallo’s opera “Pagliacci” and Ernesto Lecuona’s Cuban zarzuela “Maria La O” (set, respectively, in 1950s Little Italy and Havana), as well as developing and directing a new musical-revue of songs from the 1930s and ‘40s by émigré Hollywood composers, “From Berlin to Sunset” – both productions for The In Series, the DC-based company where he had previously staged a cycle of Mozart’s operas in modern-dress.

Currently, Banno is working as director and co-screenwriter on four independent feature-film projects and has two web-series in development.  He is in discussions with theatres in LA and in the DC-area for productions in the upcoming season.  He continues to contribute music reviews to the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.