Courtesy of Nina Goodheart

Directing is Nina Goodheart’s ’19 way of telling stories.

As the director of eight plays on campus during her time at Yale, Goodheart sees theater as a community where people can listen to stories together. The director has great power in shaping this experience and “instilling hope” in the members of the audience, Goodheart said.

“I’m a huge believer in the power of empathy and I think theater is one of the most remarkable tools we can use to foster empathy,” Goodheart said. “When people come and see the shows I have worked on and have an emotional response or want to tell me a story in response to what they have seen, nothing feels better than that.”

Goodheart’s productions include “She Kills Monsters,” “How I Learned to Drive,” “The Passover Question,” “Good People,” “The Effect,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Into the Woods” and “Fun Home,” in its first ever entirely student directed, produced and performed production. She has acted in “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Here Be Dragons.” She also produced the 2018 Yale Playwrights Festival.

Even though Goodheart’s first experience of theater was at a summer camp when she was just four years old, she traces her theatrical journey back to showtunes her father used to play when she was young, including music from “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story” and “Man of La Mancha.” She said that these songs played in a “constant loop” in her head during her childhood.

This early exposure to musical theater had a great influence on Goodheart. She described how the lyrics became “ingrained in [her] brain” — an “obsession.” Goodheart went on to regularly participate in the annual school plays held in her public high school and considered the possibility of becoming an actor.

“I don’t think my parents realized what they were starting when they were playing those cassette tapes,” she said.

Goodheart described her time at the Walnut Hill Summer Theater Program when she was 15 and realized that she wanted to pursue theater professionally. The program was the first time she was surrounded by professionals in the field and faculty members who “believed [a career in theater] was possible” for Goodheart. She added that at the program, she realized that “people did [theater] as adults and not just in school plays.” She noted that her realization was “both very exciting and terrifying.”

During a pre-college gap year, Goodheart worked at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which she said was instrumental in allowing her to discover her passion for directing. Her time there allowed her to witness a season of five world premieres, all directed by women. Goodheart described the environment as “inspiring” and “educational.” The longer she spent there, the more passionate about directing she became.

It was at Yale, however, that Goodheart found her first opportunity to direct, through the Yale Dramatic Association’s first-year show. She began to prefer directing to acting, as the roles she was cast in left her feeling self-conscious about her appearance and how well she fit different parts. With directing, on the other hand, she could “wear glasses and sweats and still be [herself].”

“I feel really lucky that I’ve gotten to direct all different kinds of shows — big, small, musicals, plays — also with different organizations, with the Dramat, the Theater Studies Department and random stuff in basements,” said Goodheart.

Madi Cupp-Enyard ’20, who has worked with Goodheart as a producer and a choreographer, said that Goodheart has “changed the theater scene on campus and raised the bar.”

“Nina works with a level of professionalism that’s very unique, because she has worked with producers before and is very efficient,” said Cupp-Enyard. “She’s good at coming into the room with a plan but also at feeling the room or the moment and being open to ideas.”

Goodheart enjoys exploring plays with themes that are personal but also relevant to the community. She has prioritized finding “which older shows with their stunning scores still speak to us now.”

Daniel Egan, coordinator of the Shen Curriculum for Musical Theater in which Goodheart works as a student liaison, described her as “resolutely available, compassionate and organized.”

“Her commitment to theater resonates in the community with strong ideas that are reflected in her plays about sexual abuse, sexual identity, pharmaceutical use of abuse — issues that matter in the world and very much in Yale,” said Egan.

Goodheart plans to move to New York after she graduates to pursue directing. She hopes to both direct her own productions and assist on bigger productions. Egan added that he looks forward to seeing her in the professional world. He is “absolutely sure” she will land there.

Freya Savla | freya.savla@yale.edu