The Director: Malika Oyetimein

Malika Oyetimein

AGE 32
HOMETOWN Philadelphia
“Baby Got Back” 
by Sir Mix-a-Lot
KRYPTONITE Starting a new show on Netflix
PERSONAL MOTTO Everyday I’m hustlin’

Last summer, as part of Intiman Theatre’s first-ever Director’s Lab, Malika Oyetimein directed a fearless, seamless production of Robert O’Hara’s semi-autobiographical play Bootycandy, a satirical exploration of growing up gay and black.

“I’m not going to make you feel comfortable, because I don’t feel comfortable,” says Oyetimein, an MFA candidate in directing at the University of Washington School of Drama. “The world isn’t comfortable right now.”

Oyetimein grew up performing, but after being cast in maid roles three times at her largely white South New Jersey high school, the self-described “musical theatre baby” didn’t even audition for her senior year musical. “Racism is ugly and you don’t want to deal with it at 14,” she says. “I didn’t have words for it at the time, but I couldn’t participate anymore.”

Instead, she got involved with Philadelphia Young Playwrights. “I was seeing my classmates write plays that were really good and going on field trips to see the plays produced,” she says. “It was Philadelphia, so all of a sudden there’s more color on stage, and I was like, ‘I can do that. I’m a bad playwright, but I could put these together and direct them.’”

Oyetimein credits her “practical Nigerian father” with her initial choice to pursue psychiatry at William Paterson University and her mother with convincing her to finally go all-in on theatre. She assistant-directed any professor who’d let her and interned at small New York theatre companies like the York. After a post-college gig assistant directing and assistant stage managing at Contemporary Stage Company in Delaware, Oyetimein parleyed her experience into stage managing for the next six years.

“What was great about having that skill is that I got to work next to, be in the room with, directors,” she says. “Even though at the time they didn’t see me as a director, I still got to see them, how they work, how they talk to actors.”

She landed a FAIR Fellowship at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and assisted artistic director Libby Appel, which led to more assisting gigs back in Philadelphia, a spot in the 2013 Lincoln Center Directors Lab and graduate school at UW. “I always knew I wanted to come back for classical and foundational training, to stop going so much on intuition and grit.”

Oyetimein will graduate in 2017 but she already possesses an asset that can’t be taught: respect for everyone in the room. “We’re all working together to create art in service of these stories, and I’m like the mama guiding it all,” she says. “If you come and see one of my shows, you’re going to leave feeling like your heart is full.”