Risa Brainin is a freelance director and Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at University of California, Santa Barbara. Through her program LAUNCH PAD at UCSB, she has developed and directed eleven plays with the playwright in residence: 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 City, Biederman’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, and Appoggiatura by James Still which was workshopped at the Perry Mansfield New Works Festival in 2013 and the Colorado New Play Summit in 2014, and premiered at Denver Center Theatre Company in January, 2015. LAUNCH PAD was featured in American Theatre magazine for its innovation and contribution to new play development.
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.)
Brainin’s directorial credits include The Merchant of Venice, Short Plays (Tone Clusters, Naomi in the Living Room and Zoo Story), A Christmas Carol, and Mystery of the Rose Bouquet at the Guthrie Theater; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (co-production with Syracuse Stage), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Herbal Bed, Macbeth, One Thousand Cranes, Talley's Folly, Blithe Spirit, Noises Off, Pygmalion, …A Young Lady from Rwanda and Tuesdays with Morrie at Indiana Repertory Theatre; Machinal, Morning Star and Indian Ink at Kansas City Repertory Theatre; the world premiere of John Walch’s In the Book of and The Comedy of Errors at Alabama Shakespeare Festival; Uncle Vanya and The Government Inspector at American Players Theatre; Honk and 36 Views at PCPA TheatreFest; Lots of Love Gertrude, Ever Thine Thornton and Greater Tuna at the Actors' Theatre of Louisville; The Underpants and Intimate Apparel at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre; Julius Caesar, Measure for Measure, As You Like It and Othello at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival; Iron Kisses at Portland Stage Company; Talley & Son at Actors' Theatre of Kansas City; The Roof and In The Book Of at the New Harmony Project, the reading/workshop of Agnes Under the Big Top by Aditi Kapil at the Leon Katz Rhodopi International Theatre Lab in Bulgaria, the world premieres of Aditi Kapil’s Shiv and Love Person at Mixed Blood, As You Like It at the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Othello and Measure for Measure at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Timon of Athens with UCSB’s Theatre Artist Group as part of the Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival, Gunmetal Blues at the Ensemble Theatre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Secret Order at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Music Man at the Clarence Brown Theatre, the world premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Commonweal Theatre, the workshop of The Spiritualist by Robert Ford at TheatreSquared, AR, Bob Stromberg’s That Wonder Boy in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Connecticut and the United Solo Festival in NY (WINNER: United Solo Fesival and Backstage Award, Best One Man Show and Best Direction), “A” Train at the United Solo Festival, and the Ten Mintue New play Festival at Red Bull Theatre in New York. Over ten years in the Twin Cities, Ms. Brainin directed for many companies including Illusion Theatre, History Theatre, SteppingStone Theatre and the Cricket Theatre.
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 directors of the National Theatre Conference (2015-16) and chaired NTC’s Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award Committee from 2007-10.