A new act for Whitman Drama: Tyler Herman commands the stage as director


Rohin Dahiya

Tyler Herman is Whitman Drama’s new director. Herman’s experience in theater goes back to his childhood.

By Samie Travis

“Break a leg!” Tyler Herman whispered to his actors — except his thespians happened to be some of his favorite Legos and action figures, preparing to go on stage for opening night. Herman shuffled his figurines into their places and prepared to watch the imaginary curtains lift.

As an elementary school student, the now 34-year-old Herman directed numerous theatrical productions for his toys, complete down to the minute details of homemade paper tickets. Since his childhood, he’s traded in his figurines for real actors; he’s studied theater through graduate school, acted in and directed professional shows and taught at multiple organizations. Herman stepped onto a new stage as the director of Whitman Drama in December.

When Herman heard about the job opportunity at Whitman, it reminded him how critical it is that young people have a safe, inclusive space like theater, he said. In his position as Whitman Drama Director, Herman said he has already strived to listen to all of his students and get a sense of what makes the Whitman Drama community special.

“The job at Whitman was appealing to me because it seems like a place where everybody’s really smart and has opinions, but is also gracious and able to collaborate on things,” Herman said. “There’s also an appetite at the school for a more sophisticated kind of drama. Looking at the roster of shows that were done in the past was inspiring to me.”

Co-assistant director for the spring play Sunny Basu, a senior, is glad to work with a director who puts students first, Basu said.

“I’m excited because Tyler is very collaborative and open to suggestions from students, which I really appreciate,” Basu said. “I think a lot of people at Whitman Drama are eager for that.”

Basu’s co-assistant director, junior Clara Baisinger-Rosen, said they are also excited to work with Herman since he wants to make a significant difference in the art he creates.

Growing up in Silver Spring, Herman acted for as long as he can remember in community shows as a child, but it wasn’t until he attended high school at Georgetown Day School that he became deeply involved on and around the stage. Herman got involved in the school’s drama program whenever he could, finding a passion for both the technological and acting sides of production.

During much of his time at Cornell University, Herman remained undecided on his major, but he still kept theater in his life. Herman fostered his passions for acting and singing through “Last Call,” an award-winning all-male acapella group at Cornell that performed skits between songs at their showcases.

“I always knew theater was going to be a part of me, but I assumed that I would have a ‘real major,’” Herman said. “However, my parents were very supportive and said I could major in all of my theatrical interests and then see what career comes out of it.”

It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore year that Herman committed to pursuing his passion, declaring himself a theater and dance major. Herman received his Bachelor of Arts in Theater and Dance with a Music minor from Cornell in 2009.

After graduation, Herman traveled back to his home of Washington D.C. and served as a summer camp counselor at a local theater. Then, at 22, Herman started the theater program at the School Without Walls, a small public magnet high school in D.C.

This new theater program gave Herman the opportunity to delve into directing. At the School without Walls, Herman wrote an adaptation of the five-act French comedy “The Miser” and directed the play, which was a fulfilling experience and resulted in a satisfactory piece of art as well, he said.

After directing “The Miser,” Herman realized that working in theater could be a full-time career. He committed to living as a freelance artist, meaning he could work for multiple companies at once.  

“I’ve never had one job; I always have at least a dozen different jobs,” Herman said. “Life as a freelance artist has been one of cobbling different opportunities together. It hasn’t been the most stable life, but for me, it’s very fulfilling.”

Although Herman usually juggles more than one job at a time, the workload doesn’t waver his desire to immerse himself in complex projects, he said. In 2010, Herman helped develop the Faction of Fools Theater Company, an institution dedicated to the comedic theater form Commedia dell’Arte. Initially, Faction of Fools was in residence at Gallaudet University — a college for the deaf and hard of hearing — located in Washington D.C. As part of an arrangement, Faction of Fools used Gallaudet’s stage to put on shows while incorporating the university’s students into productions.

“That was an amazing experience because we were working with so many different artists to create something new and special,” Herman said. “I had to learn sign language and learn how to create productions around this community — shows that were accessible to everybody in the hearing, hard of hearing and deaf communities. The work we created was super funny and super dramatic.”

In an effort to tailor his theater skills, Herman went back to school in 2015 to pursue his graduate degree. He obtained his Master of Fine Arts in Acting from the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company programs for Acting and Directing in 2018.

During Herman’s time in the university, he and his fellow students pushed for a modified course structure and curriculum that reflected the values of equity, diversity and inclusion. The entire student body signed a list of demands on this topic for the administration. Herman said this experience taught him the significance of ensuring that everyone around him feels comfortable and secure.

“Right as I’m walking into a room, I don’t know the background of all of the students or the cast of a show,” Herman said. “Since theater is such a collaborative art, meaning you’re always dealing with people, I need to ask myself how I’m bringing openness and awareness into a production.”

At Whitman Drama, Herman wants to create a new, unique theatrical experience for both actors and the audience.

“I hope to make theater that challenges people, that people enjoy and that shows both the artists involved and the audience something new about themselves,” Herman said. “I’m looking forward to creating special plays that everyone will remember for years to come and that the actors can say they were proud was part of their high school experience.”


A prior version of this article misspelled the name of Sunny Basu. The story has been updated accordingly.

Additionally, a prior version of this article misstated Tyler Herman’s age. The article has been updated accordingly.