Don Sanders

Posted by: Rohan Tandon & Sai Chaitanya Ayyadevara


Mr. Don Sanders is the founder of the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA) and its executive artistic director since 1993. As executive artistic director, Sanders has brought many eminent artists and companies to Massachusetts. In New York City, Sanders is director of theatrical productions for Ensemble for the Romantic Century (ERC). Mr. Sanders has received awards from the New York State Council of the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Under his leadership MIFA is spearheading the restoration and reopening of the historic Victory Theatre in downtown Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Why Holyoke?


Holyoke in its early days

Sanders loves the very unique and urban environment of the Holyoke city. He says, “ Since the city was relatively newly built(1848-1850), people came here to work from various places of the world and brought with them the desire for arts and entertainment.” Don Sanders was motivated to come to Holyoke because of the good infrastructure of theatre in the city such as the Victory theatre that would enable people to view entertainment and theatre at its finest level. There were 7 theatres in hay day, one of them was an opera house. Victory theatre(1919) is the only one which remained. Holyoke is in the process of refinding it’s identity and there isa lot of desire in people to protect what’s built in the city and build new things. This desire encouraged Sanders to produce theatre, music and dance that excites contemporary thinking and conversation.

Introduction To Theatre


Krapp’s Last Tape

Mr.Sanders was initially very interested in visual arts and poetry. He first experienced acting in high school, where he was very shy and scared but at the same time somehow felt good and empowered in his first encounter.

Later, in college, he was asked to direct a play by a group of friends in the Theatre club. At first, he was quite apprehensive but overcame his fears and went on to direct the play by Samuel Beckett called Krapp’s Last Tape. This was a crucial experience in his life as it incorporated interest in him of modern art and contemporary literature. He explains, “ I was excited by use of stage and making things happen and moving things around and making something which excites the audience. And just like that, I had this epiphany to become a director!”. So, he later on went on to learn about directing, studied in London and came back to US and studied in Yale School of Drama. He further explains,“Directing just clicked, it used all sorts and perceptions  which I was attracted to but didn’t realize I had. A play is like a dance, it has a beginning and an end, it’s the time that people spend to look at so it’s an opportunity to do something unique and kinesthetic.”

Experience in Directing

MIFAHe began directing professionally in 1968 in NY with the Late Joseph Papp in the NY Shakespeare festival in Public theatre which played mostly new American plays. This place matched his interest in producing and directing new plays and presenting classical works. Soon, in 1970, he thought to get out of New York in summer and find a house in the Pioneer valley of Massachusetts. As he spent more time in the valley, he began to realize there was some kind of a gap in the region which was very arts oriented but there was a lack of formal institution . So he decided to start the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA) to bring companies and artists from around the world  to the pioneer valley to raise the perception of the people in this region.“I wanted to do something exciting and challenging and wanted to show people the things I experienced through MIFA.” And Holyoke was the best place for MIFA as there is a great variety of tremendous academic and intellectual artistic and ordinary people.


Commercial Aspects of Directing


MIFA Office in Holyoke

Don Sanders works in not for profit sector, which is different from HBO, movies or regular commercial television. Not for profit means that it is a business structure where the organization receives the money. The money is raised and goes in presenting the work. This model recognized certain serious plays that have great purpose but cannot necessarily earn money.

Contribution to Holyoke


The Victory theater

Mr.Sanders has played a key role in writing a proposal to the Massachusetts Cultural Council to award money for the renovation of the Victory theatre. The project is about 30 million dollars which is very tough for a city like Holyoke to raise . This effort by Mr.Sanders helps Holyoke a lot as they are building something which will make more people come to the city. 

Contact Mr.Don Sanders:

Address: Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts Victory Theatre

                 56 Suffolk Street, Suite 300

                 Holyoke, MA 01040-5026


Phone:    413-540-0200

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