Directing Scenes Dazzle Audiences like a Professional Production
By Jennifer Clogg, Staff Writer
What’s better than seeing one play at a time? Seeing nine mini plays over the course of two days, of course! This past Tuesday, Oct. 1 and Thursday, Oct. 3, I had the immense pleasure of going to see the directing scenes put on by Theater 212: Fundamentals of Acting. The shows were run by the students of the class, who individually casted, directed, and put on a scene or short play of their choosing. Each show ran around 10-15 minutes, and included full lighting, costumes, and sets perfectly selected by the directors.
Although this may seem like putting on a play or scene is simple enough, there is definitely more to it than meets the eye. As an actor and former director myself, I can attest to just how difficult the entire process can be. The selection process begins with the show itself; a brief search on the internet of “short plays” returns practically endless options. From modern to ancient, weird to traditional, there are a million different types of plays in between, so choosing one is certainly no easy feat. For this specific set of directing scenes, students were told to pick the piece that they felt drawn to, but were also encouraged to use one that they had read in class or were already familiar with. As a director, it is always frustrating to try to pick just one play that speaks to you; there are almost always many that will strike your fancy, and it makes the decision process downright hard. Is it too long or too short? Will the audience be able to understand what’s happening with potentially minimal context? Is a piece too weird or too cliché? There are so many variables of what could go wrong when choosing a play or scene to put on.
Finally, when the director finally settles on a piece, the real work begins. Auditions are advertised and then held, which are open to the entire student body. As auditions are going on, it is crucial to take notes on every single actor, because there will be a lot of options to choose from. In the theater classes here at Gettysburg, directors rank their preferences of actors from first to last, then verbally duke it out if two or more directors are interested in the same actor(s). When the actors are divvied up among the directors to their liking, finally, the cast lists are sent out. At this point, rehearsals begin and continue for weeks up until the day of the shows. This process was done by Albert Wilson, Christian DeMusis, Grace Verbrugge, Britney Brunache, Roselynne Farrell, Rebecca Burak, Taylor Decker, Sasha Samarov, and Lauren Browning. All executed their scenes or plays with grace, professionalism, and extreme emotional maturity. When considering each piece, I took into account the actors’ performances, the director’s choice in lighting, set, and costumes.
Tuesday, October 1st 5pm-6:30pm
First up was an excerpt from All My Sons by Arthur Miller, directed by Albert Wilson. This piece featured Courtney Cholewa as Ann, Adeline Hibshman as Sue, and Eric Lippe as Chris. It is a fight between a neighbor and a married couple over the behavior of the husband in the married couple. The piece was tense, with little humor or lightness. That being said, Cholewa, Hibshman, and Lippe stepped up to the plate and served up the harsh emotions in a highly believable manner. Hibshman played with a proper fire at the injustices that Chris supposedly committed, while Cholewa played the soft-spoken but devoted wife with an ease that is only seen in seasoned performers. It was almost hard to remember that Lippe wasn’t an adult married man because he carried himself which such assertiveness and power over the ladies in the scene with him. The set consisted of a simple table and chairs, leaving the actors plenty of space to walk and work the stage during longer speeches. The lighting stayed the same throughout, illuminating only the specific areas where the scene took place. The costumes were simple period pieces, with long skirts, blouses, and pants and a button-up on Lippe, which were era appropriate. I thought that for the dense material, these actors took it on in full stride and never dropped the ball for even a second. I greatly enjoyed this piece.
Next was a scene from The Country Wife by William Wycherly, directed by Chris DeMusis. It featured Katie Cona as Pinchwife and Elisabeth Welch as Margery. The scene is one where Pinchwife finds that his wife has been flirting with and kissing another man. Obviously he is enraged, and insists that she write a hate letter to her lover. This scene, although written in old English, still came across as hilarious as it should be. This is a testament to the choices of DeMusis and the acting of Welch and Cona. I read The Country Wife last year for a class and found myself struggling to understand what was happening. With Cona and Welch at the helm, I was able to understand with perfect clarity what was occurring in the excerpt. I laughed almost to the point of tears. Cona was outrageously angry, which was only escalated by the cunning and flirtatious Welch. As a side note, I would love to see these two actors work together in the future; they were a true dynamic duo. The set consisted of a table, chair, pen and paper, which was all that was necessary to make the scene work. I really liked the simplicity of the set; it kept the viewer from focusing on anything other than the acting. Lighting was simple and remained the same throughout. The costumes were by far one of the greatest touches of the piece. Margery comes in dressed up as a man at the insistence of her husband, so that no other men will notice her on their way home. Welch came on stage in a flannel, ball cap, and pants with a raucous drawn-on mustache, which I certainly got a chuckle out of. Cona came on stage in a button up, pants, and a gigantic gray curly wig like men would have worn during the time period that The Country Wife was written. This was by far my favorite scene from all of them; I laughed from start to finish and was almost in tears at one point because I was laughing so hard. A+ to Cona, Welch, and DeMusis.
Next to take the stage was The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, directed by Grace Verbrugge. This scene featured Emma Lewis as Laura Wingfield and Roisin Daly as Amanda Wingfield. It is the story of a young woman who has told her mother that she has been going to college to learn how to type, but has really been skipping class every day because of an embarrassment she went through on the first day of class. In the scene, mother Amanda has just found out that her daughter Laura has been lying and wasting all of the money her mother paid by not going to class. The character of Laura is clearly one with deep-seated anxiety, a fear of her mother, and full of insecurities. Lewis did an excellent job of playing the high-strung, anxious and unproductive woman; Roisin brought the angry and distraught mother figure to life with a grace and exasperation that made her character highly believable. Lighting was fairly consistent with what was seen throughout all of the Directing Scenes. Set wise, this was by far the busiest. It had two arm chairs, a side table, a desk, a desk chair, a coat rack, a small table, and a chair for that table. The desk was full of knickknacks made of glass, while the side table had books and photographs. It was a lot to take in as an audience member during a very brief scene, but it did make the set feel homey, which I believe was the intended effect. Both women were wearing dresses that seemed appropriate to their respective characters. The viewer could feel Laura’s anxiety and Amanda’s fears for her daughter’s future. This was a longer scene, but it felt as if it flew by. I had a great time watching the interactions between Lewis and Daly.
Finally for the Tuesday shows, it closed with a scene from a play called Fences; it was written by August Wilson and directed by Britney Brunache. It featured Peter Rudenberg as Troy, Tyra Riedemonn as Rose, Ashley Carvajal as Bono and Rashida Mohammed as Lyons. In this scene, an African-American family sits outside of their home. The husband (Troy) and his friend (Bono) sit outside, drinking beer and talking and laughing about life while Troy’s wife (Rose) cooks dinner. Their son Lyons comes to the house to ask for money, and makes the dynamic between father and son highly awkward. To me, this scene was about real life, their real lives, and the very real struggles of trying to get by every day with what they have. Although throughout the scene, the character of Troy makes some very sexual remarks about what he is going to do to his wife later, the banter between the two was comfortable and not strange as it easily could have come across. Carvajal played an excellently convincing man, from mannerisms and talk to even how she walked when she left the stage. Again, I really appreciated the banter between Rudenberg and Mohammed when Mohammed’s character comes on stage to ask for money. Their talk was playful and natural, and it really felt as if the two had gone through the same conversation at least twenty times. The stage had two blocks, a table, and food, which was an acceptable and clean setting. Tyra had on a beautiful green dress, while the men all wore pants and button-ups. I felt that this scene was the most realistic, in terms of actor relations at content, which made it easy to watch and listen to. That being said, I felt that the specific section chosen was a bit lengthy and really drove home the main points many times over and perhaps could have been shortened. Despite thatt, I still had a great time watching the scene! As the Tuesday shows came to an end, I found myself surprised than an hour and change had flown by so quickly, and found myself looking forward to seeing the Thursday shows all day Wednesday.
Thursday, October 3rd 5pm-6:30pm
During the final day of Directing Scenes, the shows opened with a scene from Our Town, which was written by Thorton Wilder and directed by Roselynne Farrell. The cast was made up of Maxwell McClellan as George, Gwen Golding as Emily, and Stephanie Gudino as the Stage Manager (Ms. Morgan in this particular scene). It is the story of a boy who is planning on going off to agricultural college, but he has just found out that the girl he has feelings for reciprocates his affection, and as such he is no longer too keen on leaving. The lighting was neutral and useful to the scene. McClellan and Golding both did an excellent job of playing the young, bashful lovers they were supposed to be. Golding had on a dress, while McClellan had on a button-up white shirt and slacks. The set was made up of just a table and two chairs, the only necessary pieces so as not to detract from the acting. Even before the two find out that they both have feelings for each other, the awkward adolescent feelings were palpable on stage. I’m not sure I can speak for the whole audience, but I know that I personally felt immediately that the characters were meant to be together. I thought that this performance was exceptionally cute and wholesome, so hats off to these actors (and the character of Stage Manager!) for leaving the sweet feelings of love lingering in the air.
Following this very traditional piece was Stuck by Claire Reeve, a short play about a woman who gets stuck in an elevator before a big interview and is pacified by a security man on a speaker in the elevator. It was directed by Rebecca Burak, with Garrett Adams as the chivalrous Sal and Emma Lewis as the panic-attack named Sara. Interestingly, this set used only three black boxes for the set, and no lighting except for a single circle of light where the elevator is supposed to be. The scene plays a lot into the use of darkness, with Adams fading in and out of the shadows to symbolize that to Sara, he can be heard but not actually seen. He is literally a voice in the darkness. Another element that, for once, was actually pivotal for the scene was Lewis’s wardrobe. She came in wearing a full dress suit and blouse, and by the end has stripped to almost nothing due to the heat inside the elevator and her very obvious claustrophobia. It was absolutely hysterical to watch Lewis strip out of tights, shoes, and shirt in a heated flurry of emotion and distress. I could not have personally picked two better actors for the roles in this scene. It was a riot from start to finish, with a dash of meet-cute in the middle.
Following this comedy was Persephone Underground, written by Carol S. Lashof and directed by Taylor Decker. It featured Olivia Plaushin as Persephone and Hades’ son as Raymond Wiseley. It is the story of when Persephone meets the son of Hades, and he convinces her to explore the underworld with him. Set-wise, this was by far the most simple; it only used one box, and one doorway covered in ivy. Plaushin came in dressed in a toga, while Wiseley wore a beanie, jeans, and a black hoodie. Both made excellent use of space in what could have easily been a very awkward scene with so few props and set pieces. The lighting stayed extra bright in this scene to mimic what the world looks like above ground and not in the realm of Hades. The intrigue and flirtations between the two were palpable and appropriate for two supposed strangers who have just met. The scene was brief, but went just far enough to leave the audience wondering what is going to happen once Persephone goes with the Son of Hades to the underworld. I thought that this piece was short, sweet, and well executed.
Next in order was a piece very unlike the aforementioned sweet play; it was an excerpt from a play called Wit, which was written by Margaret edson and directed by Sasha Samarov. Tyra Riedemonn played Vivienne, and Gwen Golding played Susie. Wit is the very serious story of an intellectual woman who has advanced stage cancer and has just been told that her cancer will most likely never be cured. Her nurse Susie asks her if when her heart stops, would she like the doctors to start it again or let her die. The scene is an extreme moral dilemma, and emotionally heart wrenching. Vivienne is a woman of science and learning, who wants to continue to educate herself and live her life as an independent woman; but she knows that she cannot realistically do that. This story is one of a woman coming to terms with the end of her own life far sooner than she should be, and Riedemonn played that part so well that I actually cried a little bit. Golding did an excellent job of playing the simple, older nurse who is trying to comfort a dying patient, but is only succeeding in making her feel worse about herself and her time left on earth. The set pieces were a hospital bed and chair, much like one would see in an ER. I’m not sure if it was a product of the objects on set, but the lights seemed so much brighter, like the ones found in hospitals that make them painfully hard to stay in for long periods of time. Although Riedemonn and Golding are just actors, it really felt like they were a nurse and patient, a tightly bonded pair where one had been taking care of the other for months on end. Riedemonn was dressed in a hospital gown, while Golding was in brightly colored scrubs; the color of the scrubs seemed highly ironic for the dark tale, but were somehow still fitting for Golding’s character. I felt that this was an excellent choice for a piece on Samarov’s part, and that she chose actors perfectly for the roles, as well. I have been left thinking about this scene since I saw it almost a week ago.
Last but certainly not least was an excerpt from Equus, a play written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Lauren Browning. It in were Lolito Lindsey as Alan Strang, Camryn Brakmann as Dr. Martin Dysart, Ethan Kincaid as Frank Strang, Allison Closs as Dora Strang, and Paul Mogianesi as Horseman. Equus is the story of a patient and doctor in a mental asylum, and the character of Alan is recounting his memories that led him to slaughter horses. The lighting in this scene was fairly normal, and the only props used were chairs and wooden blocks. One really cool element of this scene was that part of the “audience” was behind the actors. I say audience in quotes because some of the cast members were stationed in the audience as pretend viewers until their roles came up, at which time they jumped up and joined the rest of the cast. The only notable costume was that of Brakmann, who wore a doctor’s coat (which makes sense). This piece was strange and funny, and used many interesting sound elements, such as some sort of tap shoe for horse hooves. While watching this scene, I found my emotions all over the place, but mostly because that was how the flow of the excerpt went, as well. I really enjoyed this piece, and in fact would love to read the full play at some point.
I had a great time watching this set of directing scenes. Props to all of the student actors, directors, and stage hands! You all did a wonderful job and I look forward to the next set of directing scenes during the rest of this school year.