Drama majors prepare Senior Studio productions

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Actors cast by senior drama major Sandra Twetten read through the script for Anton Chekhov's "A Marriage Proposal." Photo by Marquel Plavan.

The University of Dallas has a few end-of-the-semester significant events; these include, but are not limited to, spring formal and winter cotillion, final projects and panels, and productions put on by the Drama Department. The entire semester seems to culminate in all of these things, perhaps most tangibly in the case of the drama productions.

Between the main stage, after hours shows and senior studios, UD drama majors and their production teams have their hands full.

For senior drama majors, the workload is even heavier. When the general public sits down in the Margaret Jonsson Theater to view a collection of one-act plays directed by senior drama majors, one may have some inkling of how much time and energy is put into each piece; but the directors can testify that their short shows have been in the works for longer than one might imagine.

Drama majors hunker down on their theses during their junior year in order to dedicate their senior year to bringing to life a one-act play of their own creation. This semester, seniors Rachel van Pamel, Anthony Edward White and Sandy Twetten are looking ahead to the horizon at the finished product of their own directorial productions.

All of the projects have been in the works for a long time, and there’s still a long road ahead to the Margaret Jonsson Theater.

Van Pamel expressed that it was easy to write her thesis in the fall of her junior year, as she had chosen her play during the previous fall.

In the fall of Junior year, drama majors take a class called Theater Literature I in which we read and study plays,” van Pamel said. “As part of this class, we are encouraged to frequent libraries and read one act play anthologies in order to narrow down our preferences and find genres or authors that we enjoy in order to start our search for our Senior Studio.”

Van Pamel’s chosen one-act — “Abortion” by Eugene O’Neill — is a very UD production in regard to its thematic content, which resonated with her throughout her search.

The central questions in the play all sound like they came out of the Core,” van Pamel said. “What is the nature of human sin? Why do people choose to sin, or to perpetuate evil? And what is a man to do in the wake of what seems to be unforgivable? At its core, the play focuses on personal accountability and how a flawed human reacts to his own flaws.”

White also found chords of the UD model echoing throughout his chosen studio, “The Informer,” by German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht.

“In addition to taking into consideration the advice of my professors, I chose to direct this individual scene from ‘Fear and Misery of the Third Reich’ by Brecht for the profound moral questions elucidated by the action within the text, and for its take on the sources of seemingly unwarranted guilt in the desperate context of cultural and social bigotry,” White said. “In its portrayal of the destructive power of media and of human conflict born out of fear, I believe that ‘The Informer’s’ WWII-era themes resonate soundly within the framework of issues faced by the modern UD paradigm.”

Twetten also discovered personal ties in Anton Chekhov’s “A Marriage Proposal,” ultimately leading her to select it as her own studio.

“The first time I read it, I thought ‘Wow, this is such a stupid play,’” Twetten said. “But I kept coming back to it; and every time I read it, I found a new version of myself imprinted on each of the characters. They’re all extremely relatable to essentially everyone, and I think every person watching the play can see a bit of themselves within these seemingly foolish figures.”

As the three step into their roles as directors, the question arises of how their UD education has prepared them for such a role.

“My life and times here as a drama major at the University of Dallas has helped me achieve a frame of mind in which I always strive to discover the best in others and to shamelessly love them first, before doing anything else,” White said. “It is only through this mindset that a director may, in the words of Michael Chekhov, ‘vicariously see … himself acting in all the roles of the play while he is rehearsing it,’ and that the actor may ‘enjoy … the pleasure of transforming himself into every character he plays and [express] himself through their masks or personalities.’”

White is excited to continue to take on the challenge with his team.

“[They are] as talented a group as you could possibly imagine,” White said.

“All of theater is collaborative, and more than anything, I am excited to finally have the chance to collaborate on my production,” van Pamel said. “There’s been nothing I’ve loved talking about more for the past year and a half than my senior studio, so getting to work with my cast and my design team is a dream come true.

“It doesn’t hurt that I could not have been luckier with the cast and designers that I have working on my show. We really have an all-star team and I trust them all completely with my vision for this production.”

“I’m so excited to see what my cast does with these characters,” Twetten said. “It would be so easy to just go off the rails with how ridiculous the characters are, but there is so much humanity grounding them, and I hope that our team can really bring that to life for the audience — even within the silly humor.”

Since the semester has only just begun, the audience will have to wait a few more months for these one-acts to take the stage. In the meantime, the directors have their work cut out for them, but their foundations are rock solid.

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