We watch characters on the stage, but we also encounter them in our daily lives. Senior Phil Cerroni is one of University of Dallas’ main characters. You’ll find – or hear – him around the Cap Bar poring over a play and sipping an iced mocha. This semester, Cerroni has been busy working on his senior studio, “The Master and Margarita.” Sitting outside the Cap Bar, smoking a cigarette and playing with a killer bunny hand-puppet, Phil shared with me his insights about his studio and hectic life as a drama major.
MC: How would you describe your directing process?
PC: Crazy. You get the script, then read it a bunch of times. You separate it into beats to determine the main objective, or the main thrust, of the scene changes. You get people’s overarching objectives for the scene and for those beats, and then you work on objectives for each speech.
After that, you set a mood and tone for the scene and go into rehearsal. First there’s table work, where you try to draw out of the actors what they think the objective should be, because what they come up with will be that much more organic, more comfortable and more “them” than what I devise. A lot of times it’ll be something completely different. One example from my studio are the characters Jesus and The Master. What Joe Giallombardo came up with is more forceful, much more direct and more interesting than my interpretation, and the only reason that we would have gotten that is because of the hours that we have put in to figuring out what his objectives were.
Once we orchestrate the blocking, or where everybody is going, we put that together, let the actors fudge it, and then see what works. And hopefully we do all of that before we’re out of rehearsal time and the show goes up.
MC: Why did you decide to be a drama major?
PC: Why did I decide to be a drama major? So, basically why did I decide to waste $120,000 on college, right?
PC: When I was a freshman, I was going to be an English major, but I took Basic Staging [as an elective] which is a junior class about script analysis. You picked your scenes for directing lab, so I spent two months working on that. When I got done with that, I said that I might as well do Directing Lab. Well, if I’m doing Directing Lab, I might as well do a studio – I might as well be a drama major, I’ve done too much work already.
MC: What’s your credo, your reasoning or your set of beliefs regarding directing?
PC: Well, as the director is really just the servant of everybody else, it is the director’s job to just focus and draw out the creativity and the great ideas. I could impose my particular vision of a show and make my team work in those lines, but that would be a one-dimensional, boring show. That’s what makes theatre so beautiful. It’s a collaborative effort that transcends any individual and makes something awesome. Admittedly, that isn’t original at all. That’s the main thrust in Bill Ball’s “A Sense ofDirection.”
MC: What do you think of actors?
PC: Actors are strange mythical creatures who do things that I will never be able to do. They are the most amazing, bravest people on the face of the planet. They have to go places and parts within themselves that most people just bury their entire lives. They have to work everyday, they have to bring it up. I have an extreme respect for the actor.
MC: What’s your favorite part about directing?
PC: Interacting with the actors. It’s great going into rehearsal with an image of what you want, and during the rehearsal process people will try new things and get something ten times better. We end up with a collaboration that’s greater than all of us. It’s something that is the sum total of everybody. It’s amazing stuff.
MC: Can you tell us a bit about the plot of your studio?
PC: It is a 20th century rendition of “Faust,” more so Goethe’s “Faust.” Mikhail Bulgakov saw it 40 times before he became an adult; he loved it. The story itself starts when Satan, under the guise of a professor named Woland, comes to Moscow and wreaks havoc amongst the intellectuals. They’re dying, others are going to the insane asylums. And while one of them is in the asylum, he meets this man called the Master, a counter-cultural figure who’s just trying to make good art. He’s been having this love affair with this woman called Margarita – hence the title “The Master and Margarita.” Woland asks Margarita to be the hostess at his annual ball in exchange for being reunited with the Master. She does this, and this ball is a prime example found in all Russian literature, especially with Dostoyevsky’s novels. It is a satire on Communist Russia, from the opening line to the end line, and I kept as much of that as I could, but I chose to focus more on the philosophical and theological issues that Bulgakov fleshes out in the Faust tradition. Anyway, after the ball, things happen. You have to come see the show to find out.
MC: What’s the process that drama majors go through with their studios?
PC: It’s really a two-year process. You pick your studio during the first semester of your junior year. Second semester, you write your thesis on your studio. First or second semester of your senior year, you put that studio on. It’s an extremely long, arduous process – very rewarding, but a lot of work. I started going into production at the end of last semester and this past summer to have my designers start working.
MC: So how many hours a week do you put into your studio?
PC: A lot. I mean there’s four hours of rehearsal time a week, an hour’s worth of production that you make. Then there’s the time I spend blocking it, actioning it, analyzing the script, dealing with designing issues and figuring out how it’s going to work. I spend a lot of time with my designers. We have over 20 costumes, a ridiculous set, an insane amount of props … heads get chopped off, tongues get cut out, buckets of blood, people get shot. That’s a lot to do on a hundred-dollar budget. It’s a design-heavy show, so I dedicate a lot of time trying to make it work. Even so, as Stefan Novinski says, “If you’re not working with the actors, you’re indulging yourself.” I would probably say it’s a hefty part-time job, if not even a full-time job.
MC: What do UD students not realize about the drama majors? There are certain clichés about you all, as there are with every major.
PC: Drama majors aren’t clique-y, and we don’t bite. We’re actually quite lovable and cuddly. Another misconception is that we don’t actually do work. We do as much textual analysis as the English majors, we do as much building as the next guy, we write and read just as much as any UD student. With drama majors, you are never done working. You’re always working on two to three shows, nothing less.