It is a truth universally acknowledged that University of Dallas students do a lot of work. This is especially true for seniors, who are usually pulling out chunks of hair or drinking copious amounts of coffee in an attempt to finish their senior projects. However, while the campus often pities the biology or psychology majors for their extensive workload, students rarely think of the drama majors, who have just as much – if not more – to accomplish in a small amount of time.
Senior Jessie Burke is well aware of the difficulties that drama majors must face, since she is very close to opening her senior studio, “A Number” by Caryl Churchill. The play, Burke explained, is about a man who abandons his son as a child and later clones him in an attempt to make up for his failure as a parent.
“The action of the play takes place 30 years later, when the clones have grown up and are realizing the truth about their pasts,” she said. ”It’s a play about people struggling with the loss of their identity as people and as a family.”
Though Burke had many reasons for picking this particular play, such as its modern setting and dramatic tone (“I have terrible comedic timing,” she admitted), she also found that she related to it on a much more personal level.
“I’m an identical twin, so I’ve always been really fascinated with what makes people who they are,” Burke said. “What makes people love what they do and hate what they do, what gives people personality. My sister and I have the exact same DNA; genetically we’re the same person, but we’re incredibly different. ‘A Number’ examines just that.”
Burke also noted that while most students at UD don’t have an identical twin, the idea of wanting to be loved for being an individual is something everyone can relate to.
“Ultimately it’s a play about relationships and how they affect who you are,” Burke said. “Everyone in the world is changed by the people they interact with, and I like that it explores that.”
Though it wasn’t too difficult for Burke to decide what play she wanted to direct, since she knew immediately after reading “A Number” that it was the one she wanted to do, actually making the show come to life was a much greater challenge. After writing a thesis on the play the spring of junior year, she picked out a team of five designers to work on sets, props, lights, sound and costumes.
“I told the designers what I envisioned for the show, and then we collaborated to come up with designs that really told the story I wanted to tell,” Burke said. “Luckily I’m fortunate enough to have an extremely talented design team who work really hard and make this part of the show possible!”
An extremely important part of creating a show is casting the right people for each part. This was especially important for Burke’s show because she wanted a smaller cast to create a more intimate feel.
The seniors putting on their shows during the fall semester held a mass audition and afterwards decided who they wanted to be in their specific play. Since then, Burke has been having rehearsals three times a week.
“Outside of rehearsal I spend a lot of time figuring out blocking, key moments in scenes, emotions – all that – so that we can work on them when we get into rehearsal,” she said. “We also do everything else that goes into a show, from writing press releases to designing the posters and programs.”
Though Burke has had to scrap a lot of ideas along the way when they didn’t turn out as she intended, she is excited to share her vision with the campus.
“I love when I’m watching a scene and I have that same feeling of excitement that I had when I first read the play. It’s a great feeling.”
Burke hopes that everyone will come to see her senior studio, which runs Dec. 2 to Dec. 4. She also encourages students to participate in UD drama.
“We’re really close here, and we love each other a lot, and it makes for a good work atmosphere,” she said. “Even if you just take a class or two for fun, or audition for one of the productions, I think you’ll get a lot out of [the program].”