Fall 2016 senior studios: lessons in directing

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Come see Senior Studios so you can see the wonderful face of Ed Houser and other actors. Photo by Paulina Martin.

A table in the middle of the Drama Building floor. Four folding chairs with waiting actors. Production crew sitting in the corners of the room, preparing, asking questions.

So senior William Buckley’s studio looked in the minutes leading up to the second production run last week.

What doesn’t appear in this physical description is the atmosphere of excitement, much of which comes from Buckley himself.

For his studio, Buckley chose to direct Sam Shepard’s 1975 play “Action,” which he described in his press release as “an absurd, psychological dark comedy about four friends living in a claustrophobic cabin after the apocalypse.”

Buckley’s production features Jackson Berkhouse, Paul Bond, Maria D’Anselmi and Riley Beckwith as these four friends trying to cope with their situation.

Buckley noted the inherent strangeness of the Shepard’s play, as well as its place in 20th century theatre.

“I picked ‘Action’ because it’s a strange play, and mainly because of one moment that I’m not going to spoil, but kind of a very shocking moment in the play where something that you’d never have expected will happen,” Buckley said. “I guess also for my thesis I wrote a lot on modernism … a lot of things come out of it, expressionism, absurdism, surrealism, so during the semester I’ve played with a lot with those isms to see which one worked. I think hopefully we got it.”

Following Buckley’s studio is Elizabeth Herrera’s production of celebrated playwright Thorton Wilder’s “The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,” featuring Mary Shannon McFall, Noah Kersting, Ed Houser, Bernadette Roden and LeAnn Yelton.

“’The Happy Journey’ follows the Kirby family’s car ride to Camden, New Jersey,” Herrera wrote in her press release. “Ma urges her two children and husband into the car and on the road to visit the oldest daughter, who has recently lost her baby in childbirth.  The Kirby’s laugh, joke and cry as a seemingly pleasant car ride masks the family’s grief.”

Herrera said that her choice of “Happy Journey” went against her original intent to direct a much larger play but that she appreciates its honesty and simplicity.

“From the start, I wanted a play that is highly theatrical with a large cast and is elaborately stunning, yet I chose a play with four chairs, three props, and simple lighting, and it’s exactly what I needed,” Herrera said. “’Happy Journey’ explores the relationships within a family in a natural way that is honest and realistic.  We value family at UD, and this is the story of a family that is moving forward in difficult times.  Every student can relate to this show and will want to help support Beulah in her time of need.”

Herrera said that directing her studio has pushed her to discover new ways of bringing her play to life.

“I had the actors create a dance that tells the story of our show without any words,” Herrera said. “I did not intend to use it in the show, but it will now be included as part of the curtain call, like a coda.  This is really exciting because the actors came up with it completely by themselves and then we tweaked it as a group.”

The final studio is Mary Armato’s production of “The Twelve-Pound Look” by J.M. Barrie, an early 1920s satire that presents a battle of wits between an arrogant man and his independent ex-wife.

“‘The Twelve-Pound Look’ explores themes that are extremely relevant today,” Armato said in her press release. “The show examines the damage resisting change can cause not just to an individual but to an entire society … Its political implications aside, Barrie allows a deeply moving tenderness to shine through his witty banter. Truly good theater leaves its viewers with questions and a fresh outlook on their own lives.”

Armato’s cast features Elizabeth LaFrance, Nicholas Moore, Regina Wasilewski and Meg Boyd.

Buckley and Herrera, both of whom have had directing experience though not with shows of this scale, have enjoyed the gradual process of putting on their own shows.

“[As drama majors] we have Basic Staging, Directing Lab and then Production,” Buckley said. “The last two or three semesters you just get all of it. There’s a lot we don’t know beforehand, and we have to learn really fast, but the professors really help us through it as much as they can for us inexperienced directors.”

Herrera looks forward to developing her abilities as a director through her studio.

“I absolutely enjoyed working on a complete show where characters have larger arcs,” Herrera said. “I am most interested in discovering and developing character arcs right now because it is a challenge.”

Armato, who has not had directing experience before this semester, brings her own unique perspective to her studio: that of her English major.

“It has been very interesting for me, especially as a double English major, to go through the process of bringing the text to life and putting it on the stage,” Armato said. “I’ve enjoyed directing immensely and I feel very blessed to have gone through this process with such talented people by my side.”

The senior studios will be performed in the Margaret Jonsson Theatre Dec. 1-3 at 8 p.m. Tickets are free for all attendees, but reservations must be made in advance through the drama department.

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