Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
The Freshman Showcase Featured:
Annaliese Neaman, Emily McGuire, Thomas Stack, Rachel Foley, Morgan Wilder, and Alison Palmer
The Freshman Showcase is a unique tradition at CUA. Every year, the Drama school juniors, as part of their Theatre Production class, discover just how much time and effort goes into producing even the smallest shows. Mistakes were made, new skills were acquired, and my ineptitude with technology was momentarily subdued (I learned how to write light cues, guys!).
We began the process at the beginning of the semester by choosing scenes and monologues we wanted to direct. Each junior (there are four of us in the class) directed at least one of each. We held auditions early one Sunday morning at the beginning of October. This is where we hit our first snag. Only two students responded to our audition notice, so we were prepared to rework the entire structure of the showcase; namely, we almost had the two women put on a short one act play that the four of us would co-direct. Needless to say, we were OVERJOYED when four students showed up to the audition, and two more emailed that they couldn’t make the audition, but were still interested in participating.
Aside from our excitement about having enough people for a real show, the auditions were exceptional. We gave the students sides (small sections from scenes) to read and took notes while they displayed their natural acting instincts and inherent talent. The majority of my notes included “YES.” These kids are talented. Since each actor brought their singular style to the audition room, casting took about fifteen minutes. And with that, we were ready to begin the real work.
We all met with our students at least once a week for a month to begin directing their scenes. I was directing a scene from Almost, Maine, and our first rehearsal was dedicated to table work. I also directed a monologue, and worked with the actor to find something challenging. We eventually decided on a monologue from Shakespeare’s Richard III. I gave the actors sections from Respect for Acting, a book by Uta Hagen, and had them answer questions for the next rehearsal. I’m not sure what I expected from this, but it definitely was not them coming in with paragraphs written for each question. I was incredibly comforted by their dedication, and I honestly couldn’t wait to create a show that was all about them.
After a month of sporadic rehearsing, it was time to get down to business. The week of the showcase we dedicated class time to setting up the stage for their production. Here’s where we had another small issue. None of us knew what on earth we were doing. We spent the hours before our one night tech rehearsal pulling props that maybe might work for our scenes, sitting in the Callan light booth teaching ourselves how to write light cues, and choosing songs that would fit with our final theme of “angst.” Stress levels were high the night of tech. Two of the actors and one of the directors were in the Hartke main stage production of Big Love, and another director was in a student-run production of The Laramie Project. Finding a time to tech was difficult, but miraculously, it worked out, and they had the opportunity to run the show a couple times that night before their 12:40 performance for their classmates on Friday.
Showtime rolled around. All of the directors have been involved in a lot of shows both behind the scenes and onstage, but none of us had ever been as nervous as we were then. We warmed the actors up with tongue twisters and movement games, all while expertly hiding our panic (Okay… maybe not expertly). The house quickly filled up for their first show, and, after a brief hitch in one of the beginning lighting cues, the show went perfectly. The actors remembered all their lines, no one cried, only one person bled. All it all a good show!
If possible, we were even more worried about the night shows. Traditionally, the performance for classmates is a regularly full house, and the other two shows are relatively empty. I guess our time spent marketing was well worth it, because we had at least 25 people each night. After their first performance, the actors relaxed a little and their genuine talent was apparent.
After the dust had settled on the Freshman Showcase, I clearly saw all of the obstacles we had overcome, and the serious work and dedication every single person put into this show. It brought the juniors a lot closer together, and the freshman seemed to enjoy themselves. The struggle was worth it, and people loved the free candy we handed out after each performance! (I honestly believe that marketing tool was why people came on Halloween.) Through this experience, we learned a lot about producing shows, the importance of communication, and to never panic, because somehow, theatre always works out.