A southern parody, a preacher gone rouge and a duo of comedies. These final projects all came to the stage this week.
On Wednesday, Dec. 4 and Thursday, Dec. 5, a class of senior theatre arts majors showcased their talents by directing and designing a series of one-act plays. This showcase is a yearly occurrence, following two classes in directing. Each one-act is a two-scene play which run for about ten minutes each. The plays cover a variety of genres and themes including comedy, tragedy, religion, family and horror.
However, this year had a special twist. The Directing II class partnered with the advanced design class. Students who have studied scenic, lighting and costume design came alongside the student directors to further their vision.
Tracy Manning, assistant professor of theatre arts and managing and artistic director of theatre, sees incredible value in these experiences, as the one-acts gave students a space to learn and experiment with what they have been taught.
“It’s important not just to learn something in the classroom, but then to be able to practice it,” Manning said. “Practice it in a space of grace, where failure is fine and expected, where you can solve problems together and learn things together.”
The students picked their own plays, which helped them better understand theatre production. For those who had never directed before, like seniors Brandt Maina Mwaura and Darah Shepherd, this was a new experience. For others, such as senior Andrew Baker, this was an opportunity to practice their craft. But no matter what their past experience was, it was a special time for all involved.
“I love that I get to hang out with some friends and explore comedy and tragedy and theatre for an hour or two,” Mwaura said. “Being a director completely transformed the way I work as an actor. I am more conscious about the work as a whole rather than what I do as an individual.”
The one-acts give opportunities such as this team building experience, but they also let students experiment with many ideas they have learned in the classroom in real life for the first time.
Baker, who directed “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” by Christopher Durang, appreciated having Manning as a resource as he navigated his project.
“Often, she can help us better articulate what we want from our actors or adjust blocking to give the actors the structure they need to achieve what the play is asking,” Baker said.
Many of the plays addressed hard questions. Shepherd’s one act, “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath, told the story of a pastor who announces to his congregation that hell is not real, and they will no longer behave as if it was.
For Shepherd, one value of the play was that it guided others to question what they think they know and to consider hard possibilities about the world around them. She hopes it encouraged the audience to consider these questions.
The ability for students to explore ideas they care about in a way special to them — like Shepherd did — means a lot to Manning. The combination of this with immediate and structured feedback creates an invaluable experience.
“They can trust their artistic sensibilities and they can trust their impulses,” Manning said. “When they do that and they act upon them, they can find they are right together and that is really a lovely thing.”