Directing workshops offer freshman a new perspective into theatrical process

This past Friday night, the directing workshops drew smiles from the audience’s faces and tears from their eyes, and I am definitely not just saying that because I acted in one of them.

The directing workshops, which took place in the Aula on Friday, had an impressive array of dramatic, hilarious and shocking scenes.

The eleven directing workshops were organized by The Philaletheis Society. Each scene was 10 minutes or less and was written by authors ranging from Christopher Durang to Tony Kushner to a student’s own work. The directors and actors had a little over one week to produce the scenes in time for Friday’s performances.

The auditions for the workshops, held the week before this event, commenced the directing workshop journey.

Having acted in high school, and gained more experience in theater this past summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, I thought I would try out theater in this new environment.

Although theater is not my main interest at Vassar, I was intrigued by the opportunity to be on stage during my first month of college, so I decided to audition for the workshops. Philaletheis as well had some helpful informational and interest meetings to help out us newbies with the process.

For the auditions, we were given audition sheets with questions and a choice of cold reads (monologues that the actors have not seen before) to perform in front of a room of 11 directors.

As a freshman, I was appreciative that the auditions were incredibly low pressure. That being said, as my first student theater audition at Vassar, it was still highly nerve-racking and exciting. After auditions, the directors discussed and decided, and let us know if we had been cast in a scene later that night.

I had the pleasure of working with Elizabeth Fetterolf ’17 as my director and Joshua Perlin ’18 as my scene partner. Our scene was by Shel Silverstein, called “The Best Daddy.”

Although Silverstein’s name normally triggers the thought of whimsical children’s stories, this scene had a darker, more bizarre twist to it.

In sum, the five-minute scene was about a father who plays a twisted game with his daughter about what he got her for her birthday. The father constantly tricks his beloved daughter into believing his disturbing lies.

Fetterolf’s main goal was to make the audience laugh and enjoy–as well as be freaked out by–the scene; so the three of us immediately got to work and began reading and thinking about it. I had never participated in a show which had such a brief turn-around time, so the process was a novel and welcome challenge for me, a newcomer to Vassar’s art scene.

When I first read the script, the creepiness and oddity of the piece was daunting; however, the first rehearsal with Fetterolf and Perlin immediately made me more comfortable.

After doing an initial read-through, Fetterolf gave us a rough outline of what she wanted to do with it and how we could play around with the piece. She gave us freedom to explore the text and also supplied us with a solid framework to spring from.

I had never worked with any other director apart from the one at my high school, so it was interesting and engaging to be working under the direction of not only someone new, but also a fellow student.

The fact that the three of us could continually throw different ideas into and out of the scene our rehearsals from others I had been in up to this point.

Throughout our week together, Fetterolf helped Perlin and I explored several different levels with our characters, letting us try and decide if we wanted our characters to have an over-the-top tantrum or to be completely dumbfounded.

After a week of rehearsing in Rocky, a few days of figuring out costumes and props, and one tech rehearsal, we were ready for the show to begin.

The final fun part about the workshop and the semi-informal nature of the process was coming up with the staging and costumes ourselves. Between Josh, Elizabeth and I, we created a minimal, yet believable set and simple, yet conceivable costumes.

It was clear that the energy was high in the Aula during pre-show and especially during each performance.

The audience was packed in–people had to sit on the floor and even stand in the back to watch the scenes. The volume of people filing in was enough to get my nerves jumping as I anxiously went over the lines of the script which I had already memorized.

However, being able to see a few of the performances before I took the stage helped me laugh and relax.

Also, one of the best parts for me as an actor seated on the sides of the stage was looking at the beaming faces of the directors in the front row as they watched their scene. When Perlin and I abandoned our seats in the audience to set for our scene, the indescribable adrenaline rush came over me and I was thrilled to begin.

In all, the 2014 fall directing workshops were a success, for me and for the rest of the participants. Directors and actors alike received wonderful feedback from the audience immediately after the show, and even several days later.

The performances were a lively beginning to the 2014-2015 student theater season and got me more animated about theater here.

Philaletheis did a terrific job at coordinating a show, which in my opinion, gave freshmen a smaller-scale, but great idea of how you can get involved in theater at Vassar.

I think that this show also gave new audiences a fresh and exciting taste of the world of Vassar theater, and I am so grateful I was a part of it!

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