Directing I

      Every fall, a number of students from various disciplines within the Theatre Department step off the stage and out of the wings to take on a new role- director. The Directing I class primarily focuses on how to interpret a text, collaborate with artists from all realms, lead a rehearsal process, and combine all of these skills to put together a 10-minute play. 

The class is taught by faculty member, Richard Perez, who began his career in the theatre as an actor. Perez says he discovered his passion for directing, “…more by chance. Other actor friends who needed somebody to look at, maybe a monologue, or a scene they’re working on, I would look at it for them. They would come back and say, ‘hey, you kind of know what you’re doing’ and I always enjoyed it. I also always enjoyed being in the classroom, and I knew being a teacher would be my long term goal, but I wanted to be the best actor and theatre person I could be before I came to that.”

While being novice directors, the students found that their backgrounds in theatre have given them a better idea of their personal expectations. “I like to think of the director as the hub of communication for a production,” says junior Victoria Ward. “They have to be able to speak all of the languages necessary to bring everyone together successfully, so for me having backgrounds in acting, lighting and stage managing means that I can speak their language better to help convey the designer’s idea. It also helps me when I’m thinking about aspects like blocking. How will the lighting, costumes and set influence my actors? What should I be asking of my stage manager, knowing what their job entails?” The directing class also discovered that their particular emphasis of study has given them a certain focus for their work in direction. Senior Nils Fritjofson says, “Coming from a primarily technical background has definitely caused me to focus more on the practical side of directing; so I think more about scheduling, how people are entering, where props are going, and the location of scenic elements, than most people.”

Before jumping into directing their own productions, the students had the opportunity to work with the Acting I class. They were each assigned two Acting I students and a scene to direct. Victoria Ward says, “I was very excited because I thought I was going to feel similarly to when my friends and I would work on monologues before auditions, and I was very wrong. All of a sudden I felt like a new parent with this child to raise.” While this was an entirely different experience for the Directing I class, Perez says that at this point in the process they usually realize that, “They know more than they think do. Everything you’ve experienced as an actor, that comes back to mind, and you have to trust your instincts. I think it takes a long time to do that, as any creative person knows, but more often than not I think we have really good instincts and we have to pay attention to them.” Ward explains that she gained more confidence in herself as a director as the rehearsals continued. “Once I established how I wanted to go about the process and started working with them and asking them the big questions so that they could be the ones to make the decisions, I think we all felt more comfortable.”

Having finished working with the Acting I class, the students are now tackling their 10-minute plays, which they have already chosen. Perez urges his students to find a work that really speaks to them. “If they just think it’s funny or it’s cute or it’s intense, and if it’s not really something that they feel they can uniquely tell, then why do it?” The students of course all have different things they looked for when choosing their piece. Nils Fritjofson says, “I was looking for a scene with an interesting and unusual premise, that would still be relevant to an audience our age. Scripted, the piece that I chose, follows a young couple struggling with life’s meaning after discovering a script of their entire day on their nightstand.”

After the students selected their plays, the next step in their storytelling experience was casting.  Perez tells his class that the most important thing to look for while casting is, “…actors who take direction well. You may have an actor who comes in and auditions really well but then you get into the rehearsal process and they’re pretty much stuck in that place, which certainly doesn’t serve the piece. It’s important to really work with them to see if they can listen.” Perez also urges his students to look for actors who have chemistry with each other, and who know how to be good scene partners.

Directing I is truly a unique course for theatre majors, as it is often the area of theatre that students have the least experience in. Through the process, Fritjofson says he has learned that, “…directing a scene is a journey that the director and actors go on together, and one that involves a lot of trial and error. Discoveries are shared experiences. Establishing an open space where failure is okay and ideas are encouraged allows for discoveries to occur more often and more naturally.”

Performances for the 10-minute plays will take place this Monday, November 21st and Tuesday, November 22nd at 7:00pm in the DeWitt studio theatre. Both performances are free of charge.

FB_IMG_1476823409318

The Hollows – Meet DK & Erik

The Hope College Theatre Department is excited to welcome back alumni Daniel Kwiatkowski (DK) and Erik Saxvik. DK and Erik are founding members of The Hollows, a folk/roots/rock band based in New York. The Hollows are working  with the Hope Theatre Department in order to devise a piece that will perform on the mainstage in the upcoming Spring semester.

This past weekend, theatre students could be found in the Studio Theatre with DK and Erik, participating in workshops to start the process for the devised piece. Twelve hours in the basement of DeWitt were filled with movement work, partner exercises, music, and the opportunity to create a short play.

Hope Theatre sophomores Rachel Dion and Olivia Lehnertz had the opportunity to sit down with DK and Erik and ask them what their time at Hope was like and how the idea to devise a piece came about.  

Why did you choose to attend Hope College?

DK: I had a family member that I was very close to who went to Hope, so she got me interested. And I knew I wanted to do theatre … I went to Hope, saw a production of a Sondheim review that I was really impressed with, and then when I did my DAA’s, I got a DAA [Distinguished Artist Award] Scholarship. That kinda sealed the deal. It made me feel like, ‘This is probably where I’m meant to be.’

Erik: For me, I had two friends who I graduated high school with who came here. And I took a gap year … So I came up and saw them both in two productions throughout the course of the year, and I was really impressed. It really got me excited. … I wasn’t even sure I was going to do theatre when I got here, but I knew that it could be a community or a home that I could have. Same thing, I auditioned for DAA and got it… So friends, and good productions.

Where did you live on campus?

DK: I lived on the second floor of Kollen my freshman year. To me it felt like the Wild Wild West.

Erik: I lived on Durfee third floor, and our junior year we lived in Belt cottage, and the whole house was theatre guys. The majority of my memories at Hope are from Belt cottage.

What was your favorite production at Hope?

Erik: Everything I worked on was awesome, I really enjoyed working with Daina [Robins] and John [Tammi]. But for me, the most meaningful was the 490 that DK and I did with three of our closest friends. It was our senior year here, and it was a play called Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, it’s about 3 prisoners in a Lebanese prison. Frank McGuinness is the playwright. It’s about three guys who are chained to a wall, an Irishman, an Englishman and an American.

DK: It kinda sounds like a joke set up.

Erik: It does sound like a joke set up. DK directed it and I acted in it and did lighting design.

DK: There are so many memorable productions. My freshman year I was really lucky, I got to work with Daina both semesters, on a really great musical and Shakespeare. My last show was with Eric, The Cherry Orchard, and we were blubbering like babies when we took our final curtain call as seniors. I did three or four 490’s, and this one [Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me] was the first one I didn’t perform in, and it was the first time I ever directed a full-length play. It was really eye-opening, and just a really powerful experience all the way through.

When you were a student here, what did you think you would be doing post-graduation?

DK: It’s interesting, we thought we were gonna move to Chicago together once we got out of Hope, ‘cause it’s a good stepping stone and a decent theatre town. We found a place, and the day before we were gonna leave…

Erik: I had the lease in my hand..

DK: I was still in Michigan, I was sleeping on a buddy’s floor, Erik was back in Illinois, and Erik was like, ‘I don’t think this is the right move for me. I think I gotta go to grad school.’ So Erik went to San Francisco. A couple weeks later a buddy of mine called me and said, ‘Do you wanna move to New York with me?’ And I said yes. Come to find out, the place we were supposed to move into [in Chicago] burned to the ground. So we clearly weren’t meant to be in Chicago. When I think about my experiences in New York, and the different jobs I’ve had to do, the places it’s taken me around the world…my three best friends from Hope live in New York and we’re in a band together, we went on a national tour over the summer, now Erik and I are here [in Holland] doing this. Some days you feel like, I have so many regrets, but then there are other days where you’re like, I can’t believe I live this incredible, crazy life. Hope really did prepare me for all those things, like I wouldn’t be a carpenter in New York if it wasn’t for Paul Anderson.

Erik: I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’ve never been the type of person to set a goal for myself ten years down the road, because I always think there’d be too many opportunities that I would miss. I always try to be present and open in the moment. I never in a million years thought I would be in a band. I didn’t learn how to play guitar until I was in the band, actually, and now it’s like 95% of what I do in the band.

How did your time at Hope prepare you for life after graduation?

DK: You can think about it retrospectively, like a decade after you’ve been here, and you can pinpoint specific moments, but it’s definitely hard to see what it prepared you for and what it didn’t. The fact that we still have a strong relationship with the professors that taught us over a year ago, and working with Daina… She definitely taught me how to be committed, which goes a lot further beyond the practice of theatre. Because of Hope Summer Rep Theatre, when Erik and I moved to New York, we knew dozens and dozens of people. We already had this community, so it was not a lonely place to be.

Erik: The big difference for me between high school and college theatre, was that in college I really felt like the faculty had my back. I felt like they really only wanted me to succeed, and instilled in me an incredible amount of confidence. They believed that i was capable, no matter how hard I failed… I have very vivid memories of immediate failures onstage, but they still never made me feel like anything less than totally capable. Daina really supported me in getting my masters degree, and encouraged me to apply to the top schools. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

When did you have the idea to come back to Hope and devise a piece?

Erik: It was all Daina [Robins]… A year and a half ago. She came to New York and saw the band play.

DK: She had read a couple of scripts that I had written, and she’d read a script that Erik and I wrote together. … About two years ago we started more seriously mentioning it in passing a lot more. … And then, yeah, she just came to New York and said “Let’s go to lunch.”

Erik: And I had told her years ago, after I got out of grad school, “Hey, I would love to come teach a Master Class sometime.” I just felt really compelled. There was no other relevant place for me to want to bring back, I spent three years in San Francisco … learning things and working on them. Right when I got out of school I felt immediately compelled to want to bring that back here. … The whole experience is really meaningful.