Student directing: the work left unscene

August 26, 2017

They are nervous, but excited. Their stomachs churn as they hear people talking directly in front of them, but they cannot see their audience. As the lights flicker, the room becomes silence, the curtains open, and the production begins.

Two actresses were given the opportunity to experience one of these ways unfamiliar to them as they headed into the spring play.

Emmi Connick, senior, and Elizabeth Crutchfield, junior, went from creating productions through acting on the stage, to doing so behind the scenes as they both student directed last year’s fall play Love Sick. Through this experience the two recreated themselves within the drama department, and Connick describes it as “one of the coolest experiences of my entire life.”     

“[Directing] made me appreciate acting so much more because it was the first time I had student directed, and seeing it from a different angle is so interesting,” Connick said. “It’s like when you write an essay, and then you have someone edit it. It’s like they’re a completely different perspective. It just made me appreciate everything that directors do when it comes to directing their actors, or the technical aspects of it, and working with the technicians who are doing different things with [everything].”

In taking on this task, Connick worked aside Crutchfield, who agrees that because she “got to do it with one of my best friends,” the experience was better than .

“I think our minds kind of think alike, and we both have different personalities,” Crutchfield said. “We were both able to view the scenes in different ways so we could give different feedback, but it still didn’t conflict with each other. It was very cool to see our peers from the other side of the table because usually we’re the ones on the side of the table where we’re performing,” Crutchfield said. “Honestly, I think the reason why [we] also worked so well together is because we both respect each other a lot. The reason why we’re so compatible comes down to all of the experience we’ve had together, what we’ve dealt with together, and just the fact that we’ve both been there for each other.”

Through their drama class, Tom Skobel, director and drama class teacher, says he got to know Connick and Crutchfield’s personalities, which helped him pick the two as student directors for this particular production. “Typically he tries to choose people he thinks will balance each other out,” Connick said.

“[Skobel] was different than our old drama teacher. He forced me to see acting in a different light and to think deeper about the characters, about the storyline, and how different angles of the story affect each other,” Connick said. “Directing has obviously opened my eyes to viewing acting differently [too]. I used to think of acting as archetypal characters, ‘here’s how I’m going to portray this character,’ and that’s it. I never thought deeper about it, and so directing, has motivated me to act in scenes differently. It has just made me become a better actor in general.”

With Skobel teaching Connick and Crutchfield how to be better actors in class, the two say they were then able to pass this knowledge onto other actors as they student directed their peers.

“Liz [Crutchfield] and I were fortunate enough to be able to work with scenes in Love Sick individually, so we actually got to take [the actors] into a different rehearsal space and work with them one-on-one without [Skobel’s] his guidance,” Connick said. “It was interesting because all three of us work together, and we had different perspectives, so our brains together made what happened on the stage, which was really cool.”

At times, however, the directing process was challenging as the two now lead individuals they used to act on stage with.

“It was difficult at times to find a balance between overstepping [our] positions, [but] when we found that solid ground it was very calming,” Crutchfield said. “I think we all respected each other, and that was the nice thing about that. It was so cool to see each of the individual scenes, [and] just seeing all of the special moments in each scene come to life. [After starting] with a script and [knowing] the rawness of it, [you] really find the meaning of the entire scene and theme of the entire play itself.”

Seeing these “individual scenes” and “special moments” from a different perspective than Crutchfield and Connick were used to all began with initially disappointing casting results.

“Most performers go through ups and downs. They’ll audition, and they won’t get the roles they want,” Crutchfield said. “I’ve dealt with that. That can be very disappointing because you work so hard and you want it so badly, but at the end of the day, I think just being with people that have the same passion as you, learning with them, experiencing that journey, and just creating these things into one whole show […] is just a magical experience. It’s not like any other experience I’ve ever had.”

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